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How to Build a Fence and Gate

Updated on April 20, 2015

Anyone can build a fence and gate. All that is required is a little planning, a few tools, some patience and a bunch of wood. Doing it yourself saves a lot of money. A short fence and gate can be built in a weekend. A longer one will require more time or a bunch of friends to help you do it.

Customized Fence and Gate
Customized Fence and Gate | Source

Choosing a Fence and Gate

A fence serves the primary purpose of keeping things, animals and people on and out of your property. It also marks the limits of your domain. The primary purpose of a gate is to allow access in and out of your domain. Besides being useful, a fence and gate can improve the look of your home. Choose a fence and gate design with this in mind. Decide whether you want your fence and gate to be simple and functional or ornate and elaborate. Choose a simple fence and gate if you want attention focused on your house and garden. Pick an ornate fence and gate if you want it to be the focus of attention or it will augment the look of your property. Hardware stores and lumber yards that sell the wood for fences and gates also sell plans and designs for them. These are usually under $20.

Map Out the Fence Path

Figure out where you want your fence and gate to be. Measure this carefully so you know exactly how much fence you need to build. Take note of any special circumstances like uneven ground, an incline or trees. If you plan to build a fence along a property line, it is wise to get a lot survey first. There is often confusion about where lot boundaries actually are. The builder who made your house may have got it wrong. Neighbors do not usually share fences. Make sure that your fence is built entirely on your property. If you happen to build it on your neighbor's property, it becomes his fence.

Prepare the Fence Posts

It is important to prepare the fence posts for years of wear and tear beneath the ground. Chemicals in the soil can eat away at untreated wood. In a few years, untreated fence posts can crumble and the fence can fall over. Buy pressure treated or pre-treated fence posts or treat them yourself. You can buy wood preservative at any hardware store. Apply at least three coats on the bottom of each fence post. For a 6 foot fence this should be the bottom 2 1/2 feet of an 8 foot post. Do more or less if your fence will be taller or shorter.

Space the Fence Posts

Fence posts must go in every corner. Mark the spots with small wooden stakes or brightly colored spray paint. Next calculate how far you will space additional fence posts. Keep in mind that the more fence posts you have, the stronger your fence will be. Fences with widely spaced posts tend to bend and sag. For a strong fence, space posts every 6 or 8 feet. Consider the width of the fence boards when deciding the distance between posts. A slight adjustment will avoid the hassle of cutting one in half to make it fit next to a post. Be sure to allow a space for the gate at least 3 feet wide. Fence posts must go on both sides of the gate.

Building the Fence

The corner fence posts go in first. For a 6 foot fence, at least two feet of the posts will go underground. This means you will need 8 foot posts for a 6 foot fence. Dig fence post holes 2 1/2 feet deep. Fill the bottom of each hole with 6 inches of gravel to drain away water. Insert the fence posts and measure them to make sure they are the proper height. Fill the holes around the posts with concrete and secure them in place until the concrete is dry. Once the corner fence posts are in, stretch string between them. This way your connecting fence posts will be in a straight line.

Fence Rails

Fence rails are horizontal supports that connect fence posts. They are what fence boards are nailed to. Fence rails are usually 2 by 4 pieces of lumber. There should be two fence rails between every post. Nail one between posts 6 inches above the ground with 3 1/2 inch nails. Make sure the rail is parallel to the ground. The top rail can go at the top of the fence or near the top depending on the look you want. Make sure that it is parallel to the ground and the lower rail.

Fence Boards

When all the fence rails are attached, you can begin nailing down the fence boards. Start in one corner and work your way down the line. Nail the boards to the rails with two nails on the top rail and two on the bottom. Make sure to leave at least one inch of space between the nail and the edge of the board or you could split it. If the design of your fence calls for the boards to fit together, leave no space between them. If the design calls for uniform gaps between boards you must use spacers when securing the next board.

Building the Gate

The gate is basically a miniature version of your fence. Build it using the same rail and board dimensions as the rest of your fence. Be very careful to make it one inch narrower than the opening for the gate so it can swing open. Also make the boards shorter on the bottom so the gate doesn't snag on the ground. Add diagonal braces to increase strength since the gate will be slammed shut a lot.

Hanging the Gate

Get some friends to help you hang the gate. Screw hinges on the fence post and gate, then line up the fence rails so they match. When you get the gate to swing freely and level, add a latch, handle and stop. Installing these is best left until the end so you can make sure they are at a convenient height and that they line up.

Decorate the Fence and Gate

If you purchased finished wood then you wont need to do anything more to your fence and gate. However, if you used unfinished wood or want another color, then paint when the construction is complete. If you paint the wood before you build the fence and gate, you might damage the paint while building. An outdoor fence requires at least 2 or 3 coats of all weather stain or paint. Allow each coat to dry before applying the next.

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