How to Build a Fence

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How to Build a Fence
Building a fence can seem complicated. How do you keep it level? How far apart should you place the posts? And what alternatives do you have when building it? These are just a few of the questions you might have when building a fence. But with a little know-how and the right tools, you can build a fence yourself.
The following article walks you through the fence-building process, using a 10-step process.

How to build a fence in 10 steps

Materials Needed
  • Board spacer
  • Concrete mix
  • Deck screws
  • Drill
  • Drop clothes (for surrounding plants and bushes)
  • Fence materials (including posts, rails, panels, and post caps)
  • Galvanized nails
  • Gloves
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Mason’s line
  • Measuring tape
  • Paint, stain, or sealer
  • Paint brush
  • Paint roller
  • Pencil
  • Post hole digger
  • Post leveler
  • Rubber mallet
  • Shovel
  • Small gravel
  • Square
  • Stakes
  • Stirring stick
  • String
Before beginning this project, gather all of your materials to speed up the process. The steps below detail how to build a fence from start to finish.
Step 1: Layout the fence posts. Start by laying out where you want the fence to go.
You can do this by hammering stakes in the ground where you want the corners of the fence.
From there, attach string to each stake and run it between the corners of the fence.
Step 2: Check for square. Check for square by using a tape measure to measure three feet along one of the lines, starting from an outside corner, and mark it with a pencil.
Measure four feet along the opposite line, marking it with a pencil.
Measure the distance between the two marks on the diagonal. Adjust the stake so that the distance between the marks equals five feet.
Repeat this process for all of the fence corners.
Step 3: Add the middle posts. Next, add middle posts equidistant along each side of the fence and stake the locations in the ground.
Normally, you want to divide the space between corner posts by eight, but you should break the distance down into smaller sections for distances not divisible by eight.
Step 4: Dig holes. Once you have the location of each post, use a post hole digger to dig the post holes.
To get the proper depth, dig the post holes 33% as deep as the post is tall. You also need to dig a hole wide enough to allow for a little room around each post for the concrete.
Add about three to four inches of small gravel into the bottom of each hole.
Step 5: Insert posts. Insert the posts into each hole and line them up with the other posts.
Check to make sure the whole fence remains in square. You should also use a post leveler to ensure that each post is straight.
You should also measure each post to make sure it is sitting at the proper height.
If needed, nail temporary boards to each post to keep it in place.
Step 6: Add concrete. Pour concrete into each post hole until it is about 2/3 of the way full.
Working one post at a time, add the required amount of water.
Use a stirring stick to mix the cement and water thoroughly.
Allow the concrete to set for the required amount of time according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Add dirt, as needed, to fill in any space remaining in the post holes.
To ensure that all of the posts sit at the same height, run a mason’s line from one end post to the other, making sure the line remains at an equal distance above the ground.
Step 7: Attach the rails. Next, attach the rails of the fence in between each post.
Use 2x4 rails cut to the appropriate length to fit in between each post. Keep rails no more than 24 inches apart.
To attach rails, start at an end post and measure up from the ground using a measuring tape to get the desired height for the bottom rail. Mark measurement with a pencil.
Use mason’s line and a level to transfer the layout line from one post to the other. Use a square to transfer the line to the inside of each post.
When attaching the rails, you have a few options to choose from:
  • Narrow edge up: Using galvanized nails or decking screws, attach a rail hanger to the inside face of each post.
Slide the 2x4 rail into the hanger and secure it using decking screws.
  • Face up: To attach face-up rails, start by securing two small blocks of wood, called cleats, to the inside face of each post using deck screws. Lay the rail flat on top of the cleat and secure it by drilling two screws into the end of each rail at an angle.
  • Side of the post: You can also attach the rails to the outside of the posts.
Secure the rails, narrow edge up, using deck screws, making sure to stagger them so that you only have one joint per post. When you are done, each rail should only rest on half of the post, with the next rail butted up against it at the halfway point of the post.
Step 8: Attach the panels. Next, you need to attach the panels, also known as pickets, or privacy boards.
Using nails or screws, attach the panels to the rails. The easiest way to do this is to place the first board, and then use a level to make sure that the panel is plumb vertically with the rest of the fence.
Once the panel is good, attach it to the rail. To place the next panel, use a board spacer to get the proper distance in between panels.
Check occasionally with the level to make sure the panels remain plumb.
Step 9: Attach the post caps. Don’t forget to attach the post caps if you have them.
You can use a rubber mallet to hammer each post cap gently into place.
Step 10: Treat the wood. Finally, once everything is in place, you want to treat the wood to protect it from the elements.
To do this, cover the plants and bushes around your new fence with a drop cloth.
Next, apply the paint, stain, or sealer using a paint brush or roller, and it allow to dry. Apply a second coat if you feel it is necessary.
A fence gives you, your family, and friends privacy when in the yard of your home. By building the fence yourself, you can save money and use the type of materials you want. Finish your yard with landscaping, a thriving lawn, plant borders, and comfortable outdoor furniture.