You may need to dig a trench to lay a pipe or electrical wire on your property, to deflect flood water from getting into your basement or to set a foundation into during construction. Trenches can range from tiny impressions for planting seeds all the way up to enormous excavations that require heavy equipment to complete. Whatever the size or nature of your trench, you can save time, effort and potential back pain by doing it in the easiest way possible.
Loosen hard soil using a pick axe. Trying to break up hard soil with a shovel will quickly wear you out. Only use the shovel to remove loose soil once you have broken it up with the pick axe.
Define the sides of the trench using the point of your shovel. Shave the sides of the trench with the shovel to keep them vertical. If you let the trench grow narrower as it goes down, it is more difficult to dig.
Pull soil out of the bottom of the trench with a grub hoe once it becomes too deep to use a shovel. Because the blade of the shovel is in line with the handle, the soil tends to fall off of it as you try to pull it out of a deep hole. A grub hoe has a blade that is perpendicular to the handle, allowing you to pull it out of the trench with soil on it.
Place all the soil that you pull out of the trench on one side. This will leave the other side of the trench easier to access.
With a Machine
Dig trenches that are too long or intimidating for you to undertake by hand by using a trencher. This machine cuts a trench into the ground using an abrasive chain, and is appropriate for narrow trenches to lay pipes or wires.
Rent a backhoe to dig large trenches. A backhoe is appropriate if you are digging a trench for a house foundation that is three or four feet wide and five or six feet deep. This size trench takes an excessive amount of time and energy to dig by hand. If you are unfamiliar with these machines and you can afford it, hire someone to do it for you, as a professional will probably do a better job.
Consult with your local municipal authority before doing any digging to ensure that there are no gas lines, electrical wires, water pipes or sewer lines in the area where you are digging. Hitting and breaking any of these hazards will definitely make your job more difficult.