How to Build a Wooden Fence

Building a wooden fence can be a great way to make your backyard more desirable, give you some much-needed privacy, and even increase your home’s curb appeal. By opting to install a fence yourself you can save money and customize the fence to your liking. 

What you’ll Need:

  • Wooden stakes
  • String
  • Shovel/Post-Hole Digger or Auger
  • Drill or Nail-gun
  • Quickcrete or Cement Mix
  • 4×4 Fence Posts
  • 2×4 Cross Posts
  • Fence Pickets
  • Level

Getting Started

To begin, gather all the materials and tools you’ll need and begin to plan the layout of your fence. It’s important to layout exactly where the fence will go, as you’ll need to verify that it’s acceptable in the next step. Since you’ll need to pour cement for the posts, look ahead to see how long it will take to dry so you can better estimate the time-frame of the build. depending on what type of mix you’re using, it could take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. 

Call in a Locate Request

Before getting started and digging any holes in the yard, you’ll need to call in a locate request. This is a free service that will have professionals come out and identify where any underground lines are buried and stake them out, so you don’t accidentally dig into one. In Michigan, this service is called Miss Dig, but it will vary by state.  

You’ll also need to make sure that you know where your property lines are at so you don’t accidentally build past them. 

Stake out and String the Area the Fence Will Be

After you’ve established where it’s safe to dig into the ground and install your fence, you’ll need to string out the area where your fence will be. This will help you plan where you’ll need to install your posts and get a rough idea for how many of each material you’ll need. 

Start by putting one of your wooden stakes in the ground where your fence will start. It’s usually a good idea to start right next to the house or any wall that the fence will be built next to. 

Then you’ll go to where the first corner will be, insert your stake, and attach the string. It’s important to make sure you get these stakes and string in the correct spot, as you won’t be able to adjust once you start putting in the fence posts. If you’re building your fence at the edge your yard like most people do, make sure you aren’t crossing the property line. 

Dig Post Holes and Cement Posts into the Ground

Start by digging the hole where the first post will be using a shovel or auger. A good rule of thumb is that the post depth should be 1/3 of the total post height into the ground. The hole should also be about 3 times the width of the post. So for a typical 4×4 post, the hole should be 12 inches in diameter.

After the holes are dug, you’ll need to cement them into the ground. If you’re using regular cement mix, follow the instructions on the bag to figure out how much water to use and what consistency the mix should be.

If you’re using a quick-set mix, all you’ll need to do is ensure the posts are level, pour in the mix, and add water. Follow the instructions on the bag for the proper amounts. 

There are a few different ways to make sure your post are standing level. You can attach two scrap pieces of wood that go from the post to the ground, making two support arms, or you could fill in a small amount of gravel around the bottom of the post in the hole.

Alternatively, if you’re working with a partner, you could have them hold the post while you poor the cement, then set your support boards.

Make sure that your the sides of your posts are perfectly parallel to your string, and that each post is the same distance away from the string so that your planking and support beams will lay flat. Just make sure to re-plumb the post after a few minutes when the concrete begins to set.

If you live in an area with a lot of rain, it’s good practice to cement slightly above the grade of the ground and angle it toward the ground to allow the water to run off.

You’ll need to allow up to 24 hours for the cement to harden before you can begin putting on your planks.

Attach 2×4’s Across the Posts

Now your ready to attach the supporting 2×4’s that will go across the posts. This will keep the posts even more secure and will give you something to attach your planking to. 

Start by measuring down about 8 inches from the top of your first post and marking a line. Then measure 8 inches up from the bottom and mark another line. This is where your top and bottom support boards will go. 

Do the same thing for the next post that the boards will be attached to, then screw or nail the boards to the posts. 

Now you’ll want to find the center point between those two boards and mark a line for the middle support board. To do this, measure the distance between the top and bottom boards and divide by two. You’ll also want to add 1 1 1/4 inch to the top of your line so the board is right in the center. 

To keep consistent spacing height of the middle support rail, you can alternatively cut a spacer from a scrap piece of wood at the right height. This will all you to just set the support rail on top and attach each time. 

This can also be helpful to maintain a consistent angle with your bottom rail, especially if your ground is uneven. 

When measuring the length of the boards, you’ll want to only measure halfway of the next post that you’ll be attaching to. This will allow half of the post width for each support board. 

Attach the Fence Pickets

Now your ready to begin installing the pickets. This is the most visible part of the fence, so it’s important that they get installed properly. 

To avoid any warping of the boards, you’ll want to leave about 1/2 inch between each. The bottom of the fence will need to be at least 2 inches off the ground. 

Start your first picket so it lines up with the corner post. Once you have one side lined up the correct gap, start a screw or nail through the picket and rail on either side of the picket. This will hold the picket for you while you check it for level. 

Once you have the picket level, attach a screw or nail through the picket into the bottom rail. Then go through and finish attaching your nails or screws. You’ll want two attachment point through each picket into each rail. 

For the next picket, you’ll need to about a half inch away from the previous one. It’s easiest to just cut a spacer at 1/2 each that you can reuse. 

Make sure that you’re checking for level and plumb ever couple of pickets to avoid getting off at all. 

To make the fence look natural with the curvature of your yard, just continue to keep consistent spacing at the bottom of the pickets. 


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