Serving Middle Tennessee

Since 1978
Gifford Fence & Deck
Gifford Fence & Deck
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Note: The following instructions are for warmer climates like those in the Middle Tennessee area. Northern climates and areas with sandy soil may require more instructions for proper installation

Do It Yourself
Building A Wood Privacy Fence

First some advice. If you are not the handyman/woman type then it would be best that you do not try to build your own wood fence. Carpentry is a skill and building a wood fence requires basic carpentry skills. Either you have it or you don't.
Second. If there is rock that has to be drilled to install your fence, get a professional to do the work. Drilling rock requires a compressor {the size of a small car} and lots of experience. And it can be dangerous. Rock needs to be drilled, not hammered, and the skills needed require years of experience. I know of fence contractors who do not know how to properly drill rock. If the posts are not set properly, you have a hugh problem on your hands, and your wallet. WORD!

  • As a rule, you should set fence posts about 8' apart. The spacing of the posts depends on the type of fence you build, the terrain, the purpose of the fence, and other such factors.
  • Set the corner or end posts first. Then stretch a string from each corner or end post to align all the posts in between.
  • Mark each hole at equal intervals where the post hole is to be dug. Remember the 8' rule. To be precise and to insure you do not go beyond the 8ft mark, set the posts at 7' 9". If your footage goes beyond 8 foot centers yo can set teh last post{s} at a slightly larger distance, but no further than 9 feet.
    (Fig. 1).
  • Posts are most important Take time to measure and position the posts accurately. Be sure to use a level/bevel to insure each post is set properly. The appearance and the structural strength of your fence depends a great deal on the positioning of the fence posts.

  • Set all wood fence posts with about 1/3 of their total length buried in the ground. I normally set posts in-ground at 20-22 inches where conditions allow {rock may alter depths}.
  • You can use a regular post hole digger to dig the post holes. For easier digging I recommend you use the The Little Beaver post hole digger with a 6" or 8" bit. You can rent this equiptment at most major tool rental stores. Dig the holes straight to the proper depth at each marker.
  • You can anchor the posts more firmly by making the holes slightly larger at the bottom than at the top (Fig. 2). Whereas Bob Villa and other self proclaimed experts suggest placing a large stone or two shovels full of gravel in the bottom of each hole to avoid excessive drainage, this is overkill. The ToolMan Tim Taylor woud most likely be a better role model when it comes to building a fence.
  • You can pack the posts with either dirt or concrete. But the best method is to use WET concrete mixed in a wheelbarrow. I do not recommend pouring dry concrete mix since it rarely sets up properly and the posts will lean.
  • Be sure the posts are in an exact, upright position (Fig. 3). Use a post level to align the posts. Tie a string around the outside of the end/corner post, at the top, and run it to the other end/corner post puliing it as tight as possible. Check the alignment of the posts with your level placing each post against the string. Add the wet concrete mix. Brace each post by adding dirt to the last few inches to the hole on top of the concrete. Then check the alignment of the post widthwise to insure it is straight. After all the in-between posts are set check the final alignment in one direction by sighting from one end of the row of posts to the other.
  • Allow the posts to stand at least one day in warmer or hot climates and several days in cold weather.
Example For Setting Posts
If the distance between corner/end posts {measuering from outside to outside of posts} is 54 feet, mark each hole at 7' 9". That will place each post at equal distances.
If the distance is 55 feet set each post at 7' 9", leaving the last post at a distance at 9'.
Your settings would be as follows: corner/end post, 7' 9", 15' 6", 23' 3", 31', 38' 9", 46' 6", 54' 3", 56'. The last post is set at a distance of 8' 9" to make up the difference. You would need 10' rails for the last section {which in most cases will cost quite a bit more per ft than 8' rails}.

Cutting the Posts
  • Mark your end/corner posts at 66 inches on the outside of the posts. Run your string from end to end. Go to each post and check the height of the string from the ground. If they are more or less than 66 inches you will need to adjust the string at that post and mark it at 66 inches, then add a nail to hold string into place. The idea is to make sure each post is at least 66 inches out of ground. They can vary an inch or so but if you want the fence to be close to the ground { keep the doggie in} then keep the 66 inches as a rule of thumb. Try to keep the height at each post so it is 66 inches but with the reminder of how the fence will look after all is done. Changing the height at every post will not look very good when the fence is finished. It is hard to give precise details to this step since this is where experience comes into play. Where there is a change in height at a post mark it with an X for reference later on when you nail the pickets.
  • After marking each post remove the string. You are ready to cut the posts
  • I suggest you use a skill saw instead of a chain saw. You will get a better cut and the danger of injury is a lot less. Always, always be mindful of what you are doing when using power tools.
  • Cut the posts flat. Line the saw with the post edge and cut it. Contrary to popular myth treated posts do not need to be cut at an angle. Follow that cut with a cut around the post until it is completely cut
Adding the Rails
  • Attach a top, middle and bottom rail to the fence posts. There are three basic ways to do this but the method I use most often and the one I recommend is nailing the rails to the outside of each post, what is illustrated here as a lap joint.
  • Nail the top rail the top of the post. The second rail should be nailed at 28 inces in the center of the post. The bottom rail should be nailed at 56 inches which will leave the prail about 6 inches from the ground.
  • You are ready to nail the pickets

  • At the end posts and at every post where the height of the post changes nail a picket with the top of the picket being 6 inches above the top of the top 2x4 rail. This will alow the fence to follow the flow of the ground which was established when you marked and cut the posts
  • At the top of each picket place a nail. Then start at one end and run a string to each nailed picket until you get to the other end. Make sure the string touches the top of each picket so there is an even flow when you nail the other pickets.
  • Nail the other pickets. Be sure to check the plumb of the pickets every 3 sections or so with a level to insure your fence is straight.
  • Most likely you will need to cut the last picket to fit the finished section of fence. Check the space needed for the cut, top and bottom, anc cut the last picket with your skill saw.
  • You are finished with nailing your fence. Now the gate{s}.

  • To build your gate{s} simply measure the width of the area where the gate will be placed, in between two posts. Cut 3-2x4 rails to fit this area.
  • Nail the 3-2x4 rails directly to the existing rails of the fence.
  • Add the cross member{s} and hinges
  • Nail pickets to gate frame leaving 1 inch space between gate and section of fence {this is so you can add latch}
  • When you have finished adding brace and hinges remove nails on 2x4s and cut remaining excess
  • Gate will open. Add latch. Gate is finished

  • Important tips on building you gate{s}
  • Always use 3 hinges on a 6ft high fence gate
  • Use a 4x6 or 6x6 post for support {regular 4x4 post for latch post}
  • If it is a double gate or an oversized single gate {6ft wide or wider} add a foot latch. Large gates tend to warp and the bottom latch will help prevent this
  • Double gates will need a center drop rod

  • Below are some of the hardware I use to build my gates. You may have to find a fence wholesaler to buy this hardware or go to Hoover Fence Suppliers to purchase them.

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