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Find tips and instructions for laying out and digging post holes for your new fence.
Laying out a fence means lining up and marking the location of the posts before actually installing them.
Before beginning any excavation, check for underground utilities. Call the North America One Call Referral Service at 1-888-258-0808 (or just dial 811) for a national directory of utility companies.
Begin by making some batterboards (two stakes and a horizontal cross piece) out of furring strips and screws. Placed at the corners of your layout, batterboards support the layout strings and allow you to easily make adjustments by simply moving the strings.
Start the fence layout at the corner of the house, outbuilding or other hardscape feature.
Drive a batterboard into the ground to mark where the fence will start. Tie mason’s string to the batterboard to mark the line where the edges of the posts will be set.
Measure for each run of your fence. Use batterboards and stretch mason’s string between them to mark the layout. Use two batterboards at corners.
Review the fence layout and adjust as needed to use full panels or to have no fence sections less than 2 feet wide. Partial sections should be located at corners or near gates.
Verify that the fence layout is square.
Drive stakes at the locations where fence posts will be installed. Make sure the stakes are positioned against the string. The distance between posts is dictated by the size of prebuilt panels, horizontal rails or local building regulations. Typically, spacing is between 5 feet and 8 feet.
If the yard isn’t level, start post measurements at the highest points and work downhill.
Insert stakes at the planned location for gates, including hardware in the width.
Mark the center for the first post on the ground. It should be set back half the width of the post from the string.
After marking your hole, mark where the layout string is tied to the batterboards, and remove the strings to make digging easier.
Dig the first post hole. Local building code will dictate post hole depth and diameter. Typically, the diameter is triple the width of the post (12 inches for a 4-inch-by-4-inch post). The hole depth should be below the frost line. Typically, this means to a depth of 30 inches (24 inches for post, 4 inches for gravel and 2 inches below ground level).
Dig the second and third post holes.
Digging post holes is easiest with a power earth auger. A shovel or spade may take longer, but they’re good for cutting overgrown roots in a hole. A spud bar works well for loosening dirt from the sides. Clam-shell post hole diggers can help remove loose dirt in the bottom of the hole.