How to Build a Fence in 8 Easy Steps

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Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

How to build a wood fence in 8 easy steps

The dog’s getting loose, the kids are running wild, and you need a fence, now. The only trouble is, you have no clue how to build a fence. Rick Sandoval of Sandrod Fencing in Salem, Oregon, has answers to all your fencing woes. He’s been building fences for the past five years and has built approximately 400 fences during this time. The man knows fences. Here he details how to build a wood fence yourself in eight steps. The measurements and material quantities used in this article are based on a standard wood fence measuring 215 feet to enclose a backyard.

Tools & Materials
Screws, staples or nails, wood, wood stain, post hole digger, hammer, tape measure, string line, circular saw, screws, staples or nails, drill, staple or nail gun

STEP 1: How to build a fence

Get the lay of the land

Take a good look around the area where you want to build your fence. Call 811 to make sure there are no utilities under your planned dig location. Don’t blow up the neighborhood! Ensure that the perimeter of the fence remains within your property lines. Don’t make the neighbors mad. Check local building codes and apply for a permit if necessary — for example, if the fence is higher than the standard six feet, you’ll need one. Don’t do all that hard work for naught.

STEP 2: How to build a fence

Assemble your tools

Here’s everything you’ll need to build the fence:

  • Post hole digger
  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • String line
  • Circular saw
  • Screws, staples or nails — Sandoval prefers screws’ strength and longevity first, staples second and nails third. Get extra, whichever you choose, because you’ll definitely drop some in the building process.
  • Drill (if you use screws)
  • Staple gun (if you use staples)
  • Nail gun (if you use nails) — without a nail gun, Sandoval says, you’ll definitely start to feel like Popeye after nailing in your 300th board
  • Wood
  • Wood stain (if you want to retain the fresh look and not have a weathered look to your fence)

STEP 3: How to build a fence

Buy the wood

Determine how many fence boards to buy with this equation:

(Total footage of fence) x 12 / (width of boards) = Number of fence boards to buy.

Calculate the total footage of the fence (in our example it’s 215 feet) and multiply by 12 = 2,580. Take that number (2,580) and divide it by the width of your boards (typically 5.5 inches) = 469 boards.

Always purchase about 10–15 extra boards for mistakes or breakage. Select what height you want your fence to be, picket fence boards come in eight-foot, six-foot and five-foot boards. The tops come in different styles such as flat top, dog-eared and so on. You can cut them to any height you want if need be.

Determine how many 4x4 posts you’ll for each side of the fence and multiply that number by 3 (this assumes it’s a backyard project and your house makes up the fourth side of the fence). Posts are supporting beams that provide the backbone of the fence at and between each corner. Typically fence posts are spaced about six to eight feet apart along a fence.

Determine the number of rails (2x4 boards) you’ll need based on how many posts you’ll have. Generally, fences feature two horizontal "rails" between each post.

STEP 4: How to build a fence

Mark the perimeter

Mark where your four corners will be with stakes. Mark where all of the posts between the corners will go with stakes. Measure no more than 8 feet between post points. Adjust the distance of the posts for even distribution between each corner. For example, if there are 21 feet between two corners, place a post marker every 7 feet. Run a piece of string between each stake so you can see the outline of where the fence will be.

STEP 5: How to build a fence

Square your corners

Use the "3-4-5 rule" to make sure you have square corners before you dig your post holes. From the corner, measure three feet to the left and mark it on your string. From the same corner, measure four feet to the right and mark it on the string. Measure from the marker on the left to the marker on the right, forming a triangle with the corner — this number should measure exactly five feet. If it does, you have a perfect square corner.

If it doesn’t measure five feet, adjust the angle of your corner until it’s square. Repeat this on each corner. You will then need to also adjust each side of your fence to correspond with the new corner angle.

STEP 6: How to build a fence

Set fence posts

Use a manual post hole digger to create 24- to 28-inch deep holes for your fence posts. This is hard work and will take an average person a full eight-hour day of digging to prep for a 215-foot fence. It will take even longer if the ground is rocky or hard.

Place a post in each hole as you dig it. Once all posts are in, you can begin setting them in concrete. Use quick-set concrete, filling the post hole two-thirds full of concrete mix and adding water to the remainder of the hole. Mix the concrete directly in the post hole. It takes approximately four hours to set, so don’t panic, you can adjust the post after the concrete is mixed.

Use a level to ensure that your posts are plumb, level and square — meaning they’re perfectly straight, level to the eye and have 90-degree edges.

To be safe, wait a full 24 to 48 hours from when the last post hole is filled with concrete or until you are certain that the concrete has cured (on a hot summer day it cures pretty quickly) before moving forward. If you’re nervous, you can use temporary braces to ensure that your posts stay aligned. But you should be fine if you are patient.

STEP 7: How to build a fence

Run the rails

Add your rails once the posts are set. The "rails" are horizontal 2x4 boards that act as the canvas to hold the fence slats. Use two or three rails between each fence post, depending on your fence height. Screw the rails straight to the fence post, or use 2x4 brackets to hold them to the post. Use your level to ensure that you’re mounting them in a straight line.

STEP 8: How to build a fence

Attach the fence boards

At this point, you should have your posts in the ground, concrete poured around them and rails attached to your posts — now it’s time to add your first board.

Start in a corner. Hold a board up so there’s one inch of clearance between the bottom of board and the ground. It’s better for lawn maintenance and better for the life of your wood when it’s not kept damp by the ground. Put a nail into the board at the top rail, twisting the board left and right until you get it perfectly level and vertical, then nail it to the bottom rail, again checking to make sure you have a one-inch clearance at the bottom.

After the first board is in at one corner, temporarily nail a second board at another corner. Run a string line between the two boards, creating a level guide you can follow all the way down the fence line as you go. Go back to your first board, and butt a new board up next to it, nailing, screwing or stapling it at each rail. Go on down the line, systematically putting up your boards in this fashion.

Every three to five boards, check to make sure your boards are level, otherwise by the seventh or eighth board your fence will start to look diagonal. When you reach the corner, repeat the string line strategy to keep your boards level as you go around to the next one.

Assuming you don’t hit any trees or run into major problems, building a wood fence could take you up to six full eight-hour work days, Sandoval says. If you’re a real go-getter, it could take you only three or four days. For Sandoval and his team, it might take only two or three days. The hardest part of the job is digging and setting the posts.

About the pro - My services stand out because I give all my customers 110% on their fencing project at hand. We stand behind our work and offer a 1yr. workmanship warranty. We value all our customers and want to make sure they feel secure and confident in their decision to work with us. I really enjoy the work I do because I take great pride in taking care of all my customers needs in a timely manner, building them a long lasting fence that they will love and enjoy for many years.

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