Handy Grant
Small Jobs Specialists

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Getting Started

A fence can provide several things: privacy, a weather barrier, containment for children or pets, protection from intruders, or merely decoration. Deciding which is most important to you will lead you to what type of fence you should build.


Planning and Design

imgFence design is limited only by your imagination. The best way to start is to look at other fences in your area, and to look through books and home magazines.

There are many different types of fences: chain-link, panel, picket, ranch style, etc. And most of the installation techniques are very similar.

Contact your city or residential association to find out if there are any restrictions on fence construction.

Check your setbacks to see if you're allowed to build right up to the property line.

Check for buried cables or pipes. Most utilities will come and mark these with spray paint if you request it.

And make sure you know just where your property lines are. It's a good idea to have a surveyor stake the corners of your lot before you start.



Laying out your fence is pretty basic in theory. You stake out where your fence will go, and stretch a string between them. This will serve as your guideline for installing the posts.

If your fence starts at your house or at another fence, you'll usually want to come off of it at a right angle. You can calculate this right angle using what's called the 3-4-5 method: img

  1. First stake the spot where your fence will start.
  2. Tie a string to the stake and stretch it out roughly perpendicular to the house (or whatever your working from).
  3. Measure out 4 feet out on the string and mark it.
  4. Mark a point on the house 3 feet away from the stake.
  5. Hold a tape measure diagonally between the three foot mark on the house and the four foot mark on the string, and move the string until the distance between the marks is exactly 5 feet .
  6. Tie down your string this spot. It is now exactly perpendicular to the house.

Mark the position of the first post. Then measure out on the line to mark the rest of the posts along your section of fence.

Your string should actually be the outside edge of the posts. So you'll have to measure in from the string for the center of the posts. Mark these with a stake, or a nail with a piece of ribbon so you can see them.

When a fence runs down a hill you have two options: you can have the tops of the sections follow the slope of the hill or you can keep the fence sections level and step the fence down at each post.

imgFor a step-down fence, determine the height difference between the top of the hill and the bottom, and divide that number by the number of sections. This will be the amount to step the fence down at each post.


Digging Post Holes

One way to dig your post holes is with a clamshell digger. This is pretty hard work, and if you've got a lot of holes or hard ground you should rent a power auger.

It usually take two people to run it. Even with the power auger, digging post holes is tough work.

In most areas, you want your posts below the frost line, so when the ground heaves from frost, the post will stay in place.

Our building codes specify that posts be dug down 42 inches. We actually only need the corner posts, or posts around a gate that deep. For our middle posts, or "line posts", we dug down 36 inches.

Obviously, in warmer areas, the frost line isn't this deep. A good rule-of-thumb is that you should bury about a half of the corner posts, and about a third of the line posts underground.


Setting Posts

img Redwood, cedar or treated posts will resist rot and decay, but it's still a good idea to put a five or six inch layer of gravel at the bottom of each hole.

The gravel will allow any water that collects at the bottom of the hole to drain away.

Set the end posts first. It's a good idea to use concrete to set these.

Line up the post edge along your layout string. You should also use a 4-foot level to make sure that the post is plumb in both directions.

When you get to the top, fill the hole up a little higher than the ground, and slope the top of the concrete away from the pole a little. This will keep water from running down between the post and the concrete.

Brace the post in place while the concrete cures.

The line posts require a lot less support. In most cases it's ok to set them with dirt.

Use a spacer to get a consistent distance between the posts. When the post is in position, shovel dirt in around it.

Once you've got three or four inches of dirt in, pack the dirt down, using the end of a 1x2, then keep filling it up.

When all the posts are set hard, trim the tops to the proper height.


Installing the Panels

There can be many pieces that make up the panels of your fence. Stringers are the pieces that run horizontally between the posts and support the fence boards. Where these go on your fence depends on your fence design.

Allow at least a couple of inches below the bottom stringer to prevent rot and to make it easier to mow.

One way to attach the stringers is to cut them to fit in between the posts and toe nail them to the posts.

You can also dado out a section of the post and set stringers in flush with it.

Always used galvanized nails on any project that will come in contact with moisture.

Install the stringers square, and be don't knock your posts out of plumb.

Your fence panels can be any design you want. You can put up vertical pickets, lattice, or pre-made panels. It looks best if you keep all the panels consistent and symmetrical.


Building a Gate

Plan on leaving at least a quarter inch space on each side of your gate for swinging clearance.

It helps to build the gate on a flat piece of plywood or particleboard.

For this picket fence gate, we used two cross pieces and a diagonal piece for support. Nail these pieces to the plywood, then nail them to each other.

Attach your panel design to the support pieces. In our case it was pickets.

Take out the nails holding the gate to the plywood.

Set the gate in place using blocks to set it at the right height and spacers to keep it the proper distance from the posts.

Use strong corrosive-resistant hardware and screws to attach the gate to the posts.


Installing a Chain-Link Fence

Set the corner posts for a chain-link fence first.

Let the concrete set up a bit and then make your final adjustments so they're plumb in both directions.

Once the concrete is dry, use the corner posts to string lines to line up the middle posts. Usually chain-link fence posts are spaced about 10 feet apart.

Make sure your concrete is totally cure before installing the fencing fabric because this puts a lot of tension on the posts.

An alternative to setting your posts in concrete is to use an anchoring system with stakes. Using this method you can set the posts to the exact height you need. Posts set in concrete need to be cut off at the right height with a pipe cutter.

The top rail goes through loop caps on top of the line posts. This rail forms the top frame that the fencing stretches across.

Roll the fencing out on the outside of the fence. If you need to extend the fencing you can weave two pieces together with a single strand.

Attach the fabric to a post at one end of the fence. You do this with a tension bar and tension bands.

Loosely tie all the fencing to the top rail. Then stretch the fencing by hand as far as you can.

Use a winch, made especially for this type of job, to pull the fencing until it's tight. Then permanently attach the fencing to the posts and top rail.


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