How to Build a Fence

Six Parts:Deciding on the BasicsProper Measuring and PreparationSetting the PostsAdding Rails and BoardsAdding a GateFinishing Up

Whether you're looking to create a small decorative border around your garden or a sturdy barrier between your pool and the outside world, deciding to build a fence in lieu of hiring a contractor can save significant amounts of money. Additionally, it allows the builder to fully customize the shape, material and coverage area. Whatever the fence's purpose or dimensions, careful planning is the key to creating a solid barrier that will stand the test of time.

Part 1
Deciding on the Basics

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    Know the lingo.
    • Posts are the vertical support beams that are embedded in the ground.
    • Rails are the horizontal supports that are attached to the posts.
    • Boards or slats are the main material of the fence and can be either horizontal or vertical: they are attached to both the posts and rails.
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    Consider at the function of the fence in order to decide on the material.
    • If it is to provide privacy to a backyard garden, tall wooden boards may be the most appropriate choice.
    • If it is meant to contain a pet, a simple stretch of pickets may provide the best combination of fresh air and ample protection.
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    Decide on the height. Privacy fences should be a minimum of six feet to keep out prying eyes, while barriers meant to contain most pets or livestock can usually stay around four.
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    Determine the length and angles of the fence's sides. Set end posts at the corners and use them to run a line in the exact area the fence is to be constructed. [1]

Part 2
Proper Measuring and Preparation

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    Decide on the posts' spacing. This should generally be around six to eight feet apart, depending on the type of fence and the terrain it will be installed upon. [1]
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    Mark the spaces with stakes. Take the time to carefully evaluate their position, as failing to align posts properly will impact the solidity of the overall structure.
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    Use a post hole digger to dig holes at each stake marker. To ensure a stable fence, plan to set your posts at a depth of 1/3 of their length. This is the depth you'll need to dig your holes.
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    Treat the bottom third of the posts with a protective seal to help prevent damage from underground moisture. Allow to stand overnight so the wood can become saturated. [1]

Part 3
Setting the Posts

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    Put a few shovelfuls of dirt or gravel at the bottom of the post holes and insert the posts at a sharp 90-degree angle to the ground. Rock gently to help settle it. [2]
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    Check the angle of each post with a level and brace it with stakes. Corner posts should get extra support in both directions. [1]
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    Tamp down the dirt or concrete into the post hole to get it firmly into position. Leave the braces where they are for at least two weeks to allow the post to settle into place. [2]
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    Build a small mound of dirt or concrete around the post base to deter standing water. [2]

Part 4
Adding Rails and Boards

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    Nail a top and bottom rail to fence posts, running horizontally. Measure a set distance from the top of each post to determine where the place the bottom rail in order to keep it straight. [1]
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    Add center rails. Depending on the fence style, there may be just one or several.
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    Nail boards to posts or rails, depending on the fence style. These can be all on one side of the rails or alternated in a pattern. [1]

Part 5
Adding a Gate

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    Determine where the gate (if any) should be placed and its size. Most gates are at least 40 inches (101.6 cm) in length. [3]
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    Dig post holes and place reinforced posts on either side. Use the gravel/rocking/tamping process mentioned earlier to make them as sturdy as possible.
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    Measure the opening, cut 2"x4" pieces into a frame shape and begin bolting them together. [3]
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    Attach hinge/support bracket to the bottom 2"x4" piece.
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    Continue to construct the frame, adding hinge/brackets and corner brackets as you go. [3]
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    Place the gate in empty space to make sure it fits. If everything looks ship-shape, brace the hanging post with extra brackets to make sure it can bear the weight.
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    Attach the hinges to the hanging post with heavy-duty lag screws.
    • Whether you want the gate to open in or out determines which side you hang it on.
    • Once the hinges are solidly placed, install the handle and latch on opposite side.

Part 6
Finishing Up

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    Add several coats of wood sealer to protect your new fence from the elements.
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    Paint the fence and gate with a wood stain in a color that complements the surroundings or add a colorful design.


  • About one-third of the posts' total length should be underground: for example, if the fence is going to be six feet high, the posts themselves should be nine feet and the hole should be three feet deep.
  • The most important part of the whole thing is care and precision, so always follow the saying "measure twice, cut once."
  • Since fences are often constructed along property borders, be very scrupulous to ensure that it does not encroach on anyone else's territory before beginning to build.
  • When nailing in the rails, measuring each post can be a major waste of time. Save effort by measuring a stick to the correct length, then using it to mark the right place on each post. [1]
  • When making the gate frame, drill pockets for the bolt heads in the vertical pieces to ensure a flush connection between the fence and the gate. [3]

Things You'll Need

  • Boards
  • Saw
  • Fence posts
  • Stakes
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Post hole digger
  • Shovel
  • Concrete
  • Power drill
  • Lag screws
  • One-piece hinge/support brackets
  • Corner brackets
  • Gate handle/latch
  • Measuring tape or yardstick

Article Info

Categories: Walls Fences and Decks