How to Build a Fence


If you’re looking to increase home security and keep unwanted critters from your home, a fence can help get the job done.

A few of the most popular fences include privacy, picket, split rail and basket-weave. They can be made from materials ranging from wood to vinyl, aluminum to wrought iron. 

Before you begin, research the fencing guidelines in your area. Sometimes a building permit is required. For the installation, think about how much you want to be involved based on your skills, time, confidence and budget. If your skills are above average, consider a DIY installation. If below average, our professional installers can do it for you.

This guide shows you how to secure the fence posts, attach the panels (pickets) and complete the fence with post caps.  

Tip: Click on the names of these fence types to watch a video detailing the building processes for each: Panel fence, traditional picket fence, vinyl fence, horizontal fence and split rail fence.

Measure for and lay out the fence posts
Lay out fence posts - How Build a Fence

• Select your fence type first so you can determine the available widths of each fence panel. See our Fencing buying guide to learn about the different types, and help choosing the right fence for you. 
• Determine your property line (your utility company can help) and how you want your fence positioned in relation to it. 
• Outline your proposed fence line with spray paint, then measure the outline of your fence perimeter with a measuring wheel. 
• Determine where you want to locate your gates and spray paint parallel lines to indicate the gate placement. Measure and document all gate sizes. 
• Subtract the gate footage from the fence footage to figure the lineal footage of the fence, then divide the lineal footage of fencing by the panel length of the style fence you selected. This will determine the total fence panels or pickets you need. Remaining footage will require a partial panel. To calculate panels correctly, divide the footage of fencing by your panel width. For pickets, determine both your picket width and spacing between pickets.
• For every panel and partial panel, add two to derive the total fence panels needed, and if you are adding post caps, the number of post caps needed and possibly trim required.
• Position the fence posts every 6 to 8 feet along the line you want the fence to stand.
• Use chalk lines as a guide.
• Make sure the spaces between the posts are consistent.

Dig holes
Dig holes - How Build a Fence

• With a post hole digger, dig holes approximately three times wider than the post, and half as deep. The depth might depend on your climate (in colder climate, you’ll want to dig below the frost line). Make sure you won’t be interfering with utility hotlines or pipes.
• A 4-foot-high fence requires a hole that is 2 feet deep. If the posts are 4 inches wide, the holes should be 12 inches wide.

Add concrete and gravel
Add concrete and gravel - How Build Fence

• Once the holes are dug, pour 4-6 inches of gravel down the base of the hole for proper drainage.
• Add 6-8 inches of concrete mix once gravel is set.
• Position the post in the middle of the concrete mix, making sure to slope the concrete mix away from the post.
• Plumb post with a level.
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to allow for proper drying and curing time, which may take up to three days.

Attach rails or panels to posts
Attach rails panels posts - How Build Fence

• Once the concrete has cured, attach the rails or panels of the fence to the posts.
• Secure each rail with #8 2 1/2-inch deck screws or galvanized 10d 3-inch nails. 
• Panels are typically faster to construct.
• If you are using panels, proceed to Step 6 once the panels are secured to the posts.
• If you use vinyl, chain link or aluminum for your fence, use deck screws instead of nails.

Attach pickets to rails
Attach pickets rails - How Build a Fence

• Once the rails are in place, begin attaching the pickets to the rails. Individual pickets are often more attractive on slopes, allowing you to create a straight line across the top.
• Secure each picket with #8 2 ½-inch deck screws or galvanized 10d 3-inch nails.
• If you use vinyl, chain link or aluminum for your fence, use deck screws instead of nails.

Attach post caps
Attach post caps - How Build Fence

To complete your fence, attach the post caps to the posts. Tap each cap lightly with a rubber mallet until each one fits snuggly onto the post.