Do-It-Yourself Wood Fences


Wood fences are one of the best enclosures for your yard. Fences made out of wood come in a variety of styles and can be built according to your own preferences. Many people choose tall wood fences in order to have a large amount of privacy while others prefer picket fences around their yard to give their homes a certain feel. Whichever style of wood fence you choose, these kinds of fences have several advantages including being more cost effective than other alternatives.  There are tradeoffs, wood fences can also difficult to maintain over the long run because wood can damaged by the weather and elements. However, with a few tips, you can build and repair a wood fence by yourself.

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Advantages of Wood Fences

Wood fences have many advantages over fences made of other materials like metal. Wood fences can be installed yourself as opposed to calling a professional. The supplies and tools used to create a wood fence are readily accessible and can be found at any home improvement store. You can adjust the height of the fence posts more readily and you can easily add more elements to your wood fence like railings that are attached with metal screws. You can even paint your own designs on a wood fence or have it all one solid color. Wood fences tend to be more decorative than those made out of metal and can complement your house.

Building your Own Wood Fence

Once you have decided to put a wood fence around your property, here are the basic steps to building one yourself:

  1. The first thing you should do is decide on the location of the fence. You can mark the location with some stakes and string. Fences are usually located along your property line, but be sure you are not trespassing on your neighbor’s property. If so, you will have to relocate your fence sooner or later.
  2. The next step is to figure out how high you want your fence to be. Privacy fences are typically about six feet tall whereas picket fences are only about three feet tall.
  3. If you haven’t done it already, be sure to get all the materials you need. You will need items like a posthole digger, hammer, drill, tape measure, circular saw, nails, and the fence posts themselves. A home improvement store can help you find everything to get the job done.
  4. Once you have all your supplies, you can begin by setting the end posts, the parts of the fence at the corners. Use a post hole digger to make the holes, ideally about thirty inches deep. You can then set the posts in the hole, make sure the post is level, and then fill in the rest of the hole with dirt or cement.
  5. The next step is to place other posts between the end posts. It is recommended to start out placing the posts eight feet apart. You can use a plumbing line made out of string and attached to the posts with nails to make sure that they are all the same height. Use the same technique to set these posts as you did on the end posts.
  6. Once you have those posts in place, the next step is to install the horizontal boards along the fence. These 2 x 4 boards are attached with nails, and depending on your preference, they are usually set at the top, center, and bottom of the vertical posts.
  7. The next step is to nail the vertical boards all along the fence. Once those are in place, it is a good idea to cover the fence with a high-quality waterproof sealer.

Maintaining and Repairing a Wood Fence

Wood fences tend to wear out over time because of exposure to the elements and also because of the possibility of insect damage. Consequently, wood fences need to be regularly maintained with a waterproof sealant. If your fence is painted, a fresh coat will need to be added once in a while. If your fence posts are severely damaged, you can replace the fence post or repair the rotting wood by adding reinforcement to it. The key for wood fences is to keep them regularly maintained so that it looks nice and continues to provide the privacy or decoration for your house and yard.

How to Dig Fence Post Holes by Hand

We all know that digging fence post holes by hand is not the easiest way – whenever possible use a tractor mounted auger or a portable power auger.  But some jobs are too small to justify the equipment rental or don’t allow access for the larger equipment.  In these situations you have three choices: shovel and digging bar, a clamshell style post hole digger, and a post hole auger.

New fence post holes

Shovel and Digging Bar

Using a drain spade or trenching shovel you should be able to dig a hole 2 – 3 feet in depth and still maintain a hole diameter of 12 inches or less, using the digging bar to get past small rocks and loosen hard soil.  Look for a narrow blade on the shovel with a strong handle that is stiff with some flex – we prefer fiberglass handles for their durability.  For fencing, the best digging bar will have a chisel tip on one end for dislodging stones and cutting tree roots, with a tamper head on the other end for setting the fence post.

Using shovel and digging bar for post holes

Using a shovel and digging bar is the choice that will be the most work and produce the largest hole that is very difficult to keep uniform – use as a last resort only when necessary.

Clamshell Post Hole Digger

clamshell post hole digger

Say the words ‘post hole digger’ and this is the tool most people will picture in their mind.  After going deeper than about 18 inches, the clamshell digger is more efficient to remove the loose soil from the bottom of a post hole and with practice most people can dig a uniform hole with vertical sides.

When purchasing your clamshell post hole digger look for a model that is small and lightweight – the heavy gauge model with the large fiberglass handles may look good in the store but you will quickly get exhausted using it. Clamshell post hole diggers are limited to holes 3 – 4 feet deep, going much deeper requires enlarging the top of the holes to make room for the handles to separate to remove the loose dirt. 

The Fiskars model linked below has innovative offset handles let you dig postholes up to 12 inch deeper than traditional models and protect your knuckles while you dig.  Pre-sharpened to cut through the ground easier, the unit’s blades are welded directly to the shaft for additional strength, and the entire tool is powder-coated to prevent rust.

When digging in sticky clay soil, dunk the digger in a bucket of water to keep the soil from sticking to the blades and give the digger a good knock on the back of a shovel to remove clumps of dirt. In hardpan soil or clay use a digging bar to loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and then using the clamshell to clear the loose dirt from the hole.

Post Hole Auger

The manual post hole augers were popular years ago, and for good reason – a quality post hole auger is one of the easiest and fastest way to dig a perfect fence post hole.  The auger ‘drills’ through the soil without the forceful motion required of clamshell style diggers or digging bars.  Advances in the design and blade components provide a much improved experience – even kids and senior citizens can use.

Most augers are adjustable to dig holes 6~8 inches in diameter, more than sufficient for most fence posts.  The design of many augers allows for deeper holes by adding extensions of threaded pipe – holes of greater than 14 feet can be achieved if needed – there are even users reporting they used a post hole auger to dig shallow wells!

The auger blade will cut through small tree roots and hardpan, periodically sharpening the auger blades will return it to like-new condition for easier use.  As with other diggers, the auger will not go through rocks – these are best handled with a digging bar.  Keep a large screwdriver on hand to dislodge any rocks that become lodged in the auger itself.

All of the benefits make the post hole auger our tool of choice when digging post holes by hand, we have only encountered one situation where the auger failed – digging a hole in close proximity to a building or other obstruction that prevents the handle from turning a full revolution.

tamping the fence post hole

Wood Privacy Fence Styles and Designs

Wood privacy fences are a great addition to any property with outdoor space that you would like to make your own. They allow you to enjoy all of the benefits of the nice outdoors, without having to deal with noisy neighbors or obnoxious pets.

Having a private backyard has many benefits. It can make everyday activities more intimate and enjoyable. Having a family BBQ surrounded by a privacy fence gives your family a special piece of the outdoors to enjoy each other’s company and make good memories. Privacy fences can also make owning a pool more enjoyable. You and your family will be free to swim without worrying about prying eyes. You also won’t have to worry about neighborhood kids using your pool when you are away.

Not only are privacy fences good for keeping unwanted people (and attention) out, they can also help keep pets and small children in. Privacy fences are usually too high for pets to climb over and they don’t have gaps in them for pets to squeeze through. Having a privacy fence means that you can safely leave your dog in the backyard without worrying about the dog escaping or someone stealing it.

Choose the Design for your Wood Privacy Fence

Wood privacy fences come in many styles and designs. For every type of home, from classic to modern, there is a wood privacy fence to fit your needs. Not only can you pick the perfect design to fit your needs, you are also able to customize wood privacy fences with many different types of wood and color options.

Picking the right style for your home requires thinking about many different factors, in order to make the best choice. You should carefully consider the amount of privacy, the amount of security, the ease of installation, the ease of maintenance, and the associated cost of each style before settling on one specific idea.

Solid or Shadowbox

There are primarily two styles for privacy fences today: solid and shadowbox. It is important to select the correct fence style for your desired level of privacy, home style and property type.

Solid board fences allow for complete privacy. They are generally taller, most around six feet, for containment purposes. It’s important to keep in mind that while a solid fence will completely obstruct any views of your property, it will also completely obstruct your view of anything outside of your property.

Shadowbox fences give the illusion of being spaced, as the pickets alternate across the back and front of the fence. The fence looks the same on both sides to anyone passing by, and completely obstructs surrounding views, but has a softer appeal than a solid board fence. Most shadowbox fences offer less privacy than solid board fences, as people may be able to see through the fence when standing near the fence and looking along the fence line.

Fence Height

Once you’ve determined the purpose of your fence and your preferred style, it’s time to determine the height of your fence. Most fences today are somewhere between four and six feet tall. When considering which height is best for your fence, here are some things to think about:

  • How close your neighbors are
  • The height of surrounding buildings
  • Foliage around your property
  • The slope of your property
  • Aesthetic appeal

Then, you’ll want to determine how far apart you’d like each of the fence posts to be. Again, consider your neighbors. If you’re close enough for peering eyes, you may want to position your posts closer to one another. If you’re not too concerned about your neighbors, you may want to consider leaving a wider gap. Remember: the wider the gap, the more spacious (but less private) your yard will feel.

Vertical or Horizontal Panels

Vertical panels are the most common, traditional style of privacy fence around. They give your property a classic look and work great for suburban or more rural properties. Vertical privacy fences are also easier to install, maintain and repair. Because vertical privacy fences are the most common type of privacy fence, finding professional help is easier.

Horizontal panels give your property a sophisticated, modern feel. They are perfect for urban environments and properties that wish to stand out with a high-end feel. Horizontal privacy fences can be both solid or shadowbox style to exactly fit your needs.

Accessories

There are many different accessories and options that you can choose from customize your fence. Here are a few worth considering:

  • Cut Post Tops – Post tops can be cut in a variety of different ways depending on your desired look.
  • Exposed Posts – A fence with exposed posts inserts the pickets between the posts, allowing the posts to be visible when viewing the fence from the outside.
  • Fascia Boards – A fascia board is a horizontal board placed in front of the fence to add aesthetic appeal and frame the front of the fence.
  • Lattice Top – A lattice top gives additional height to a privacy fence, while allowing some light to pass through.
  • Top Boards – A top board is a board that is placed on top of a privacy fence to give a more complete feel.

Maintaining a Wood Privacy Fence

So, you’ve installed wooden fencing around your house, garden or pool that is attractive and adds value to your property. However, if you don’t preserve your new fence, it will quickly lose its beautiful appearance and damage incurred could challenge its functionality. Proper care and maintenance will keep your fence looking good and performing at its best. There are some best practices to consider when taking care of your fence; here, we’ll name a few:

Damaged Wood Privacy Fence

Damage Repair

A huge part of keeping your wooden fence functional and in tip-top shape is repairing any existing damages to your fence. Your fence can be damaged in a variety of ways, for example it might have some rot damage, splintering, or sagging panels. It’s important to resolve these issues before they worsen and cost you a lot more money down the road. 

Luckily, with panel fences you can repair the damage to smaller sections of your fence at a time without having to replace the entire fence. It’s important to remove and replace damaged panels or posts as soon as you detect a problem. Simple repair jobs shouldn’t take more than a few hours and will extend the lifespan of your wooden fence by a few years.

Painting, Staining and Sealing

Wooden fencing benefits most from routine scraping, painting and sealing. Depending on your environment, you should scrape, paint and seal your fence at least every three years (if not more frequently). Even if you prefer the natural look and opt out of a paint job, it’s important to scrape and seal your fence just as often to prevent any damages to your fence by the elements. In rainy areas, you should complete these steps every year, while in more arid regions you can opt for every three years instead. Consider these timelines a general guideline for when you should perform your scrape-paint- seal maintenance; if you notice that your fence needs attention before you’ve hit the one or three year mark, go ahead and address the issue immediately. As a general rule, if water has stopped beading up on your wooden fence, it’s probably time to re-seal.

Wooden fence

Before you paint/stain and seal your fence you’ll need to clean it first. A power washer will come in handy for this step; it will enable you to save the time and manpower it would take to otherwise scrape your entire fence.

Your local home improvement store will have a quality high-pressure power washer that you can rent to complete the job. If your power washer has an attachment option, consider purchasing any treatments that will aid in mold and mildew removal.

If it does not have such an option, you’ll need to also get a pump-up weed sprayer, fill it with a bleach and detergent solution, and apply to your wooden fence about an hour before you power wash it.

Insect and Termite Prevention

Destructive pests like termites, also called white ants, and other insects can easily destroy your wooden fencing. Lucky, most posts are treated at the mill with some light chemicals to prevent most of the damage, but your panels may not fare as well. Softwoods like redwood, pine and cedar are most susceptible to termite damage.

Termite damaged fence

You should treat your fence with a natural insect repellent like Borax to prevent any damage from the pests. If you notice that you already have an infestation, you may want to seek the help of a professional. While a professional service will be able to exterminate the insects, you’ll still need to do some repair to any damaged panels or posts as the insects may have damaged the integrity of your fence.

Inspect and Maintain Fence Hardware, Replace if Necessary

You’ll want to lubricate and revitalize your hardware, including any hinges, screws and door locks each time you scrape, stain and seal your fence. If your hardware is failing, you may also want to consider replacing it.

To lubricate your hardware, first clean it using a soapy water solution and then apply a bit of automotive grease to the insides of hinges and locks using a small paintbrush. This quick trick will keep your gates and panels from sagging (and squeaking!) and you should see immediate results.

By keeping an eye on your wooden fence’s condition, you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of time and money down the road. Inspect your fence regularly for damage by the elements, termites and other insects. If you notice that you do have damage issues, address them immediately.

Also look to see if your sealant is strong by checking for beading water on your fence. If the water sinks into the posts, it’s time to clean/ scrape, stain/paint and re-seal your wooden fence.

If you pay attention to your fence and follow these simple upkeep guidelines, you’ll surely be able to enjoy your beautiful wooden fence for a lot longer.

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