Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Simple Things in Life

At first glance, there's not much to learn about standard steel T-posts. Simple. Standard. Utilitarian. Versatile.

As I was installing several of them today, to support fences for pea vines in the garden, I realized that actually, I've learned a lot about T-posts over the years, almost entirely from personal experience and reading catalogs.

They come in different colors, sizes, styles, and lengths. Auctions are a good place to nearly pay new prices for rusty, slightly bent, non-standard posts that won't fit standard post tools.

Away from the farm, I've realized that not everyone is aware that there is a simple tool, called a "post pounder", for driving the posts. Don't drive a post without one! This tool like the posts, does not come with instructions. If it did, and I were writing them, they would include: Use proper safety equipment (gloves, hearing protection, safety goggles. Of course I don't, for just a couple posts....) Do not allow pounder to strike body parts! Do not accidentally lift pounder entirely off the top of the post or it might fall on your head (the contrasting paint job on the tops of the posts is there as a warning to let you know when you're about to do that)! To get the pounder on the post, position the bottom of the post where you want it, hold the bottom inplace while leaning the top of the post down to shoulder level to place the pounder on, then raise post to vertical position again. This is especially important for short people or tall posts. To do the most pounding with the least wear and tear on your hands, lift the pounder, then THROW it down on top of the post, letting go entirely as it nears the striking point. To drive posts to an even height along a row, I use my body as a measuring device...chin, shoulder, armpit. The top of the handle on the pounder should be the top of the post, so you can measure post height without removing the pounder.

There is also a tool for removing posts. It is worth its weight in gold. A mechanical "truck jack" will work, and you can get a special attachment for gripping the posts, but it will always be more cumbersome and frustrating than the right tool. Both tools will pinch your finger badly. Wear gloves and be careful.

Check the post for vertical orientation frequently, from all sides. Wearing heavy boots, you can brace a toe against the flange to keep the post from twisting as you drive it.

The pounder is designed to eliminate the need for a friend to hold the post vertical while you drive it. If a friend insists on holding the post, be sure their hands are well below the level of the pounder, their body including head is well away from the post, and they are wearing proper protective equipment. If you really insist on them wearing full protective equipment, they will probably find something else to do. This is the safest way they can help.

Posts should be pounded in far enough that the flange is completely below the soil surface. Otherwise they attract toes, lawn mowers, ropes, etc. On the other hand, posts left set in the ground for long periods of time near trees may be impossible to remove because roots will grow over the flange. It takes a big hole to dig out a T-post.

The orientation of the knobby side of the post is important in some situations, to keep attachments (string, wire, clips, etc.) from slipping up or down the post. For other installations, nestling a panel into the side of the T might be important (keeps sharp panel ends safe). The orientation of the flange (across the direction of force on the post) is important in other situations. Think about it before you drive the post.

For all posts in the garden or other areas frequently used by people, I put soft white plastic safety caps on the top of the posts. Not only does it prevent scrapes, it makes the posts more visible especially at night. It's important to remove these before using a post pounder on the post, otherwise the pounder will destroy the safety cap.

My pea fences are 3' tall recycled woven wire fencing, the style called "Sheep Fence" which has vertical wires every 12". Each end is wired to a stout stick. The stick is then tied top and bottom to a T post at each end of the row, with additional posts mid-row if needed. For storage, I roll them up and tie them. They are not beautiful...they are crooked and rusty. But they are effective, and very cheap (a friend gave me the wire when she took down a fence her sheep had messed up). You can easily reach through them to get the peas on the other side of the row. They can be used for other vining vegetables such as cucumbers and pole beans.

Wiring on the sticks uses another great, little-known tool available at farm stores. It's a 4" long metal rod, flattened at one end, with a couple holes just the size of fence wire in the flattened part. You stick the tail end of the wire in a hole, snug it up to the wire you're twisting around, and start twisting the tool around the stationary wire. Easy, fast, and neat! Your fingers will thank you for investing in this elegant little tool.

They are also cheap and easily lost, so go ahead and get a couple to start with. That way you can finish your wire-twisting project without another trip to the farm store...because once you use one, you may not want to do wire projects without it!

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