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Even in the age of prefab panels, it’s possible to build a fence from scratch. The job starts with posts. You dig the holes, align the posts and fill in the holes. The rails come next, followed by the fencing (pickets, basket weave, or countless other possibilities). You can attach a rail several ways; none is necessarily better than the others. If your fence will be taller than 4 feet or particularly heavy, however, you’ll need to install a third rail midway between the other two.
You can install rails either between or across posts, and you can fasten them with hangers, nails, or screws. Rails placed wide side up resist side-to-side pressure. Rails placed narrow side up sag the least and are recommended for heavy fences and those whose posts are 6 feet or more apart. When attaching rails to the sides of posts, use 16-foot rails and stagger them so there is only one joint per post. Don’t cut notches in the posts to hold the rails; it creates a lot of work and weakens the posts.
Real World Situations: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Fences are simple to install, but they do require time and a certain amount of muscle. In the lower half of the United States, a simple guideline keeps fence builders out of most trouble: Put your fence posts in holes that are at least half as deep as the fence is tall. A fence 4 feet high belongs in a hole that’s 2 feet deep. A 6-foot fence belongs in a 3-foot hole, and an 8-foot fence belongs in a 4-foot hole. Looked at another way, this formula means that at least one-third of the total length of the fence pole is underground.
The formula above should provide more than enough depth to anchor your fence against high winds and backyard disasters. As you go farther north, however, freezing and thawing soil causes the ground—and anything in it—to shift. To protect the posts, their holes must be dug at least 6 inches below the frost line, as well as at least half the height of the exposed fence. Check with your municipality for local requirements and to find the frost line in your area. To further anchor the posts, set the end and gateposts in concrete. If you expect the fence to face real abuse, you can set all the other posts in concrete too. Think twice about putting concrete around anything but end and gateposts, however. If you ever have to remove the fence, you’ll also have to remove the concrete.
SKILL SCALE: Easy
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Step 1: Lay Out Rails On the First Post
Start at an end post and measure up from the ground to draw layout lines marking the location of each rail.
Step 2: Transfer the Lines to Other Posts
Transfer the layout lines to the other posts using a line level and mason’s line. (Don’t use ordinary string because it stretches). If you’re hanging the rails between posts, use a square to transfer the lines to the inside faces of the posts.
Narrow Edge Up
Nail rail hangers to the posts. Slide the ends of each rail into the hangers, then nail the side flanges of each hanger to the rail.
Face Up On Cleats
Fasten 2× cleats to the fence with #8 2 ½" deck screws. Place the rails on the cleats and drive two screws at an angle through the ends of the rails into the cleats.
Narrow Edge Up
Cut the rails so joints fall at the center of posts and the ends butt together tightly. Fasten the rail to the posts with #8 2½-inch deck screws.
Cut rails so the joints fall at the center of the posts and the ends butt together tightly. Cut a 45-degree miter on rails that meet over corner posts. Fasten with 10d (3") nails or #8 2 ½" deck screws.
Cut rails so the joints fall at the center of the posts. Put the rails on the posts, butting the ends tightly. Fasten the rails to the posts with #8 2 ½" deck screws.
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