Fence Installation For The Home Improvement Challenged


Wood, chain-link, plastic, or steel fences are installed for many reasons. The primary reason, and most will agree, is for privacy, whereby segregating a section of the yard to keep your business away from the public eye. Another reason, but no less critical, is to keep children or pets in the confines of your property. Whatever the purpose, a well-placed fence only enhances the look of your property and adds to the home’s value if you decide to sell it later.

Before taking on any primary job, I’ve learned to ask myself a few questions. Do I have the confidence to take on the job? Do I have the right tools? Am I physically capable? Do I have to get permission? It’s not a knock on yourself to ask for help. I’ve swallowed my pride a few times, asked for help, and in doing so, saved myself a lot of frustration and money.

I suggest you visit or call your local code or permitting office to see whether you have to pull a permit. Once you’ve determined whether it’s okay to build your fence, make sure you’re building it on your property. If you do not know your property measurements, check with the local jurisdiction’s department that keeps your tax plat records or hire a surveyor. Mark the corners with flags and show your lines clearly with paint or stakes and string to define your boundaries.

Installing the fence

There are many different material options for fencing, from wood to metal to plastic. We’ll discuss pressure-treated wood for this example since it offers long-term endurance. Don’t worry too much about determining how much material you’ll need. Just take the exact dimensions of your property to the local fencing distributors. They will be able to figure out the cost.

Tools needed:

Air gun nailer (makes the job go quicker unless you’re REALLY into swinging a hammer)

Safety glasses

Post-hole digger (if you’re OK with blisters) or a power drill (Make sure someone instructs you how to use the tool, and carefully follow all safety precautions. These mechanical beasts don’t know the difference between your foot and the ground when they start digging)

Small sledgehammer

Shot line

Type N quick-drying cement

Regardless of the type of wood you use, the nails should last as long as the fence, so choose galvanized nails if at all possible.

The distance of your fence will determine the number and placement of the posts you use. A good rule of thumb is to space them between 6 to 8 feet apart. Once you’ve determined post-placement, you’re ready to dig your holes. The general guideline for setting posts is to place at least one-third of the length of each pole in the ground.

I like to put in my corner posts first and use them as a guide to get all subsequent posts to line up straight. Set the corner posts where you want them, securing the posts by adding a bag of fast-setting concrete to each hole. Add a gallon of water and allow the mixture to set up; it will generally harden in less than an hour. Once a post is placed in the hole, check if it’s plumb and adjust as necessary. Hold in place by nailing scrap wood to the post to stake it. Once the cement has been set, tie a piece of shot line between the corner posts as tightly as possible. This is your plumb line for setting up the rest of the posts in a straight line.

When placing the top rail, remember that a typical height is 58 and 66 inches from the ground. The middle and lower rails should be spaced evenly below. The rail length is determined by measuring from one post’s center to the next’s center point. Use two 10-penny nails to fasten the end of each rail to each post, ensuring all the rails are on the same horizontal plane and the same distance from the ground.

To speed up the building process, ensure all the rails are in position before attaching the pickets. Place a picket on the first post, with the bottom approximately 1 inch above the ground. Make sure it’s plumb, then nail it in place.

Repeat the process with a picket on the next post, but only nail it in place with one or two nails. Then add a nail to the top of each picket and run a string between them, placing it a half-inch above the top of the picket. The top of each picket should then be positioned a half-inch below the string. This allows the pickets to follow the contour of the yard gradually.
Tip: To ensure a uniform space between your pickets, cut a small piece of one picket to use as a spacer as you work your way along the rails. (Keep placing pickets with the tops a half-inch below the string line.)

While holding each picket in place next to the spacer, secure it with a single nail right in the center. This will allow some leeway for aligning it later. Work around the perimeter until each picket is secured with a single center nail.

Now it’s time to plumb the pickets. Hold your level alongside and on top of each one to check that it’s plumb. Once perfectly positioned, get the nail gun and add two nails to the top end (for a total of three, since the first one was put in earlier to hold the piece in place), then secure it with three at the bottom end. Repeat the process down the line, then go to the other side and repeat.

If you follow all the steps correctly, you should have a fence that runs straight on all sides and adds to your home’s curb appeal.

Chuck Lunsford is a successful Webmaster and publisher of JustGoDoItYourself.com. He provides more tips and advice on accomplishing do-it-yourself fence installation.

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