What Kind of Lumber Do I Need for Wood Fencing?

Rot-Resistant Materials, Typical Dimensions

Image: lattice fence with planting.
With its straps oriented straight up and down and straight across, this lattice fence presents a checkerboard pattern. David Beaulieu

If you have decided to build a wooden fence for yourself, one of the first questions you may be asking yourself is, What kind of lumber do I need for wood fencing? There are specific considerations when shopping for lumber for this project. Certain kinds of lumber are typically used for this type of structure, since it will be in direct contact with the ground.

Use Rot-Resistant Materials for Wood Fencing

Not just any lumber will do for wood fencing.

Exposed to the elements as it is, wood fencing needs to be made of rot-resistant lumber. That is why cedar is a popular material for outdoor projects, as is pressure-treated lumber. The wood should also be painted or stained to better preserve it.

Of course, appearance comes into play, as well, assuming that the fence in question will be visible to the public. In comparing cedar lumber and pressure-treated lumber, most people would choose the cedar based on appearance alone. But you will pay extra for its good looks; pressure-treated lumber is cheaper. But the latter has its drawbacks, as well (beyond matters of appearance). When cutting pressure-treated lumber, be sure to wear work gloves, a facial mask, and goggles, because this product is not a natural wood (it contains harmful preservatives that you do not want getting absorbed into your body).

Wooden posts are typically 4 x 4 lumber and at least 8 feet long (remember, some of that length will be underground).

Panels are typically 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).

Specialized Lumber Products

There are also some specialized lumber products used for distinct types of wood fencing. An example is lattice or "latticework." What is "latticework?" Let's take a closer look.

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 of porches, decks and gazebos. Traditionally, trellises were made of latticework.

Latticework also sometimes assumes a more prominent role on the landscape, functioning as a privacy screen, often enhanced by having vines grow on it. In other cases, where a privacy screen is not the objective, its main use will be simply as a support for vines.

The individual strips of lumber that are used for lattice typically measure .25 inches x 1.5 inches, come in various lengths, and are pressure-treated so that the wood will last a long time. Read this tutorial to learn how to build a lattice fence.