Are Manual Ice Augers Hard to Use: 7 Tips for Easy Drilling

Want to catch fish through the ice this winter?  Then you’ll need some way to cut through the ice.  Sure, you can use an axe, chainsaw or even a gas powered ice auger.  However, a manual ice auger is probably how most ice anglers get the job done.

Manual hand augers are relatively inexpensive, they drill fast and they never run out of gas.  At least not until you do.  Despite the obvious perks of using a manual auger, there is one important question to ask.

Are manual ice augers hard to use?  

A manual ice auger with sharp blades easily cuts through 6-8 inches of ice like butter in under 10 seconds.  Drilling a hole in ice 10-18 inches thick using a hand auger is significantly harder and will take at least 30 seconds of hard work for each hole.  Avoid manual ice augers for ice thicker than 18 inches.  

Certainly, there is no success without a little bit of work when it comes to ice fishing.  But you can make the effort of hand drilling through ice a lot easier with these 7 helpful tips.  

1. Razor sharp

Just like a dull kitchen knife won’t cut through a soft tomato, a dull auger blade is equally useless on the ice.  Manual ice augers drill by shaving through layers of ice.  Each rotation forces the razor sharp blades to slice through the ice like a scalpel.  

Dull or rusted blades can’t bite into the ice without applying excessive, and exhausting, downward force.  A sharp ice auger requires only a slight push to quickly bore a hole in the ice. 

Auger blades dull quickly if you drill through dirty ice or hit an occasional rock.  Never pound your auger into the ice to drill.  Proper storage and care is also important to maintain a sharp edge.

Keep your auger blades protected and oiled in the off season.  Also, consider sharpening them just before first ice.  A freshly sharpened auger chews through ice like it’s fresh from the box.

2. Scale down

With a manual ice auger, size matters.  I’ll give you a hint.  Bigger isn’t always better.  Drilling a 10 inch wide hole is exponentially harder than drilling a 6 inch hole.  It’s a simple matter of volume and surface area.  

A bigger hole means more energy is needed to overcome the friction on the wider blades.  You are also pulling up a hefty volume of ice shavings on the spiral flights, adding weight with each rotation of the auger. 

Consider scaling down your hole size if you can.  Go with a 4 or 6 inch auger if all you catch are small panfish and trout.  Save the 8 or 10 inch holes for the trophy lake trout or pike fishing trips.  A 7 inch auger offers a balance between functional size and easy drilling.

3. Know the spot

Drilling one hole with a manual hand auger is a cinch.  Three holes isn’t bad.  But 20 or 30 holes is a formidable task.  Save your arms the workout and do a bit of pre-scouting before you hit the ice.

Figure out what species you are targeting and the best depths to start fishing.  Use Google Map satellite views to find points, weed lines and other underwater topography to narrow down your search.  Ice fishing electronics with contour maps and GPS built in are also life savers. 

The main goal is to find the “spot on the spot” before you get to the lake so you can drill fewer holes to find the fish.  Your muscles will thank you.

4. Avoid the sweat

Sure, it’s cold out but before you drill take off your coat, gloves and hat.  Even if a hand ice auger doesn’t strain your muscles, working up a sweat is just as bad.  

As soon as your body over heats from excursion, everything gets harder.  Add in a few layers of hi-tech winter gear and your internal furnace starts pumping out the heat.  Muscles don’t operate well at high temperatures so manual drilling gets harder and harder.

When you get to your fishing spot, remove a layer of clothing.  It is only cold for a second before the work from drilling warms you back up.  You’ll be amazed at how many more holes you can drill when you stay cool.  Not to mention, sweat will chill you to the bones once you stop turning that ice auger.

5. Clear the hole

As we mentioned earlier, friction on the blades and the weight of ice shavings on the flights are the enemy of hard-water anglers using manual ice augers.  With that in mind, give your self a break and clear the hole when you drill.

First, shovel off any snow accumulation from the ice if there is any.  You already need to drill through a foot of ice, don’t make it harder by pushing through a layer of snow as well.  A shovel is a handy tool to bring for just such an occasion.  

Once you start cutting through the ice with your hand auger, take a break half way down.  Lift the auger straight up from the hole to fling out the ice shavings that accumulated up to this point.  Now you can start drilling again to finish the hole.  

It’s one or two extra steps but it makes for an easier day on the ice.

6. It’s all in the form

All the top sports athletes, from football players to track stars, focus on their form to achieve exceptional physical feats.  While ice fishing is hardly an elite sport, form is no less important.

Using your muscles efficiently requires special attention to posture, stance and alignment.  Without good form your manual auger will resist your efforts instead of smoothly drilling through the ice.

Start by getting a firm footing on the ice.  Glare ice is slippery so chisel up a bit of ice with your spud bar where you want to drill.  Stand on the layer of ice pieces you made for better traction.  You could also use ice cleats.

Stand up straight with the auger at chest height.  Adjust the handle height on the auger if you need to.  Apply slight downward pressure as you drill.  Avoid drilling hunched over to prevent back strain.

7. Bring a friend

The best ice fishing hole is the one you didn’t drill.  Bring a friend to help out and share the load.  Sure, you’ll need to drill twice as many holes for each of you to fish in but take turns drilling each set of holes.

Give your muscles time to relax and your body a chance to cool off.  It definitely extends your energy levels throughout the day.  Plus, there is an off chance that your buddy will bring along their new lithium ion battery powered auger to show off. 

Parting words

Manual ice augers are an awesome tool for any ice angler.  We have drilled many holes through the ice with hand augers and these tips truly help make the job easier and faster.  

Drilling a hole in the ice marks the beginning of ice fishing season.  Find all the latest advice, gear and how to guides for ice fishing on our ice fishing page.

Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets book. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!