Best Types of Lumber for Wood Fences

Image: lattice fence with planting.

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

If you have decided to build a wooden fence for yourself, one of the first questions you may ask yourself is what kind of lumber you need for wood fencing? Certain kinds of lumber are typically used for this type of structure since they will directly contact the ground. There are specific considerations when shopping for lumber for this project.

Things to Consider Before Purchasing Fencing Lumber

Not just any lumber will do for wood fencing. You have to factor in your environment, how much you have to spend, how it will look, and how much lumber you will need.

Climate

Choose the wood that will be able to stand up to your home's environment. You need the fence to deter decay and be long-lasting. When selecting a type of lumber for your fence, consider weather factors like rain, snow, heat, sun, and humidity. For example, damp, shady spots can be prone to mold, mildew, and decay. Also, places that get wintery weather can expect moisture damage from rain and snow, wildly swinging temperatures cause cracks, and heavy snowdrifts can break or topple a fence entirely.

Regardless of the type of fence you get, treat your fence with a weatherproofing sealant to protect against moisture and extremely low or high temperatures. Also, make sure that the finish has UV protection to preserve the natural color of the wood longer. Clean and refinish the fence every other year to maintain its look and integrity.

Budget

When thinking about the amount of money you intend to spend on a wooden fence, you need to consider if you plan on staying in your house for a long time. The real question becomes do you want to have to get another fence in the next 10 years, 20 years, or more?

Durable wood will cost more, but over time if it can last for 30 years and need minimal repairs over that time, then the investment makes it worth it over the long term. If this fence is an investment, don't skimp on the installation costs. It is worth it to get a high-quality fence company with a long-standing reputation for good work.

Appearance

How you envision your fence should also factor in is if it is visible to others, is it for a secluded backyard, or how it will match your house? When comparing cedar lumber and pressure-treated lumber, most people choose cedar based on appearance alone. You will also pay extra for its good looks since pressure-treated lumber is cheaper.

Warning

When cutting pressure-treated lumber, be sure to wear work gloves, a facial mask, and goggles. This lumber type contains chemicals and preservatives that you should not breathe in or come in contact with.

Size of Fence

Wooden posts are typically 4 x 4 lumber and at least 8 feet long (remember, some of that length will be underground). Panels generally are 1.25 inches thick by 6 inches wide, with a length to match the height of the wood fencing. Lumber dimensions for the rails vary according to the style of wood fencing that you choose (in some cases, you will be able to use the same lumber for the rails as you used for the panels).

Popular Types of Wood

Fencing wood comes most commonly in pine and cedar, though cypress, redwood, spruce are good options, depending on your needs.

Pine

Pine is the least expensive option for wooden fencing. When used for fencing, it must be pressure-treated to stand up to decay and the elements. It resists shrinkage, but it can still warp, crack, or twist. When properly treated, it can last a lifetime, even if it comes in contact with wet soil. Most fencing companies will warranty a pressure-treated pine fence for 10 years, although some will offer a lifetime warranty.

Cedar

Cedar is much more expensive than pine. The wood contains natural oils that are insect and decay repellants. It has a pleasant scent, has a warm yellowish hue, and looks nice. It doesn't require much maintenance but is a better choice for a dry environment. It will require that its posts are set in concrete since it may decay when in direct contact with soil. It can last up to 15 to 25 years, depending on its quality and conditions.

Redwood

Redwood is a more durable wood than cedar. Like cedar, it contains tannins (slightly more than cedar does) that are naturally insect-resistant and long-lasting. It's priced slightly higher than cedar, and many people prefer its reddish-brownish natural look. A redwood fence can last 25 years or more with little maintenance needs.

Cypress

Cypress is a popular alternative to cedar because it is similar in price and quite rot-resistant. It is a fast-growing, evergreen species that is harder than cedar and most types of pine. It has a pleasant aroma and is not a very knotty tree. It has natural oils that resist insect activity, but over time those will wear down, and you may need to treat your cypress fence with an insecticide to keep insects away.

Spruce

Spruce is commonly used to create prefabricated, stockade-style, or picket fences. It's usually the most economical choice. The wood is creamy white to yellow and darkens with age. If you plan to paint your fence anyway, then spruce is a good option. Its most significant drawbacks are a lack of durability in humid environments and insects that gravitate toward spruce.

Specialized Lumber Products

There are also some specialized lumber products used for distinct types of wood fencing. An example is lattice or "latticework." Latticework is an open framework made of strips of metal, wood, or a similar material overlapped or overlaid in a regular pattern. The orientation can be diagonal for a crisscross look or straight up and down and straight across for a checkerboard pattern. It is often seen as a component used in porches, decks, gazebos, and privacy screens. Traditionally, trellises were made using latticework. The individual strips of lumber used for lattice typically measure 0.25 inches x 1.5 inches, come in various lengths, and are pressure-treated so that the wood will last a long time.

Avoiding Rot

Exposed to the elements as it is, wood fencing either needs to be made of rot-resistant lumber that has oils or resins that naturally preserve the wood, or it needs to be treated to make it rot-resistant. Treatment comes in the form of pressure-treating wood with chemical preservatives, or you can paint on a preservative to seal any wood of your choice. Cedar, redwood, and cypress are the most common decay-resistant woods.

If your wood fence is susceptible to an insect infestation, it will destroy the fence's integrity, causing it to rot and fall apart. Destructive insects include termites, carpenter bees, and carpenter ants. The wood you choose should have a natural repellent, pressure-treated, or require regular application of insecticides to prevent an infestation. The most naturally repellant woods are cedar and redwood.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Basic Facts About Mold and Dampness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.

  2. Preservative-Treated Wood and Alternative Products in the Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture.

  3. Wood Myths: Facts and Fiction. University of Massachusetts Amherst

  4. Biological Deterioration & Damage to Furniture & Wooden Objects. Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute.