View Full Version : Advice on DIY High Quality 4-Board Fence Installation

May. 8, 2011, 08:18 PM
New farm in the works. We've narrowed down our fencing decision to wood 4-board. Approx. 2700 feet to do ourselves. About 5 acres worth. Kinda intimidating! Always hear how correct installation is the key, but am finding limited info on what what entails quality installation. We have two mellow mares. May have some young horses in the future--not more than 4 horses to contain. Here's the details.

1. Leaning towards 5"x5" square black locust posts with 6"x6" on gate ends. 8' long with 3' into the ground.
2. White oak boards either 1 and 1/8" or 1 and 3/8" thick. Is the extra width critical? I don't think we can get 16' boards. Possible options are 12' boards staggered on 6' post spacing, or 8' boards aligned without staggering on 8' post spacing. Does staggering lend alot of strength, or will be be okay with 8' boards on posts spaced at 8'? I've heard 8' posts may warp less and are easier to handle.
3. Boards will be placed on the inside. Should we nail or screw them on?
4. Our soil is sandy. We are going to rent a post hole digger to attach to the 3 point hitch on our tractor. Do we need to add gravel or cement to make the posts more solid in the ground?
4.Any words of wisdom re: how to make everything align correctly and be solid? Our pasture is rectangular with very slight rises in sections.
5. We intend on running a hot wire on the top rail of the fence to keep horses off it.

Appreciate any advice to avoid mistakes and frustration and increase quality of installation! Thanks....

Tom King
May. 8, 2011, 09:44 PM
Anyone know how to use the Search function good enough to find one of my long how-to's on building fence?

I tried and couldn't find it.

May. 9, 2011, 10:08 AM
Here's every thread where you mention fence:


May. 9, 2011, 07:41 PM
I tried to search for it, but couldn't find it either. I think searches only go back so far.

Tom King
May. 9, 2011, 08:11 PM
I'll try to condense it to the important parts that few do, but make the most difference in the appearance of the fence.

On straight sections, set the end posts of the straight run. Pull mason's lines tight, top and bottom on the outside. Move along the line and drop posts in the holes but lean them in away from the lines.

One person holds each post in position, and with a short level plumbs it in the plane not covered by the two lines. Leave the least possible daylight between the post and the lines. Any touching of the lines will cause problems. Even a 1/4 inch inside the lines and the fence will still look straight. Push a line with any post, and there is no way to keep it straight. This is the way masons lay bricks and blocks to keep the wall straight.

Tack or screw the top boards in place with one fastener in each end only in good enough to hold it in place-there is no good reason to run the fastener all the way in yet. Stand back and look at it. Cheat (adjust) any board ends up or down so the undulations flow smoothly to the eye. This one step alone makes all the difference in the world in how a finished fence looks. Just an inch or two up or down makes the difference between a jagged looking fence or a smoothly flowing one.

Once the top board looks good. Mark the locations for the other boards.

For 4 board, I use 15, 30, 45, and 60 inches to the top of each row.

For a hot wire, I've had great service from #9 aluminum wire (large enough not to cut) in the black plastic insulators made for high tensile wire. Throw the nails away that come with the insulators, and use short decking screws.

I've tried all types of fasteners, and my current favorite is "Strar Drive" decking screws sold in Home Depot. For the large ones like #10 3 and 3 1/2 inch ones, you need a T25 TORX bit. One short one comes in the box of screws, but it doesn't stay in anything very good. Order a few online that will snap into the chuck on the impact driver. Updated to add: you can find the snap in T25 driver bits in Home Depot now where the other screwdriver inserts are.

Buy a good quality 18 volt drill and impact driver combo. I like the lightweight Makita combo that Home Depot has on sale right now for $215. The impact driver is many times easier than a drill for running the screws in. The combo gives you a drill to drill the pilot holes with, and the impact driver to keep the bit in to drive the screws.

Hope that was some help.

May. 9, 2011, 08:57 PM
buy the post hole digger as you have several hundred to dig which just will not happen overnight

but have you given any thought about just driving the posts into place since you have sandy loam soil?

May. 10, 2011, 12:19 PM
Tom-Thanks so much for the detailed instructions. They were very helpful and I'll follow your advice!

Clanter-I can't seem to find anyone close to home with the equipment to drive the posts. I know round posts can be driven, but we are putting in squares and it seems like it would be hard to align the sides when driving squares.

Our pasture is a rectangle. How do you get it to align square? Does that just require measure and remeasuring each side to the corner points until there is equi-distance between, or is there an easier way?

Gravel in with the posts-yes or no?

I appreciate all the advice!

May. 10, 2011, 12:21 PM
buy the post hole digger as you have several hundred to dig which just will not happen overnight

For real?? If the op plans to se a posthole digger, I hope he/she has a good physical therepist and massuse!!

May. 10, 2011, 12:25 PM
We put in maybe 8 or 10 with the post hole digger....would NOT do more than that! Ouch!!!

We got the attachment for the tractor that slams the post into the ground...no digging involved! It wasnt perfectly level using the level on the attachment, so we leveled ourselves and it worked great!

May. 10, 2011, 01:51 PM
All my posts are 4' X 6" and I love them. The flat side makes attaching boards much easier.
Use screws - my fencing is nice and tight, neighbor who used nails - popping off. Nails and horses don't mix.

Remember - don't set the posts 8' apart if you have 8' boards!!! You need to measure to the center of the posts (ask me how I learned THAT lesson!!! lol)

Oh, and the boards wont actually measure 8' (or 16'), and your spacing will NOT be perfect every time. You're better off setting the spaces at 7'8" (or 15'6") to allow for the differences.

The best tool I used was a one I made myself. I had watched the pros do most of my fencing and they could eye-ball the space between the boards easy as pie.
My eye - not so much!
So, when I did some additional fencing, I made a "spacer" template. I cut a piece of fence board the total length of "a board + gap + board. I cut a couple of smaller pieces of board to attach across the top and bottom.
Screw your top board to the posts - hang the template on the top board and voila, perfect distance for the next board down every time.
I made 2 "spacer" templates, one for each end of the board.
I finished several hundred feet of fencing myself thank-you-very-much!

May. 10, 2011, 02:49 PM
More good advice! Thanks, again. And we are not considering doing this with a hand-held post hole digger! Yikes! We'll most likely rent a power auger that attaches to the 3-point of our tractor.

AliCat--I assume you had round posts that you drilled? How tricky was the driver attachment to handle? If it works, it sounds more efficient than digging holes. I might have to switch to round posts!

baysngrays--I like the template idea, and thanks for the reminder of the actual spacing needed between posts. I think we will use screws!

May. 10, 2011, 04:51 PM
I'd be rounding those corners if I were you. Then use geometry to make sure it is square.

May. 10, 2011, 11:35 PM
Rent a tractor with an auger or rent a post driver. You don't want one of those hand-held post hold digging gadgets! You will still need to be careful that the posts go in straight. We've rented the post driver 2x -- and it works great but the model I had did nothing to keep anything plumb. You'll have to keep checking the post after every whack or two to make sure it's not too far off.

Your proposal is not an inexpensive way to put up fencing, so I am going to assume you have a little wiggle room in your budget? Since this is an important job and it's the first time you've installed fence, have you considered contracting out the post installation? Let them get everything laid out and straight - then all you have to do is attach rails and gates. You could ask the source of the posts if they offer this service.

If you're still not sure you're up to attaching the wood planks to the posts perfectly, may I make a suggestion? I had some of the same worries about wood planks on my fence. I ended up going with flex-rail instead. It's kept even the biggest horses in, never had an injury, and it's 100% rot-proof. Plus it was so easy to install even I could do it all by myself.

May. 10, 2011, 11:59 PM
Another tool you might want to add to your arsenal is a battery powered circular saw, in case you have to cut any boards to fit the spacing.

After dragging two 16 foot boards up to the house to cut off the 2 inches too long on the boards to fit where I was replacing a broken board, and much cursing, I quit for the day and went to Home Depot and bought a DeWalt cordless saw.

Someone called me a weenie, said I should have just used a hand saw, but I see no reason why we girls can't own power tools too!

Tom King
May. 11, 2011, 05:26 PM
I use a small chainsaw for cutting any boards that need it. Stihl 018-same as MS180 model now. It's light and has a built in chain tightener that doesn't require other tools which works just fine.

I have some battery saws, but they run a battery down much quicker than a drill or driver does.

If a board starts getting too close to one edge of the post, we put a fastener to one side and cut it by eye down the center of the post or best estimate how it will mate with the next one.

Yes, you can't get the joints to fit perfectly with a chainsaw, but it's not cabinet work. Can you tell which of the joints don't fit perfectly in this picture? http://www.starbornhavanese.com/images/DSCN0916.JPG

May. 11, 2011, 05:48 PM
I'd like to know about posts in the ground - was taught by dad to place post in hole, fill with gravel, (he actually said stones, then gravel) then with dirt. Is that how horse fencing posts are done? Does anyone use cement?

The posts in one of our paddocks are loose - at the very least, it was clear to me they did not put in stones and gravel. Just don't know what is theway to do it correctly for longterm, strong, permanent posts?

May. 11, 2011, 05:49 PM
Also, I always assumed to sink the post 4 feet?

May. 11, 2011, 07:17 PM
No cement. Cement rots wood.

Tom King
May. 11, 2011, 07:27 PM
It really depends on what the ground is like where you are. Here with sandy loam topsoil, but red clay below, there is nothing else that needs to be added back to the hole for just a line post. We just put the dirt back in the hole and tamp it every few inches with the tamping end of a digging bar-Lowes or Home Depot where the shovels are.

I use two helpers. I hold the post plumb using the lines and level. One guy puts dirt back in while the other tamps. Tamping is the hard job, and the guys switch off when one gets tired. Each can bench over 400 lbs.

For gate posts, I put them in deeper and use concrete or they will sag when the ground is wet.

Ask around where you live about what others do there. There is no universally correct answer.

May. 11, 2011, 08:51 PM
I take that back. No cement with the exception of the gate posts.

May. 11, 2011, 10:18 PM
I'm getting a little worried that we may be taking on too big of a task. I estimate we'll have 350 posts to set. We are strong, but not young (50ish) and I do have the summer off as I work in the school system. However, it sounds like just the tamping process could be a huge grind. Am I dreaming or did I read about some sort of gas powered tamping device? I'll have to see if we can rent a post driver in this area, vs. an auger.

We have considered contracting out the post digging/setting portion. It adds a lot to the price, and I'm not sure we can afford it, but we may have to reconsider.

Tom--Nice picture of your fence and horse! I can get 4x4' locust posts for $6.40 and 5x5' for $10.00. The 4x4's seem small but it looks like what you might have. Would the 4x4's be okay for 4 board oak fencing?

What is flex rail? I haven't considered that?

It sounds like no concrete except for maybe gate posts.

May. 12, 2011, 01:03 PM
It's a huge job. You'll do well to get in 15-20 posts a day. In our area,we are lucky to get in 15 posts a day using a post hole digger on the back of the tractor. We have rocks and even a small rock can stop the auger. Lots of time to stop drilling,reach down, liberate the rock, start digging again. Some holes have to be dug by hand. The pro's area lot faster but also cost big bucks and if you are conscientious there is no reason why your fence won't look as nice as that done by a pro,

Hopefully you are in a part of the country where you don't have issues that make it tough to dig.

That being said, once you get past the learning curve, you'll get into the groove. And you will save a boatload of money.

The hardest part is making sure the fenceline is straight. Use string and don't deviate. Do 10-15 posts at a time and take a look before attaching boards so you can see the line looks straight - or at least not zig zaggy. If it is not quite right, go back and reset the offending posts. Use string. Be a fanatic.

Maybe you could do it over two summers?

May. 12, 2011, 01:23 PM
Tamping is an absolute pain in the a$$! Those tampers are heavy. I've put in a few posts by myself and was absolutely worn out and I don't think I'm too much of a wimp. To me, tamping is hard and boring work.

May. 12, 2011, 01:26 PM
Assuming the person suggesting the flex rail is talking about a Centaur type product, I'd second that. It's a plastic / polymer type material that comes with a 20 to 30 year warranty and you never have to replace a board due to rot / chewing / kicking, etc. It comes in rolls. We bought the 5" roll of Centaur which comes in 660' lengths. You should have seen the look on our neighbors' faces when they saw how quickly it went up once we had the posts in the ground. They quickly mentioned how often they had to replace boards and how it's measure, cut, measure, cut, etc. We don't have to do any of that.

As for the posts, we went with rounds. We have some curves along the road and other areas though where we really didn't want to have to spend a lot of extra time figuring out the position / angle at which to set each post. The round you can screw in to on any side. Which leads me to the screws vs nails... go with screws. I also second the star / torx drive.

You may want to consider just buying an auger. We bought ours at Tractor Supply for $450 I think it was? We still have more fencing to do, but if you fence everything and don't need it anymore, you can turn around and put it on Craigslist for probably just less than what you paid for it. I would imagine it'd be cheaper than renting one, as this is probably not a weekend project. We hit some extremely hard clay in some areas, rocks, etc and it took us weeks of augering / digging / filling the holes with water / augering some more... to put up just the first two paddocks. I can't imagine what the rental fee would have been on renting one for that long would be.

Whatever you decide, good luck!

May. 12, 2011, 02:39 PM
When we lived in CA we thought that, even with the cost of the tractor, we'd save money by putting in our own fencing. Didn't figure on hitting solid granite!
8 hours and 6 "sort-of" post holes later - we called in the experts.
The "soil" was mostly DG and the rock (mountain?) we hit made it impossible to do it ourselves. So we had the posts put in (concrete at every post!) and spent a couple of weeks installing the rails and gates.

Here in SC, with wonderful sandy soil, I've been able to install several lines of fencing myself.

So a lot will depend on the type of soil you're working with.

In CA we had to use concrete, in NE and the South, only at the hinge side of the gates.
Talk to a couple of fence guys in your area, ask what they normally do. You might want to get the posts set and then install the rails yourself. Depends on your time frame and pain thresh-hold!