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. Use graph paper to draw a plan for your fence. Note the post locations and gate locations. Some towns might require this plan for an approved building permit.
Check all local codes for fence style, size and placement. Also make sure you know your property lines and talk with your neighbors about the project. Before digging, call 811 to have underground utilities marked.
Begin by making some batter boards (two stakes and a horizontal cross piece) out of furring strips and screws. Placed at the corners of your layout, batter boards 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 batter board into the ground to mark where the fence will start. Tie mason’s string to the batter board to mark the line where the edges of the posts will be set.
Measure for each run of your fence. Use batter boards and stretch mason’s string between them to mark the layout. Use two batter boards 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.
When marking post holes on a slope, keep the tape measure as level as possible to mark the holes. Following the contour of the land will result in an inaccurate measurement.
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 batter boards, 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).
Watch Our DIY Basics video: How Do I Set a Post in Concrete?
Clear away the dirt you removed with a shovel and rake – letting the extra dirt sit on the lawn for a day or two will kill the grass. However, save a little bit of dirt to top off the posts after they are set in concrete.
Dig the second and third post holes.
Digging post holes is easiest with a power earth auger. Check out our article: How to Use a Power 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.