- Ideas & How-Tos
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There are many reasons for building a fence. Security, noise reduction and boundary definition are practical reasons. A well-designed and installed fence is also a stylish addition to your landscape. Wood fences allow you to combine function and fashion. Preassembled fence panels make fence construction faster and easier for do-it-yourselfers.
Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.
Before planning and purchasing your fence materials, ask yourself these questions:
Before proceeding, a few preliminary steps are in order:
There are different fence panels available, which may differ in the details. However, there are three major preassembled fence panel styles to choose from:
To build a durable fence that will last for years to come, pay special attention to the materials you use. Select treated lumber approved for ground contact. It's a good idea to use a paint, stain or waterproofing sealer after you finish your fence. Use weather-resistant galvanized nails and exterior screws. Finish with rustproof caps on post tops, or cut the top at an angle to shed water.
Posts are the 4-by-4s that are set firmly into the ground and provide stability for the fence.
Main posts are found at the corners of the fence and on either side of all gates. These are usually set deep into the ground for support.
Line posts are any posts between the main posts. These provide stability and attachment points for fence panels.
Rails are the horizontal supports running between posts. On preassembled fence panels, the rails are attached near the top and bottom (and sometimes across the middle).
Bay is the space between the posts. In simple styles, such as split-rail fences, there are only rails in each bay. Other types of fences have a solid infill-like stockade or a more loosely spaced infill-like picket.
Gate is the door that provides entry into and out of a fenced area. All containment fences should have gates. These can be mounted to swing both in or out, or in one direction only.
Take time to lay out the fence carefully. An incorrect measurement now could result in problems later. Make provisions for the widths of the fence panels and gates so you won't end up with odd-sized bays that can complicate installation. Some types of preassembled panels can be cut to fit smaller bays if you end up with an odd-sized section. Other types are difficult or impossible to cut to size. To plan your fence:
Stake out your fence line from beginning to end, including corners and any gates.
Tie a string tautly between corner post locations. This will define the line along which the line posts will be placed.
Be sure to measure your panels before performing this next step because all of them aren't exactly 4 feet, 6 feet or 8 feet long:
The step method is ideal for fence panel installations. In this case, the fence gradually steps up the slope so that each bay section is the same length and the rails are level instead of parallel to the slope.
Fences are installed on slopes using one of two methods. The parallel method has the fence running parallel to the slope. Since this method requires that the fence be constructed to conform to the slope, it can't be accomplished using preassembled fence panels.
When staking out line posts on a slope for a step method installation, you'll need a true horizontal measurement for post placement. Don't measure parallel to the ground slope. To obtain the proper layout:
Continue this measuring method for the rest of the slope until the ground levels out.
Using a posthole digger or power auger, dig the holes 10 inches to 12 inches wide and 6 inches deeper than needed. A good rule of thumb is to put 1/3 of the post in the ground. Main and gateposts should be set 6 inches deeper for extra strength. Keep the height of your fence panels in mind when digging your postholes.
Backfill each hole with 6 inches of gravel to drain water away from the bottom of the post.
Install end and corner main posts first. Tie a string between these posts along the fence line. This will establish a reference so you can make sure the line posts are set in line.
Brace the posts using 4-foot sections of 2-by-4s nailed to the post diagonally and then nailed to stakes in the ground. This will keep them straight while the concrete sets.
Check each post to make sure it's plumb using a level on two adjacent sides.
Fill the holes with concrete mix, and follow all package instructions. Prod the mix with a stick, while filling to reduce any air pockets.
Overfill holes at the top. Using a trowel, slope the concrete away from the post to prevent water from collecting around it. If you want to conceal the concrete, pour it to within a few inches of the top of the hole, and cover it with soil after the concrete has set.
Before the concrete sets, check plumb and alignment again, and make any necessary adjustments.
Allow concrete to set 24 to 48 hours before installing fence panels.
When setting posts on a slope, set them so they're taller than you need for the panel so you can cut them to height just before the panels are hung. Some people prefer to use this method for all of their posts.
An easy way to make your post heights uniform on level ground is to run a string at the desired height from corner post to corner post, keeping the string. Mark each line post at the string line, and cut off the tops of the posts.
You'll need help when attaching the fence panels, so plan appropriately.
Place each panel between the posts so that the ends of the panel come to rest in the center of the posts. Preassembled fence panels have a top and bottom support rail between the frame to which the pickets are attached. Use a level to align the top rail horizontally.
Use stainless screws or 18d to 20d galvanized nails to attach the panel to the post. Attach the panel through the top and bottom rails. Have someone support the posts while you're nailing.
If it's necessary for the two panels to butt together between posts (perhaps there's something in the way that prevents the setting of a post in the appropriate place, for example), attach a 3-foot cleat across the joints of the rails to provide additional support.
Since the gate will endure more use and wear than any other part of the fence, use secure gateposts, strong hardware and a well-built and braced frame. If your gate opening is wider than 5 feet, you should make your gate with two doors of equal width. Together, the two should span the distance of the gate opening. Each section should be attached to a post and then latched in the center. This design provides greater stability than using a single 5-foot-wide gate, which might be too heavy on the hinges and can also be awkward to use.
The following instructions focus on building a single-door gate. To build a two-door gate, make frames for each of the doors, and hang them to meet in the middle.
As with end and corner posts, set gate posts 6 inches to 12 inches deeper than line posts.
Measure the distance between the posts. Make the width of the gate frame 1 inch less than this measurement and the height of the frame several inches shorter than the overall height of the fence. The frame will be constructed of 2-by-4 lumber positioned on edges like the rails of the fence panels.
Assemble the frame with screws, ensuring that the corners are square by using a carpenter's square. Test-fit the frame between the gateposts. If you have to redo something, it's best to do it now.
Place a 2-by-4 diagonally across the frame, from the top-latch side to the bottom-hinge side. Mark it and cut it to the appropriate length. Nail it in place to form a cross brace.
Face the gate frame with the same design as the rest of the fence using boards or pickets. To do this, measure the picket width and, taking the desired spacing into account, determine the number of pickets needed to cover the width of the gate frame. Cut the pickets to the appropriate length to blend with the rest of the fence. Nail each picket securely to the top and bottom rail of the gate frame.
Choose long screws and heavy-duty hardware designed for gates. Predrill and screw hinges to the top and bottom rail of the hinge side of the gate.
Prop the gate into position temporarily to test opening and closing the gate. Make sure it clears the ground the full arc of its swing and that it clears the latched side of the post.
With the gate still propped, mark hinge-screw positions on the gateposts.
Remove the gate and predrill the screw holes.
Reposition the gate and line up the hinges to predrill holes. (At this point, a couple of wood blocks may be helpful to prop up the gate while you're attaching it if you don't have someone to help.)
Secure the hinges to the gateposts using screws.
Install a latch of your choice.
Your fence isn't complete until you've treated it with a protective finish. Your finish coat will be determined by the look you want to achieve as well as the type of wood you use. There are three options in finishing treatments: paint, stain and waterproofing sealer.