What You Need for This Project
Preparing to Build a Fence
- Check provincial or municipal laws that might govern fence style, size and placement. Some may also specify post hole requirements.
- Determine if a permit is necessary.
- Know your property lines and discuss your plans with neighbours along your proposed fence line.
- Determine a layout that will allow you to use full pickets at the corners.
- Plan gate posts locations. Gate pickets should be flush with the inside faces of the posts. Plan your gate size to use full pickets.
- Use graph paper to draw a plan for your fence. Note the post locations and gate locations. You may be required to submit this plan for an approved building permit.
- Consider gate hardware. Each set attaches differently and you'll need to take it into account for gate post spacing.
- Find a helper. You need an extra set of hands for this project.
Note: Before beginning any excavation, call your provincial utility information service to find out if there are any underground utility lines you need to be aware of.
Installing a Shadowbox Wood Fence
The instructions below show you how to build a shadowbox wood fence. A shadowbox fence has pickets alternating on each side, offering some privacy but allowing you to look through the fence at an angle. A solid fence has all pickets attached tightly together on the outside only, blocking views and offering complete privacy.
This component-built fence, where you attach the pickets individually rather than in pre-assembled panels, will use 6-ft. pickets that are 5-1/2 inches wide. The space between the pickets will be 3-1/2 inches. The pickets on the opposite side will line up over the 3-1/2-in. space, creating the shadowbox effect.
Tip: While pre-assembled wood fence panels make installation faster, a component-built fence follows the contours of your yard better.
Fence Layout & Post Locations
Layout Fence with String
The strings help you line up the posts. Batter boards allow you adjust the strings easily.
Tip: To square corners, measure 3 feet along one string and 4 feet along the adjacent string. The diagonal between these points should be 5 feet. If not, adjust the strings on the batter boards.
Layout the Posts & Spacing
The strings mark the outside faces of the posts. The centre points of the post holes should be about half the width of the post away from the strings, not directly under them.
Mark the String Positions
Dig Post Holes & Set Fence Posts
Dig Post Holes
Dig the holes to size. Some codes might require the depth to be below the frost line — the level at which water in the soil typically freezes — to help prevent the ground from pushing up the posts (known as heave) during a freeze. Note that the frost line varies by region. The post hole diameter is typically about three times the width of the post.
- For holes next to the house, use a shovel, post hole digger and digging bar.
- In open areas, consider using a power auger to save time and effort.
Tip: Clear away the dirt you removed to prevent killing the grass. Save some to top off the post holes once the concrete sets.
Reset Your Layout
Add a Brace to the Post
Add concrete mix to the post holes. You can choose between regular-set and fast-set options. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for mixing.
- If using regular-set concrete, as with this fence, mix it to the consistency of thick cake batter. Fill around each post. Leave the concrete a few inches below ground level. Slope it away from the post to help with water runoff.
- If using fast-set concrete, pour the dry mix around each post to a few inches below ground level and add water. Initially the water will sit on top, but eventually will work its way to the bottom. Use a stake to mix it if needed, but don't overwork it.
Tip: Regular-set concrete mix takes a little longer to cure but is less expensive than fast-setting mix and allows time for adjustments. Fast-set concrete mix cures quickly so you'll have to make sure your posts are set in the right place before mixing.
Install the Fence Rails
Layout the Rails
Mark the rail locations on the posts. For this fence, with 6-ft. pickets, the lower edge of the top rails will be 5 feet, 4-1/2 inches above the ground. The upper edge of the bottom rails should be about 9-1/2 inches above the ground. Indicating the locations for the lower edges of the top rails and the upper edges of the bottom rails makes it easier to see the marks when you position the rails.
Measure between the top and bottom rail locations to determine placement of the middle rail. The rail locations don't have to be exact, but should be close for the best appearance.
Tip: Run a string across several posts at the correct height to quickly mark rail locations. For sloped areas, you can mark three to four posts at a time. If the area is relatively level, you can span more posts.
Rails along a run of the fence should butt together at the middle of posts. At the end of a run, install the rails flush with the edge of the corner post. The rails for the next run should overlap these rail ends and be flush with the rail faces.
As you reach the end of your fence, cut the final rails to fit as needed. Remember to let the rails extend all the way to the house.
Tip: In areas with a significant slope, use shorter rails rather than spanning several posts with long rails. Your fence will follow the contour of the ground more closely.
Attach Hinge Support
Trim Post Tops
Install the Fence Pickets
One of the keys to installing fence pickets is keeping the tops at a uniform height. For this fence, the bottom of pickets will be about 1-1/2 inches above the ground. There are a couple of ways to keep them at the correct height.
- Install corner pickets at the desired height and tap a nail into the top of each picket.
- Run a string between the nails.
- Line up the tops of the remaining pickets with the string.
- Don't push on the string while installing.
Tip: It’s helpful if the slope in an area doesn't change much. Alternatively, use a string tied at the desired level for the bottom of the pickets.
- Use a 2x4 set on its face as a 1-1/2-in. guide along the bottom.
- Set each picket on the board as you're installing along the slope.
Tip: It’s helpful if the slope is uneven and changes frequently.
Keep in mind that pickets may have a slight green color from the treatment process, but it will fade over time.
Secure Outside Pickets
Note: Use exterior-grade fasteners rated for pressure treated lumber.
Continue Installing Pickets
Make Sure the Pickets Are Level
Tip: On very short runs, you may need to adjust the spacing to use full pickets.
Install the Final Outside Picket
Begin Installing the Inside Pickets
Continue Installing Pickets
Cut the Pickets to Fit
Tip: If the contour of the ground immediately under a picket makes the picket too tall, turn it bottom-end-up and mark at the correct height. Cut the excess from the bottom.
Build & Install the Fence Gate
Cut Horizontal Gate Rails
Tip: The hardware for the gate on this fence required an additional build-out piece on the latch-side gate post. Check the requirements for your hardware. Cut and attach the piece if needed and take it into account when measuring for the gate rails.
Cut Vertical Gate Rails
Assemble the Frame
Install Middle Rail
Tip: If your gate will be over level ground, you can install the pickets before hanging the gate. If you're working on a slope, follow the steps below to get the best placement for the pickets.
Hang the Frame
Install Latch to Post or Board
Attach the Pickets to the Frame
Finishing & Maintaining Your Fence
Wait a few months before staining or painting to allow the lumber to dry completely. Pressure-treated lumber should be stained or painted every few years. Follow the product manufacturer’s guidelines for preparation and application.
Working with Pressure-Treated Lumber
- Use fasteners and hardware labeled for treated lumber — stainless-steel or hot-dipped, galvanized screws.
- Drill pilot holes in the ends of boards to prevent splitting when you nail or screw them together.
- Use wood rated for ground contact when necessary for the project.
- Wear a dust mask and eye protection when handling or cutting wood.
- Wash your hands after working with treated wood.
- Dispose of sawdust and waste according to local regulations.
- Don't burn pressure-treated wood.
- Don't use pressure-treated wood as mulch.
- Fence Layout & Post Locations
- Layout Fence with String
- Layout the Posts & Spacing
- Mark the String Positions
- Dig Post Holes & Set Fence Posts
- Dig Post Holes
- Reset Your Layout
- Add a Brace to the Post
- Add Concrete
- Remove Braces
- Install the Fence Rails
- Layout the Rails
- Install Rails
- Attach Rails
- Attach Hinge Support
- Trim Post Tops
- Install the Fence Pickets
- Secure Outisde Pickets
- Continue Installing Pickets
- Make Sure the Pickets Are Level
- Rip Pickets
- Overlap Pickets
- Install the Final Outside Picket
- Begin Installing the Inside Pickets
- Continue Installing Pickets
- Cut the Pickets to Fit
- Build & Install the Fence Gate
- Cut Horizontal Gate Rails
- Cut Vertical Gate Rails
- Assemble the Frame
- Install Middle Rail
- Hang the Frame
- Install Latch to Post or Board
- Attach the Pickets to the Frame
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