I'm digging a 36" deep post hole for a fence I'm putting up, and about 15" down I ran into a very large root. Since the root seems to be running almost directly in line with the fence, and there isn't a tree attached to said root, I'd like to get rid of the root.

I've been using a reciprocating saw to cut out hunks of it, but this has been very tedious and not as effective as I would like. Is there a better way to get rid of the root? It appears to be around 9" in diameter

  • 4
    A little C4 goes a long way. :) – BMitch May 24 '11 at 14:43
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    Trust me, about 8 p.m. last night if I been able to get my hands on some... – Dugan May 24 '11 at 14:44
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    Be sure to call JULIE before digging in Illinois. I learned that the hard way a couple weeks ago. Hit my gas supply line with a reciprocating saw while trying to dig out a root. – James Van Huis May 24 '11 at 16:05
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    Already done, I even have permits! – Dugan May 24 '11 at 16:27
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    @Dugan - That doesn't mean you won't hit a gas line - just means you have an excuse when you do! – mgb May 24 '11 at 17:28

14 Answers 14


A chisel-point digging bar might help. Depending on what type you get, you may even be able to sharpen it with an angle grinder for an axe-like end. Just be prepared for a workout!

  • +1 easily one of the most useful tools I have owned. For roots, rocks, and anything else in the ground. – allindal May 24 '11 at 19:20
  • Thanks for the link. My Dad had a few of these, but I can never find them to purchase. Ordered online for in-store pickup! – cigarman May 26 '11 at 21:27
  • This ended up being the biggest help. I was already using a reciprocating saw and the combination of these two let me get through the root – Dugan Jun 6 '11 at 17:51

A reciprocating saw works nicely, with the proper blade. You can buy a tree cutting blade for work like this, 10-12 inches long, with long sharp raking teeth.

We had an ice storm, and the clean up of hundreds of large branches and trunks was done entirely by reciprocating saw, wearing out only three of those blades in my Porter Cable. Some trunks were over a foot in diameter. (My chain saw chose that time to be singularly uncooperative.)


You may find it easier to use a drill with an extension or extra long bit attached so you can do most of the hard work without too much leaning over. Punch a bunch of holes in each side, and then attack the little bit left with a saw.

  • I did this once with great success. – Mark Schultheiss May 24 '11 at 18:42
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    Yep... drilling isn't going to do huge jobs (like removing an entire tree stump), but it's good for busting up things like roots. From my experience, roots are pretty tough, though. Probably best to go with a 3/8ths bit and put it on the high-torque, low-RPM setting. Even the most powerful cordless drills on the market can have a very hard time putting 1/2" holes into roots. YMMV. I'm sure it depends on the type of tree. After putting 20-30 holes in the root, an axe should make quick work of it. – Michael May 25 '11 at 0:49

I had a similar issue a few weeks ago and ended up having to relocate the post hole a foot or two down and just making a longer section of fence. Though I do know this is not always an option. It just happened to work perfect for me.

Another idea might be to burn it out. Or perhaps use the same stuff they use on stumps to get rid of them.

  • Relocating is, unfortunately, not an option. The root runs directly under the line of the fence, so unless I want a seriously crooked fence, that won't work. And I'm pretty sure the stuff they use for stump removal takes more time than I want to wait. – Dugan May 25 '11 at 19:25
  • Ahhh. I was able to turn an 8 foot and a 5 foot section into two nearly 7 foot sections. Thus avoiding my root problem. – Tim Meers May 26 '11 at 10:59

When I had a similar problem I just sharppened a Hoe and went all in. For the really tricky parts I hit it with a Pickaxe.

This will wear you out fast so try to plan it over a couple of days or get an extra pair of hands so you can take breaks.


You can use a mattock........................................ or a double bevel mattock.

The difference is with large roots(forarm thickness and above), you won't be able to smash through is with a digging bar. Think of a root as a large branch, you can't use brute force to break through it, so you need to simulate the action of an axe. The mattock was made for just this. Use the flat sharpened end to slice layers off, then rotate around to the other side to fully remove the slices. Its like using an axe or hatchet.

  • The root is 15" down in a 10" wide hole, I don't think I'm going to be able to get a mattock down there. – Dugan May 25 '11 at 19:22
  • I just bought a double bevel mattock for taking out an 8" diameter stump in my yard. It's slow going and I've popped a few blisters already, but it's a lot cheaper than paying someone to remove it. I'm taking my time though - I'll spend about a 1/2 hour every night after work chopping away. – Doresoom May 26 '11 at 15:33
  • Just don't use a matlock. :) – Doresoom May 26 '11 at 17:30
  • @doresoom, I posted this answer, not as a direct response to this question but rather as a general way to get rid of roots. I find this tool to be one of the most effective tools in terms or ground work, but you are right, a strong back is required. – allindal May 26 '11 at 20:00

If the root is running all the way right up to the length where you wanna put your fence along the same line, you may well want to make use of the root as well for building up the fence. That would look pretty odd as well as fancy too .What really you can do is get a good fence build up on the root itself with all the major polls for the fence attached stiff to the root and joining each of them with a fancy strings or Steel rods each of which covered by Money plant. I guess that would cover less destruction and will also give a retro Vintage look to your Fence.


I've dug my share of trenches and post holes and found that a chainsaw does the trick quite nicely.

Warning: Don't use this tip if the ground has a lot of rocks in it. Also, if you want to avoid excessive cleaning of your chainsaw, dig a good berth around the root first.


The best way is to get a "Stubbebryter"(norwegian name for it)

In english this is translated with google translate to: "stump break"

You can see it here:

enter image description here

This is how to build one

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    That looks to be a chain hoist being used to remove a stump ... but it sounds as if he's not removing the stump, just some older roots that are running where he was digging. – Joe May 26 '11 at 17:39
  • Exactly, the root seems to be fairly fresh, but there is no tree within 10+ feet of this, and the tress there are, don't seem to need such a large root. – Dugan May 26 '11 at 21:18

You can probably rent a concrete core drill with a 8 or 10 inch cutter head and bore right on through it. The old root will then help to anchor the new post when you back fill or cement it back in place. It's always something.


I just got my hole punched through a stubborn root system using a half inch drill motor with a 2 inch hole saw. I was able to reach down far enough to do several starts and finally got it sawed away. Slow going and not the most practical idea but it potentially works using tools you might already have in your garage.


I just ran into the exact situation yesterday afternoon. My fix... multiple drill holes. No blisters. No multiple hours. No making the hole bigger. No excessive force with saws. No running to the store for that special tool. 1/2 hour extra time. The worse part was running the extension cord. Actually the worse part was reading all the suggestions and the time wasted on all the posts. Just get it done.


Drilled a few holes all the way through a 12 inch thick root with a paddle drill bit. Then widened the holes with wider bits until they almost joined. Then levered the root with a spade and snap! Dead simple, took 10 minutes in total! I had wasted hours researching numerous websites, looking at all the suggestions and researching specialist tools that were being recommended when all that was needed was a little common sense.


A breaker /hammer with a couple of sharp bits... adios root!!

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