One Plank at a Time: How to Build a Dependable Fence

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Do you need a fence for your yard and want to save by putting it up yourself? If so, click here to learn how to build a fence for the first time.

Whether you’re building a new home or working on improving an existing one, adding a fence can do a ton to improve the value. It provides privacy, makes it easier to keep pets safe, and adds a definitive boundary to your property. With the right time and tools, you can build a fence yourself.

The key to building a fence that will last is a good plan and careful work. Read on to learn how to build a fence that will stand up to the weather.

Make a Plan

The first thing you’re going to need to do when you get ready to build a fence is make a plan. Where will your fence run, and is that on your property line? Are there trees, ditches, or other obstacles in the way of your fence, and how will you handle those if so?

You’ll also need to decide what sort of fence you want to build: chain link, wood, or stone? Here we’ll be talking about how to build a wood fence, you can get more info about which type is best for you here. You’ll also need to decide on a height; four- and six-foot fences are most common, but you could build a smaller fence for your front yard if you wanted or a larger privacy wall.

Lay Out Your Posts

Once you’ve figured out your plan for what kind of fence you want and where it will run, it’s time to make sure you have enough material. A standard fence board is five and a half inches wide, and you’ll want about a half-inch of space between each board to allow for the wood to expand and contract as the weather changes. So you’ll need to calculate for two boards per feet of fence, and don’t forget to add in the fence posts every six feet.

Once you’ve figured out how much material you’ll need and bought it all, take it home and lay it out along the line where your fence will run. You want to figure out at this stage if you have too much or not enough material. You don’t want to get partway through your fence and have to go back to the store for more boards.

Dig Holes

When you’re sure that you’ve got the right amount of material, you’ll be ready to start digging holes for the fence posts. These holes will need to sit every six feet along your fence and at the corners. Start with one post at each corner, and measure in every six feet, adding a shorter panel at one end if needed.

Fence posts are usually four inches square, so you’ll want to dig a hole that’s at least six inches across and a third as deep as the post is tall. So if you have an eight-foot fence post, you should dig a hole two and a half feet deep. You can use a post hole digger to make this job easier.

Set Posts

With your holes dug and your materials laid out, the next thing to do is start setting your posts. Start by putting three or four inches of gravel in the bottom of the hole to level it and provide proper drainage. Then add six or eight inches of concrete, being sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to mix it.

Set your fence post down in the hole, and make sure you slope the extra concrete that makes its way back up out of the hole away from the post. Use a level to make sure the post is sitting upright in its hole, and make sure it stays that way while the concrete is setting. It’s a good idea to have a friend around for an extra set of hands during this step.

Attach Rails

After your concrete has cured, you’ll be ready to start attaching rails to your fence posts. These are the two-by-four boards that run horizontally along your fence line. The general rule of thumb is to have a fence rail for every twenty-four inches of fence post height, so you may wind up with two or three rails.

Attach your first rail at least six inches off the ground to prevent moisture from warping or rotting the wood. You’ll want to use rust-resistant screws or galvanized fence brackets for this job. You need to make sure each rail is level, but measure the same height off the ground at each post; your ground almost certainly isn’t level, so you don’t want to just attach the next rail at the same level as the first. 

Once your first line of rails is in place, measure up two feet, and attach your next set of rails. Continue on until you get within two feet of the top of your fence posts.

Attach Pickets

Once your rails are in place, you’ll need to start attaching your pickets. It’s a good idea to attach a string to the top of your posts that you know is level. This will help you make sure your fence comes out level.

Use the same rust-free screws to attach your pickets to each rail. Depending on your fence design, you may want to alternate which side of the rails each picket goes on. Make sure you give them the half-inch of space to expand and contract so you don’t wind up with buckled fence posts during a humid season.

Stain or Treat the Fence

The posts are set, the rails are hung, the pickets are in place, and your fence is done! Almost, anyhow – there are still a few finishing touches you need to add to your fence. For one thing, many people prefer to install post caps for a finished look that will protect your fence posts from decay.

And finally, you’ll need to stain or treat your fence if the wood hasn’t already been treated. This will prevent the wood from rotting in bad weather, and a coat of stain can take a plain pine fence from drab to dazzling. It’s a good idea to add a new coat of stain and treatment to the fence every two or three years.

Learn How to Build a Fence

Knowing how to build a fence can be a great way to make sure you get exactly the fence you want without spending a ton of money. Make sure you take every step carefully and follow all manufacturer instructions. With care and proper maintenance, you’ll have a beautiful fence that will last you for years.

If you’d like to learn how to do other DIY improvements around the home, check out the rest of our site. We have tips on everything from garden and yard improvements to recipes and storage hacks. Check out our bank of DIY articles today.

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