Fence building basics!


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A properly designed fence provides many things to the home owner. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, be it privacy, a weather barrier, protection for your children and pets from intruders or that final decoration touch, with some thought and pre planning you can avoid the pitfalls of good concept, poor execution. Deciding what is most important to you will lead you to what type of fence you should build. Local supply houses carry many shapes, sizes and designs and you should check with all local authorities as to what regulations / permits you may need. See professional builders if you need help with your project!

Initial planning:

Designing your new fence is limited only by your imagination. The best way to start is to look at other fence designs and to look through books and magazines that are targeted to these products. There are many different types of fences: chain-link, panel, picket, ranch style, etc. And most of the installation techniques are very similar.

Again contact your city or residential association to find out if there are any restrictions on fence construction and check your setbacks to see if you’re allowed to build right up to the property line and check for buried cables or pipes. Most utilities will come and mark these for you if you request it and make sure you know just where your property lines are. It’s a good idea to have a surveyor mark the corners of your lot before you start.

Basic Layout:

Lay out is pretty basic. You stake out where your fence will go, and pull a string between them. This is your guideline for setting the posts in a straight line.

Depending on where you start your fence, you want to come off of it at a right angle. You can calculate this right angle using what’s called the 4-6-8 triangle measurement.

1. First drive a wood stake at the spot where your fence will start. 2. Attach a string to the stake and stretch it out roughly perpendicular to the house (or whatever you’re working from). 3. Measure out 4 feet out on the string and mark it. 4. Mark a point on the house 6 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 8 feet. 6. Firmly anchor your string once this measurement is correct. It is now exactly on a right angle to your starting point.

Locate the position of the first post. This measurement will be determined by what type of fence you are installing and if you want it up against whatever you are starting from. I.E. if you are putting up pre made panels the length of the panel is your rough measurement for the post holes. Then measure out on the line to mark the rest of the posts along your section of fence. Tip: Mark your holes but don’t get too far ahead of the game. Only dig a few holes as you go. As you install each post / panel you can then measure for the next hole more accurately!

When you mount the string it should be on the outside edge of the posts plus a half inch so that as you set the posts you can measure back to the post from the string and the string always stays free. You can measure from start of the string for the center of the posts or as noted above, from the center of the last post. Mark these with a nail so you can see them.

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

For a step down fence you must figure out the height difference between the top of the hill and the bottom, (level strings from the last post set) and divide that number by the number of sections. This will be the amount to step the fence down at each post.

Digging The Holes:

One way to dig your post holes is with a posthole digger. This is hard work, and if you’ve got a lot of holes or hard ground you should rent a gas powered machine specifically made for this task. It will take two people to operate it and its still tough work. In most areas, you want your posts below the frost line so the post will stay in place when the ground freezes and thaws. Again you must check with you building codes as to what may be required for the depth of each post! In warmer areas, the frost line isn’t this deep.

Post Setting:

Most treated wood 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.

Always set the corner posts first. It’s a good idea to use concrete to set these. Tip: Set the post in the hole in the correct position and then fill the hole with water. Next add the concrete to the hole slowly and evenly until you have the desired amount. The excess water will overflow out of the hole and you don’t have to mix it by hand!

Now check the post for plumb both ways using a 4-foot level and center on you mark. 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. Now brace the post in place while the concrete cures. Once the corner posts are set and the concrete is starting to harden you can stretch two strings. One up about 10 inches from the bottom and the other about 10 inches from the top. This will make it much easier to line up the holes as well as getting the post vertically plumb. 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 left to right 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. Always use galvanized nails on any project that will come in contact with moisture. Install the stringers square, and be careful not to 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.


You need at least a quarter inch space on each side of your gate for swinging clearance. It’s easier to build the gate on a flat surface. For a picket fence gate, we used two cross pieces and a diagonal piece for support. Next attach your panel design to the support pieces. Once nailed together, 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. Now you can attach you gate hardware to the post and the gate itself!


This is pretty much the same process. You set the corner posts first, let the concrete set up 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. Chain-link fence posts are spaced about 8 to 10 feet apart. Make sure your concrete is totally cured before installing the fencing because this puts a lot of tension on the posts.

Next place the two strings from each corner post as outlined above and now you have a reference point to set the height for each post as you go. 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 fence 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 with the proper attachment parts as provided in the instructions.

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