How to Install a Wood Privacy Fence
There is no fencing material that has the natural beauty of real wood. Most people assume that a wood fence requires yearly maintenance and that it will not last very long. But that is certainly not the case. If a wood fence is installed properly there is actually very little maintenance and the fence can last for many, many years.
The key to longevity for any wood fence are the fence posts themselves. Never use a wood post for a wood fence. Wood posts (both cedar and treated) that are in contact with the ground can rot out in less than five years depending on soil conditions. Treated wood posts may also twist and warp as the posts dry out over time. A galvanized steel post will never rot or twist. It will last a lifetime. When installing a steel post be sure to use one that can be covered to look like wood. With a steel post that is covered the fence will look like wood and but will have the durability of steel.
People often think that a steel post is too expensive. A steel post can in fact cost less than a wood post. A wood post will use more concrete than a steel post does. The hole for a fence post should be three times the diameter of the post itself. This means that a wood 4 x 4 post requires a hole that is 12 inches in diameter while a steel post needs only a 6 inch diameter hole. And, the hole needs to go below the frost-line which can be up to four feet deep. A wood post should also have gravel below the concrete to allow for water drainage. When the cost of the post, the concrete and the gravel is added together the total price of a wood post may be more than that of a steel post. And then of course there is the additional labor of digging a bigger hole and disposing of all that dirt.
For dog-eared wood privacy fences the tops of the posts should be about six inches below the top the fence itself. A post that is 7′ 6″ tall is the correct length for this type of fence. For a fence that will have a top rail, or picture frame, the top of the post should be 6 feet out of the ground. For this type of fence an eight foot post is required.
To begin the fence installation, lay out a string line and mark the hole locations. In most cases the posts should be on eight foot centers or less. In high wind areas six foot centers may be necessary. The diameter of the hole for a fence post is recommended to be 3 times larger than the diameter of the post itself. Make sure that the hole goes down below the frost-line. The frost-line can vary anywhere from 0″ to 48″ depending on location. All fence posts should be set in concrete. Fill the hole with concrete that has the consistency of thick oatmeal. Slide the post down into the concrete making sure that the post is plumb. Fence posts are normally set two feet deep into the concrete. A string line can be used to insure that the posts are at the correct height. Or, the posts can be set high and then cut to the correct height after the concrete has set.
Once the concrete has set, the stringers can be attached. Cedar stringers are preferable. Cedar stringers will more closely match the look of the fence boards and make for a more uniform looking fence. Treated stringers are not recommended as they have a tendency to twist as they dry. The stringers are attached directly to the sides of the posts without any brackets required. Usually only two stringers are needed. The bottom stringer is often installed about a foot up from the ground. The top stringer is installed at very the top of the post. In high wind areas three stringers are recommended.
When all the stringers have been installed it is time to attach the fence pickets. Cedar fence pickets should be as thick as possible. Try to avoid the thin pickets that are sold at the big box stores. They may cost less but in the long run they are not worth it. Thin pickets will cup and warp over time. It also helps if the pickets are rough sided rather than smooth. Rough cedar will accept stain and/or preservative much more readily than smooth wood will.
Attach the pickets with ceramic coated or stainless steel screws. There is no need to have a wood privacy fence with black stain lines going down from each of the screws. Use a string line, or a good eye, to make sure that the pickets are attached at the proper height. In most cases the wood pickets will shrink a little over time so it is often advisable to attach the pickets tight together with no gap in between.
Without stain a cedar fence will turn gray over time. If it is desired to stain the wood the stain can be applied before or after the pickets are attached. Be sure to use a high quality, heavy-bodied, oil based stain. The first application is the most important. To apply the stain do not use a garden sprayer or a roller as the stain will only rest on the surface of the wood. This will result in a fence that needs to be re-stained year after year. It is better to use a short (2 inches or less) thick-bristled brush. Using aggressive brush strokes work the stain into the wood. This does take a little more labor the first time. The brush will insure that the stain penetrates into the cells of the wood. When done properly the first year the fence will not need to be re-stained for up to five years. When the fence needs to be re-stained use a common garden sprayer.
With just a little labor a wood fence can be constructed that is both beautiful and long lasting. While it is still not maintenance free, a wood fence does not require the continuous upkeep that many people assume that it does. When installed properly a wood fence can last many, many years with very little labor. And there is no fencing material that looks as beautiful as real wood.