How to Build a Fence

how to build a fence
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After you install that long-awaited fence in your yard, you might just breathe a welcome sigh of relief. How did you live for so long without it? Fences create instant privacy for your backyard paradise. They help keep kids and pets safe and secure. A fence, too, can be an object of beauty on its own. And best of all, neighbors tend to get along better with a well-made fence. Best of all, building a fence can be a do-it-yourself project.

If you have wanted a privacy fence for years but have been hesitant about installing one, you might be surprised to learn that they are far simpler to construct than you might imagine. Building a fence is a project that involves only a few basic materials, constructed with equally simple tools. This particular fence-building project uses materials that are easy to obtain from most home centers. From the pre-constructed fence panels to self-setting concrete, there are many tools and materials available that make this an easier and faster job than ever before.

When to Build a Fence

While it is always more comfortable to build a fence in warm, dry months, fence-building is not an especially weather-dependent project. As long as you can break through the frost line (if any) in the soil, you can dig the hole. Concrete, too, can be set in inclement weather, even in moderate rain.

Safety Considerations

Fence-building is physically rigorous, so enlist the help of a partner who can help you heft the heavy fence panels and posts. Each fence panel can weigh 110 pounds or more. Not only that, they are unwieldy and difficult to control.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 2 hours per 8 feet
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Material Cost: $100 to $125 per 8 feet

What You Will Need

Equipment/Tools

Materials

  • Fence panels
  • Fence posts
  • Quick-setting concrete mix
  • All-purpose gravel
  • Fence post caps
  • #8 2-1/2 inch exterior screws

Instructions

Discuss the Fence With Your Neighbor

With any boundary fence (a fence that is exactly on a line between two separate properties), it is always best if you can first have a friendly discussion and come to a consensus with your neighbor. Some places even require that you obtain written permission from your neighbor prior to building the fence. Regulations about sharing the cost of the fence also vary between communities. Also, check your title and other house purchase documents to see if a property easement lies in the area where you intend to build the fence.

Obtain a Fence Building Permit

It is likely that your community will require you to obtain a permit for your fence. Communities want to make sure that fences are kept below a certain height (usually 6 feet) and are set back far enough from public thoroughfares to preserve sight-lines.

Determine and Measure Fence Placement

After you have decided where you want your fence to run, tap the wood stakes into the ground every 8 feet down the line. Run the twine from stake to stake, just a few inches above the ground. If all looks fine, shake the marking paint vigorously, then spray directly over the top of the twine in order to lay a temporary line on the ground.

Call your local utility locator hotline and arrange for the service to come to the property. This free service offered by a consortium of local utility companies will mark the ground to identify gas lines, buried wires, and other potential problems you may encounter when you dig.

Dig the Fence Post Holes

Mark with an “X” the places on the fence line where the fence posts will be installed. Placement is determined by the width of the fence panels. Fence panels tend to be either 6 feet long or 8 feet long. The outer dimensions of those panels need to hit the on-center portion of the fence posts.

With the post hole digger, dig holes in your marked spots that are half the length of the post and about three times as wide. So, for four-by-four fence posts that are 6 feet long, the holes should be roughly 9 to 12 inches wide by about 3 feet deep.

Add the Base Fill to the Holes

Pour about 6 inches of the all-purpose gravel into the post holes. You can keep track of gravel height by extending the tape measure into the hole and pouring until you reach the desired height. The tape will easily slide out of the gravel.

Mount the Posts in the Holes

Take one of the four-by-four fence posts and use it to tamp down the base gravel in the hole. Set the fence post in position and hold it firmly. Have your partner fill the rest of the hole around the fence post with dry quick-setting concrete mix. Fill until the dry mix reaches ground level.

Use your level to plumb the fence post so that it is perfectly vertical. Hold the level toward the top of the fence post. Check two adjacent sides of the fence post so that it is plumb in all directions.

When the fence is perfectly vertical, keep holding the post while your partner pours fresh water into the dry mix. The mix will cure in place in about 20 minutes. Wait four hours before proceeding to the next step.

Attach the Fence Panels to the Posts

With an assistant, position a fence panel between two of the posts, so that the ends of the panel hit the center of each post. Use your level to make sure that the panel is level. Drive screws through both the front of the panel and through the stringer portion (the horizontal structural member), attaching the panel to the four-by-four post. Do this for all of the stringers on the panel.

Finishing Up: Staining and Post Caps

Complete your fence project by staining and protecting the wood. Even pressure-treated wood and cedar can benefit from extra protection. Attach post caps to the tops of every fence post. Not only do these add a decorative element to your fence, but they also promote water drainage and prevent the tops of posts from weathering and cracking.

When to Call a Professional

Building a fence is one of those home improvement projects that, as basic as it is, can overwhelm even the most determined do-it-yourselfer. Motivation and ability vary from person to person; but if this is intended to be a perimeter fence or another type of long fence, you may want to call a fence-building company.