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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

You Can Build Your Own Fence

With the right materials, a little geometry and plenty of gritty work, you can build your own fence. You’ll not only end up with the protection or privacy you need, but you’ll feel the satisfaction of a successful DIY project. Let’s get building.

Fencing basics

If you’re building a property line fence, you must build to specifications from an official survey.

All fences should be solid and sturdy, but different circumstances affect the materials used and how stout the design needs to be. Deed restrictions and/or HOA rules for your neighborhood may set the materials you’re allowed to use. If you are building a fence on a rural property, you’ll likely have your choice of materials.

You should build property line fencing with solid materials and installation. A fence around a garden can be a little less fortified.

Measure the size and shape

Begin your fence construction by thinking through what type of fence you want. For example, do you want a wire grid fence as a boundary against livestock or wildlife on rural property? Or perhaps you want a neighborhood fence with wooden pickets for privacy. Then sketch out the fence’s boundaries, shape, height and position of gates. Armed with your purpose and measurements, you can begin pricing materials.

Once you have what you need, mark off your site with stakes driven down at corners and where your posts will be. Run string from stake to stake.

You cannot rely entirely on sight lining to mark off the perimeter. Remember, you can draw a straight line between any two points. But are your sides at 90-degree angles to one another? For that, high school geometry finally pays off. Here’s how to set square corners.

  • On two perpendicular sides that intersect at the corner, measure three feet along one line from the corner, then four feet along the other line from the corner.

  • Next, measure the diagonal length from the three-foot mark on one line to the four-foot mark on the other. You are measuring the diagonal line of a right triangle. That diagonal distance should be five feet.

  • If the diagonal line is not five feet long, your corner is not square. Adjust one or both sidelines until you achieve the five-foot diagonal line length.

  • Repeat this procedure on the diagonally opposite corner of your fence design area.

Setting fence posts

Whatever type of fence you build, strong anchor posts are fundamental. Four-inch by four-inch square or round posts made of treated wood will strengthen the fence. These posts are the bulwark for holding up the whole fence.

You can anchor your posts into the ground two ways.

  • If you plan to cement the posts into the ground, dig down 18 inches if the posts are six feet long.

  • If you are not using cement but instead will set the post and tamp down the dirt around it, dig two feet down. After setting and aligning the post, use a heavy steel breaker bar with a round tamping tool on one end to do the tamping. Pack the soil thoroughly.

Posts generally should be spaced eight feet apart. If you are building a wooden privacy fence, all posts will be wood with two cross pieces, high and low, and pickets side by side. If you are building a wire metal fence, you can place steel t-posts every four to six feet between the wooden posts. You will drive these posts into the ground without digging a hole first by using a heavy steel sleeve driver to pound the posts two feet deep. Then run a string tautly around the outside perimeter. You will plant interim posts against that string to keep your posts aligned.

You should check all posts for straightness with a level held against the post on two perpendicular sides. Do this early in the setting of the posts and keep rechecking until the post is secure and immovable.

Attaching the fencing material

If you are building a privacy fence, attach your horizontal rails, top and bottom, level and end to end, spanning the posts. Then, attach pickets side by side to fill in the fence. Use wood deck screws and a power driver, not nails, which will work their way loose over time. Check with a level across the top of the pickets as you go to keep them all at the same height.

If you are building a welded wire grid fence, hammer in heavy fence staples to attach at the starting post, usually a corner. You must pull the wire grid tight between each post and keep it level. You’ll find that pulling with your hands alone is tough. It’s best to have a ratchet “come along” strapped to two-by-four lumber attached vertically as a sandwich to the fence grid to pull the fence material taut and evenly as you progress from post to post.

Keeping wildlife out

To keep deer out of a welded wire grid fence, build it at least six-and-a-half feet high. Deer will not try to jump a five- to six-foot privacy fence. Raccoons, squirrels, foxes and possums can climb any fence you put up.

Skunks, coyotes and armadillos can dig under a fence. If you need to keep them out, trench below the fence bottom. Then either bury your fence eight or more inches below ground or fill the trench with heavy stones or blocks.

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