Using Your Auger in Winter: Dealing with Frost Heaves, Frozen Ground and Ice

Winter can either be a great chance to catch up on fence maintenance or a frustrating time to make repairs depending on your location. Frost heaves can push structures out of the ground, and frozen soil can make digging difficult. Need a break? There’s always ice fishing. Whatever your plans, these tips will help you get the most out of your AGR1300H landscape auger this season.

How the Frost Line Affects Underground Construction

Soil is an insulator. That means if you dig a deep enough hole, you’ll find the soil is as warm as the area’s yearly average temperature, no matter the outside temperature. This limits the formation of ice to the “frost line.”

If you’ve had a cold snap and your fence posts or footings are popping out of the ground, it’s due to frost heaves. As the water in the soil freezes, it puts pressure on the holes, pushing up on anything inside them. This is compounded by “lenses,” small pockets of frost that form inside the soil. These force the soil upwards and can latch onto objects, increasing upward pressure from surrounding soil. While a frost heave may only move the soil by an inch over several days, the force it exerts can be tens of thousands of pounds per square inch. Once the ice melts, the object will settle in a slightly different place. This can make fences collapse and cause foundations to shift and crack. To stop this from happening, the object needs to be anchored below the frost line or have good surrounding drainage. This prevents lenses from forming underneath the object and lifting it up.

Unless you live in southern Florida or within sight of the Pacific Ocean, at least part of the ground can freeze during the winter. In the area near our shop, water can freeze anywhere from 30 to 40 inches deep. In parts of Canada and northern Maine, Minnesota and North Dakota, the frost line is over 100 inches deep. Soil conditions, construction and pavement can alter the frost depth locally.

Breaking Through Frozen Ground

Frozen soil is hard to cut through. Fortunately, the ground doesn’t just freeze down to the frost line when winter rolls around. If you time your work to coincide with a warm front, you can reduce the amount of frozen soil you have to break through. The National Weather Service’s frost depth reports will give you an idea of how deep you’ll have to dig before you hit soft soil.

How do you break through the frozen layer? Pushing on the auger bit can help, but not as much as some people claim. You probably won’t be able to put enough pressure on your Billy Goat post hole digger to cut through the ice. Even if you use a tractor or skid steer-mounted auger and support the entire vehicle’s weight on the bit, it will only dig a few inches before stalling.

If you’re cutting through frost, doesn’t it make sense to use an ice bit? Sure, it can cut through ice with ease, but it won’t be able to handle the soil. The bit can break easily when it strikes rocks, and there’s a chance it will break the receiver on your auger.

Your best option is brute force. A pickax works great for removing shallow layers of frozen soil, while you’ll want to use a jackhammer for thick frost layers. Once you’re past the ice, you can use your auger as you would during the summer. Remember that even frozen soil acts as an insulator. If you remove the frost and come back the next day to finish digging, the soil in the hole will be frozen. Instead of chipping away at ice and then drilling holes, concentrate on completing holes one at a time.

Cutting Through Ice

Is the AGR1300H overkill for ice fishing? Probably. However, it’s also a far faster, easier way to cut holes than standard ice augers. All you need is an ice bit. The Z link keeps the bit running true. This keeps the bit from making lips and uneven surfaces that fish can push against when you’re pulling up your line.

Once the bit goes through the ice, increase the auger speed and move the bit up and down. This will pull up slush and debris, giving you a clean hole to fish from.

Get the Parts and Accessories You Need for Your Billy Goat

When you need something for your Billy Goat, visit We carry the full line of OEM parts and accessories for your equipment, including bits and adapters for the new AGR1300H landscaping auger. Our site has sections for commonly needed parts, including hardware, wheels and engine parts. Need something specific? Our search engine can show you factory diagrams and information specific to your model. We ship across the United States and Canada.

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