DIY Fence Building

Fences come in all shapes and sizes, from prefab metal to ready-made wood panels. Today, we're going to dive into what has become one of the most popular fencing options: Do It Yourself.

In this article, we've broken down the basics of building the most common style of wood fence - the shadowbox fence - so even DIY beginners can tackle this large-scale project.

This is the fence you commonly see with fence boards, or pickets, placed in alternation on both sides of the fence, creating privacy but still allowing you to see through the boards. Alternatively, these steps can be similarly followed for creating a solid fence, with all boards placed directly together on one side, creating a solid fence with no view through. So no matter your chosen design, let's get started!

Get the Right Information

Before you start building your fence and even before you pick up your lumber, there's information that you need to gather to ensure your fence is properly and safely built.

Look into the local codes or bi-laws for your area as well as the homeowner's association if you belong to one as there may be restrictions on the type, style, size or location of your fence. You will also want to find out if a permit is necessary and go through the process of obtaining one if needed. You need to know your property line and should speak to your neighbours about your plans. You will also need to make sure it's safe to dig where you intend to put your fence by calling your region's “Click Before You Dig” facility. This is an important step to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Planning Your Layout

Start by drawing out your plan. Determine where your posts will need to go allowing you to use full picket boards at corners and ends. You don't want to have to cut your pickets up the middle. Decide where your gates will go, as this also allows the use of full pickets for the gates and the adjacent panels.

Once you've put your plan to paper, begin marking your layout on the fence line. You can make the panels as wide as you wish but use lengths that match with available lumber options, like 6 feet (this will save you additional cutting). You don't want to make your panels too short either; this will increase the cost and work by requiring additional posts. And, you don't want to make your panels too long, as you want to have one full piece of lumber running between posts.

Mark your fence lines using string and stakes. Use stakes to mark both the centre of your poles, as well as to hold the string that marks where your pickets will go. For the panels, run string the desired length of your panels between the stakes. In your measurements be sure to include the width of the stakes with half the width of each stake (include this measurement for both panels that will be installed on either side). The string should sit the distance away from your pole-marking stakes that equal half the thickness of the actual poles. Place the pole-marking stakes in the centre of where your post will be. Check your angles to ensure they are square using a square angle or batter boards.

Plant Your Posts

The easiest way to dig your holes will be by using a power auger but they can also be dug with a post hole digger or just a shovel. Dig your posts to about three times the diameter of your post. Digging your post holes lower than the frost line will help prevent the frost from pushing up on the post and causing them to lean.

Fill your first hole with about half a foot of dry concrete mix. Place your post on the dry mix. Use a level to make sure it's in straight and be sure it is flush against your layout string line, not pushing it out. Continue this step for your remaining post, and use braces to hold each post in place.

Add concrete mix to fill the post holes to just a few inches below the ground line. Mix your concrete according to the manufacturer's instructions. Let your concrete dry and remove the braces.

Installing the Panels

Mark the locations of the rails

First, you'll need to mark the locations of your rails on the posts. You will likely want to include three rails to affix your pickets. Measure to ensure your rails will be marked at the same distance from the top and bottom of your post for all panels. You can also use string to mark the locations of your rails across several posts at once.

Install the rails

Install your rails, measuring and cutting for shorter panels next to your house or gate.  Attach your rails on both the inside facing and outside facing sides of your posts. Rails should be installed touching the next rail that shares its post, leaving no spaces. You can span several posts with longer rail boards if the slope of the ground is relatively level.

Install the pickets

It's time to begin installing your pickets. For a clean look when finished, you'll want to do you best to ensure the top of the fence pickets line up. You can do this by running a string across the top of your posts, attached by a nail at the desired height, to mark the level line. Determine the number of pickets you will install on each side and build a spacer to match the space between your boards to quickly and consistently install your pickets across your rails. When you are installing a panel at a corner or next to a gate, you may need to adjust your spacing to allow for full picket boards to be used. In corners, pickets should abut each other, with the edge of one picket flush to the edge of the face of the picket from the previous panel. Install one entire side of pickets before attaching offset pickets on the other side of your panel.