Tools You Need For Building a Livestock Fence
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
Bottom Line Up Front: There are several tools necessary for nearly any livestock fencing project. A post hole digger, digger bar, post driver, and a come-along to name a few. Make sure you have all the tools you need before you build your fence.
If you've never built a fence for livestock before, there are several tools you absolutely need before getting started. And there are some you may think you need, but in reality probably not. In this article I discuss the necessary tools along with some that may not be worth the investment. Make sure you've budgeted for these tools when planning your first fence project.
Note that this list is for building either a woven wire or barbed wire fence. There are additional items to consider when building an electric fence, and we'll cover that another time.
1. Post Hole Digger.
Perhaps the most obvious tool you'll need. Sometimes called PHD for short, the post hole digger pulls dirt and debris out of a hole. It can wear you out, so find a sturdy one with a comfortable grip. I really like this one made by Fiskars. It's more expensive than your standard model, but its design allows you to dig deeper.
2. Tamping and Digger Bar.
Like peas and carrots, this is often the best friend of the post hole digger. This steel bar has a cutting end for pounding into and loosening up compact dirt or rock. The other end is flat and used for tamping dirt back into a hole around a post.
3. Post Driver.
You've probably heard it called a "post pounder," this tool is used to, well, pound posts into the ground. Find one that is as heavy as you can stand. You'll appreciate the force generated by the extra weight coming down onto the steel T-post to get it in the ground.
4. Cable Puller/Hand-Operated Winch.
You probably know it better as a "come-along" tool, this item is what you'll need to pull your fence wire tight. A great tool to have for all sorts of applications beyond fencing as well.
5. Measuring wheel/tape.
You need something to measure distance between fence braces and post locations. If you're dealing with distances of less than 300 feet, then I recommend a measuring tape that goes out that far since a measuring wheel tends to be off a bit due to bouncing around on the ground between points.
6. Marking string/wire.
Mason's string is what I mean here, and it is used for marking out the path of fence between two end posts. I like string because it's easy to handle, but it is subject to bend and curve, especially the farther the distance you have to pull it. If you want something sturdier then use wire. It can be anything you have on hand, including spare barbed wire if you are so inclined.
7. Wire gripper.
There are a number of ways of pulling and tightening strands of wire, but my favorite is using a wire gripper in conjunction with a come-along. It's fast and easy, and at least for me it's a must-have tool.
A key to a good fence is a good brace. And a good brace has posts that are plumb and a cross member that is level. And of course you'll want to ensure any posts along the line are plumb before you tamp dirt back in around them.
9. Fence stretcher.
Also called a stretcher bar, this tool is used to grip tight one end of a woven wire fence in order to pull it. I will caveat that you may not really need to go buy this tool, but you should have something that will do the job. A cheap stretcher at your supply store costs $60, but you can get the same job done with two 2x4s tightened together over the end of the wire. That's what I've done with my fences, and I've seen people also just weave a t-post through the end of the woven wire and pull on that post. Whatever works for you, just make sure you have something in mind if putting up a woven wire fence.
Either a chain saw or a reciprocating saw (a.k.a. sawzall), you need something to cut off excess from a post.
11. Fencing Pliers.
They can be used for pulling out old staples, light duty hammering, pulling on and cutting wire. A necessity for anyone building or maintaining livestock fences.
There are other tools necessary for fence building that you probably already have, so just make sure you've got them handy in your tool box as you get started. A hammer for driving staples and brace pins. A drill for the holes the brace pins and gate hinges require. Also a measuring tape, basic pliers, heavy duty chain, work gloves, and safety glasses.
Depending on how you construct your fence and the environment you're working in, there may be additional tools that can be helpful, although not required to get the job done. These are some of what I call nice-to-have tools, that while not necessary to complete a job, they sure do come in handy and can make life a little easier.
1. Tractor Mounted Post Hole Digger.
At the top of any nice-to-have list (and arguably in some situations could be a necessity), a powered post hole digger can save you a lot of time and sweat.
Depending on the type of soil you're digging through, you may need some real power to dig to the depth needed to set an end post. With that said, think it through before running out to buy one. They're not cheap (and spoiler here, cheap ones are not good), so consider whether you really need it or just want it. Also, you may be able to rent one or hire someone to come to your place to dig the holes with their rig. And if you don't have a tractor that's the best option anyway.
2. Crimping Tools.
If you plan to splice wire together using crimping sleeves or gripples, you will need both those items and the crimping tools themselves. The advantage with crimps is when installed correctly, they join two ends of wire together more securely than any other option. I use crimp sleeves on my brace wire, but it's not mandatory for a good brace.
3. T-post Clip Tool.
Generally you'll use special clips to attach fence wire to T-posts. You can use a screwdriver, but it can be a little clumsy and really only allows you tighten one side of the clip. I use a tool called the Clip Bender, and it's handy as all get out. Makes putting clips on and getting them nice and snug a piece of cake. There are other similar tools out there that also work well.
4. Wire Twister.
The wire twister tool is very much a nice-to-have item and is made for the obsessive compulsive folks like me. When you pull a wire around a post and tie it back on to itself, using this tool makes for quick and tidy wraps along the end. Not necessary at all, but makes your fence job look clean.
5. Additional Fence Stretcher.
If you're in a situation where you are joining two stretches of woven wire in the middle of a fence line (called a gut pull or middle pull), you'll need an extra fence stretcher so you have one for both ends of the wire that are being joined together. That's probably more advanced that what most folks would do with their fence, but it is an option.
6. T-post Puller.
Another nice-to-have tool and very handy when it comes to reclaiming old T-posts. Or yanking one out that you put in the wrong spot (I might've done this, can't be sure). There are other options for pulling out T-posts (tractor's front end loader, vehicle jack and chain, your back), but this makes it fast, simple, and painless.
7. Stretcher Bar Puller.
Using chains instead of wires, professional fence builders will use this for tightening fence as opposed to a come-along like most weekend project warriors would resort to. I personally don't have experience with it, but watching contractors build with them I can see their utility in a fence building project. They're pricey, so unless you have big fence projects to complete, this would be a luxury you don't really need.
8. Wire Stretcher.
I'd almost say this isn't necessary at all, but they're ubiquitous and handy for splicing together broken barbed wire. I personally think you don't need anything other than a wire gripper and a come-along for installing or maintaining barbed wire, but if you happen to have one of these stretchers in your inventory already there is no reason to get rid of it.
9. Spinning Jenny.
Rolls of brace wire look so nice and neat when you pick them up from the supply store. Then as soon as you remove the ties holding them in place, you're fighting to keep the roll from turning into a tangled up slinky. A spinning jenny allows you to keep the roll secure while you unroll the wire you need.
10. Barbed Wire Carrier.
A claw that attaches to a roll of barbed wire and allows it to spin spins freely under a handle as you unroll it. You can either (carefully) carry the barbed wire via the carrier handle by yourself or run a pole through the handle and use two people can carry the barbed wire (one on each end of the handle) and unroll it along the way.
11. Measuring Stick(s)
I keep a standard distance of 8 feet between my posts and I've got a standard T-post height of 4 feet, 6 inches. Rather than pulling out the tape measure for each of these I keep two measuring sticks to check distances and heights. I've got an 8 foot stick for my post spacing and a 5 foot stick to check post heights and hole depths. Each are marked in 6 inch increments. Scrap PVC pipe can be used as a measuring stick also. Handy for quick measurements.
Tools That May Not Be Necessary at All
I was originally going to call this section 'Tools to Avoid' but with one exception, none of these tools below are terrible (the spring loaded post pounder is the unlucky exception). In my opinion they are too expensive or have less overall value than other alternatives discussed previously.
When you walk through the farm supply store you will be assaulted by displays of the latest and greatest tools that allegedly make fence building an easy, breezy, Sunday afternoon chore. The old saying applies: If it's too good to be true, it probably is. There is no easy button when it comes to building fence. Some of those fools' gold tools are easy to spot, and some may have some value but really not enough to justify the investment. Here are some I've identified in my experiences.
1. Spring Loaded Post Driver.
The idea is the spring inside the driver will assist you in moving the driver back up after you strike the T-post. The reality is the spring keeps you from pounding the T-post with sufficient force and makes the job a lot harder than what it should be. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
2. Hand Held Auger.
Digging post holes by hand is no fun, and if you don't have a tractor you may be tempted to try a hand held, gas motor driven auger. They come in different configurations, but in general it's either a one-person or two-person handled contraption which is powered by a small motor. My take on these is if the ground is so hard you can't do it by hand, you won't have much luck with a hand held auger either. If the ground is soft enough that a hand held auger can dig a hole, then it's soft enough for you to dig it by hand. If digging it by hand is not an option then I say rent one or hire someone with the right equipment to come dig the holes for you.
3. Gas/Air Powered Post Driver.
Okay, I'll admit if someone offered me one, I wouldn't say no. These tools use either compressed air or power from an on-board gas motor to drive a small piston at a high rate. The piston taps down on a post and in a few seconds, voila! You have a post in the ground in a fraction of the time that it would take you to drive it by hand. But the catch is they are expensive. A good one is going to run $1,200 or more. So it comes down to cost and probability of using the tool beyond your fence project. If you have miles of fence line to build or if you're a contractor, this tool may be for you. But for your average paddock build or pasture fence repair, this is a hard pass.
Note: It's worth pointing out that this is a lifesaver for folks with physical limitations that might not otherwise be able to pound posts by hand.
4. Single Bar Barbed Wire Puller.
There's only one brand of this tool that I know of, and I believe the concept works fine. But when I step back and look at it carefully there is not much difference between it and a crowbar. I like multi-tasking tools when I can get them, so I'd prefer the crowbar.
When it comes to fencing, some tools are necessities. Some are luxuries. And some aren't really needed at all. I'd love to hear what the must-have tools are on your list. Leave a comment below. Thanks for stopping in.