DIY Guide to Building a Picket Fence
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DIY Guide to Building a Picket Fence

Simple steps to constructing a picket fence for your front yard. A great weekend project.

Picket fences are absolutely beautiful to look at when you see them around your neighborhood, but you know that there is a lot of time involved in creating one. But, alas, if you feel you don't have the time to create a picket fence there are ways around all of the hard work.  But first, let's dive into the project as if you were going to do it yourself.

To get started first you will want to take measurements of you yard, this will help you to determine how many feet you plan to fence in.  You may require help with this especially, if you plan to use a tape measure.  Once you have the dimensions, its time to get started.  You will need; hammer, jigsaw (hand held will work fine), small shovel, wood nails, wood screws, wood (of course), pencil and paint or poly urethane if you plan to simply leave the wood bare.

The wood is of course the important.  It is best to work in sections for your fence, this will help you keep better control of the project and also help you to make the structure more stable. For your wood selection, your first decision is how big you want your picket boards to be, do you want a wider look or the more traditional narrow look.  If you choose the more narrow, look, you may want to get boards that are 1 inch thick by 4 inches wide.  This will give you enough area to work on when it comes time to securing the boards for your fence.  For the support boards that will run along the back of the fence boards you will want 2 inch by 2 inch thick boards, the longer the better, typically the boards come in 8 foot lengths which work out rather well.  For the support boards, these are the boards that you will want to stick in the ground to hold everything in place, your best bet is to use a 4 inch by 4 inch board.  You will need to create a big enough hole in the ground in which to stick the board into, but in the end, your fence will be a lot more stable. Most of the wood that you will need for this project, you will want to get from you nearest home improvement center, they typically have people available to assist with any questions that you may have.

Before you go shopping, determine how much space do you wish to have between each of the boards for your fence, this will help you to estimate how many boards to purchase.  For creating a fence it is best to look into getting weather treated wood, this will last longer and maintain its shape for a very long time. However, if you want to cut on the expense, you can purchase the regular boards and simply make sure to seal each board well after the fence is put together.

Now onto the main part of the project and the most time consuming part.  You have your wood, you are ready to get busy creating the fence.  Each board will need to be cut.  You may want to create a template for yourself out of paper to get the point on each post exactly right or you can reach for a ruler and a pencil and work it out each time, the choice is yours.  Some feel it is best to cut all of the board first then construct the entire fence all at once, while others work in sections.  In this writers opinion, work in sections, it will help you to see the progress that you have made and give you a sense of accomplishment on your project.  Work on approximately 6-12 feet of fence a weekend.  Or if you feel your time is more limited, then do less.

The first part of the fence you will want to put in are your posts.  After you have them cut to the appropriate length, including the section that will need to be in the ground to stabilize the fence, for example you want the fence to be 4 feet high, you will want to have at least 1 1/2 feet of fence in the ground.  So make sure your boards are 5 1/2 feet long.  Mark your posts approximately 6 feet apart.  Now dig your holes, once you have your boards securely in the ground, it is time to mount the support bars, these are the boards that will run along the back of your fence.  Using the wood screws and the 2 inch by 2 inch board, grab a drill or a screw driver, and attach the boards approximately 2 fee apart, having them closer will ensure the stabilization of your fence.  Once these boards are in place, it is time to mount your fence.  You will want to use approximately 2-3 nails per board.  Place a board, hammer the two outter nails, then the center, each board will have a total of 6 nails to secure the fence to the stabilizing boards. It is best to paint each section as you go, to help protect the wood from the weather as you go.  There may be times when the weather just isn't well to work in.

If you feel that this is way to much work, no worries.  To get that picket fence look, many of the home improvement centers now have kits.  The kits consist of the boards and posts already attached to each other in most cases.  You can find them made out of special heavy plastics, metal or even wood in some cases.  Mind you these pre-assembled fences will cost you more, but if you are worried about time, this may be the better way to go. Shop around at the different centers if you choose to go this route to make sure you receive the best deal possible for your new pre-constructed fence.

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Comments (2)

Very few people build fences from scratch any more for several very good reasons. First, you can buy fence panels for less than what you could buy the material for. A 42" tall by 8 foot long fence panel by Milstead would cost you $22.97 each at Home Depot and you couldn't buy the pressure treated lumber for that. One piece of 1"X4"X8' appearance grade Milstead pressure lumber would cost you $3.69. The average fence section would require 56feet or $25.83. To that add the cost of two post at @$20.00 each and the materials comes to $65.83. For $65.83 you can buy three fence section or 24 feet of fencing. If you factor in what your time is worth you can save even more money by buying preassembled fence panels. You can also eliminate the time consuming, back-breaking work of digging postholes if you go with the Ground-Tech 30" Ground Post System. Using these systems one could conceivably complete an average fencing project over one weekend.


While many people buy the pre-built panels, you would be much better off building your own. If you have a lumber yard nearby, you can always get the materials for cheaper than the cost of the panels. Rent a post hole digger for about $50 for 4 hours. You can conceivably dig about 20 holes in that time frame, easily.

Also, bury and cement your vertical posts. While little "stick-in" features are nice and easy, they WILL fall over eventually, or at minimum lean so that your fence is not straight.