The other day I drove past a building site and saw a backhoe being loaded onto a trailer. Two young, strong laborers who were in for a long day were busy cleaning out the footing trenches. Having made the same mistake numerous times myself, I concluded that many don’t know the secret to digging footings. It’s simple: Let the machine do the lifting.
First, have two shovels with you — a pointed one and, most important, a shovel with a square end. Second, be in the trench as it is being dug and follow the machine. Clean the bottom of the footing by throwing the dirt ahead of you, not up and out. At grade level, clear excavated dirt 12 in. back from the edges of the cut by pushing the dirt back in the trench within reach of the backhoe while the bucket is emptying. Third, always stay out of reach of the bucket.
It takes only one good worker to clean footings using this method because there isn’t much lifting. Depending on the soil, it’s not that hard to keep up with a backhoe all day. And when the trenches are done, they are also clean.
Peter Larsen, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA
Edited and Illustrated by Charles Miller
From Fine Homebuilding #115