Wood Fencing 101

Project By Blair Korchinski

Building a fence is one of the most basic do-it-yourself projects. With just a little planning and a little work, you can build a fence that will give you years of enjoyment.

Step 1 Call Before You Dig.

Call your local utility companies and have them mark where any gas, electrical or water lines are. In most communities, this service is free and there is often a single number you can call.

Step 2 Layout.

The first step in building a fence is to determine where it will go, and then mark the spots where you will need to dig holes for posts.

String a line using twine to mark the area where your fence will be installed. Every six to seven feet, mark a spot for a post using spray paint.

Step 3 Install the Posts.

Posts should go at least three feet into the ground, whether the fence you are building is three feet high or six feet high. If your fence is to be more than six feet high, one third of the total post length should be below ground.

The post holes are dug using a post hole auger. You can use a manual auger or rent a power auger. There are also contractors who can dig post holes or install posts for you.

Dig the hole an extra 4 to 8 inches deeper than required, so that you have room for some crushed rock under the post. This allows drainage and helps to prevent shifting and heaving.

Once your holes are ready, run a string line to keep your posts in line during installation.

Posts are usually set in concrete. To make sure they are straight and plumb, drive two stakes in the ground, install the post, pour the concrete into the hole, plumb the post using a carpenter’s level, and then temporarily attach the posts to the stakes to hold it in position until the concrete sets.

Under certain conditions, such as working in low areas that are susceptible to an extended freeze/thaw cycle, or where code prohibits the use of concrete, you can set the posts in crushed rock (¾ down lime, for example) instead.

If you are setting the posts in crushed rock, one person should hold the post plumb, while another adds rock to the hole and tamps it down.

When all of the posts have been installed and the concrete has set, cut the posts to their final length.

Step 4 Installing the Stringers

Stringers are the portion of your fence that span the space between posts. They can be attached to the posts using fence clips, or you can let them into the posts.

Fence clips are simply small joist hangers that you attach to the post using galvanized roofing nails. Fence clips provide adequate strength for most applications.

The next step is to slide the stringer into the fence clips and nail them in place.
Letting in, however, is a slightly more complicated process, but it produces a more natural look and since you will be spanning more than two posts, it adds some strength to your fence.

To let a stringer into a post, first mark the post on either side of where the stringer will be installed, then adjust the depth of your saw blade to the depth the stringer will be let in (usually 1-1/2”). Make several shallow cuts across the area of wood to be removed. Cut out any remaining wood using a sharp chisel. Lastly, you can install the stringer into the cut-out area and attach it with screws or nails.

The top stringer may be placed between the posts or on top of the posts, depending on the design of your fence.

If you are using the let in method, joints in the upper and lower stringers should be staggered so that they don’t occur on the same post.

Step 5 Installing the fence boards.

String a line at the final height of your fence boards.

Starting at the most visible corner, line the top of your first board up with the string line and the edge of the fence board up with the side of the post. Attach the fence board, using screws or nails.

Cut a spacer. This is usually just a small piece of plywood or fence board between ½ and ¾ of an inch thick. If your fence design calls for wider spacing, simply cut a spacer to the required width.

Place the spacer against the first board and the second board against the spacer. Attach the second board.

Repeat this process for each board, checking the fence boards for plumb every six boards. If the boards are not plumb, make several small corrections over several boards. The result will be a beautiful fence that will last you for years.

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One thought on “Wood Fencing 101

  1. I really like your tip about making sure that you know the layout and figure out where the fence is going to go. My husband and I have been wanting to install a fence for the past year or so. I think that these tips will really help us to get the whole process started! We will be sure to keep them in mind, thank you for sharing!

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