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Advice on DIY High Quality 4-Board Fence Installation

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  • Advice on DIY High Quality 4-Board Fence Installation

    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....

  • #2
    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.


    • #3
      Here's every thread where you mention fence:

      It's a small world -- unless you gotta walk home.


      • Original Poster

        I tried to search for it, but couldn't find it either. I think searches only go back so far.


        • #5
          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.
          Last edited by Tom King; Aug. 30, 2012, 08:45 PM.


          • #6
            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?


            • Original Poster

              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!


              • #8
                Originally posted by clanter View Post
                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!!



                • #9
                  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!
                  Charlie Brown (1994 bay TB X gelding)
                  White Star (2004 grey TB gelding)

                  Mystical Moment, 1977-2010.


                  • #10
                    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!
                    You're entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts!


                    • Original Poster

                      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!


                      • #12
                        I'd be rounding those corners if I were you. Then use geometry to make sure it is square.


                        • #13
                          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.
                          Veterinarians for Equine Welfare


                          • #14
                            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!
                            There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


                            • #15
                              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


                              • #16
                                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?
                                Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                                • #17
                                  Also, I always assumed to sink the post 4 feet?
                                  Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                                  • #18
                                    No cement. Cement rots wood.


                                    • #19
                                      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.


                                      • #20
                                        I take that back. No cement with the exception of the gate posts.