How To Build a Fence

You won't need planning permission to erect a fence unless it is higher than 2m (6ft 6in), your boundary adjoins a highway (when you may be limited to a 1 m/3ft 3in high fence), or where your area has been designated as 'open plan' (in this case you may be allowed to erect low 'decorative' ranch-style, or post-and-rope fencing). Short term, a fence will be cheaper than a masonry wall, but you can argue that long term, the cost of maintenance and eventual replacement will cancel out any savings made. Nevertheless, a wooden fence that has been treated with preservative regularly should last for years.

Picket fencing (pictured top left) is low level and 'see through' and is good for boundaries or at the front of a cottage-style garden. Narrow, vertical 'pales' with a rounded or pointed top are spaced evenly at 50mm (2in) centres. Picket fences are difficult to make by hand but fortunately are available as prefabricated panels constructed of softwood - or even plastic.

Trellis (top centre) is lightweight but does make a good windbreak and can offer privacy when climbing plants have grown over it. The concertina fold of trellis, formed from thin lathes of cedar or other softwood will only be as strong as the posts and rails that support it.

Close-boarded fencing (top right) is ideal for screening off a garden or boundary from an unsightly road or neighbouring plot. A close-board fence is made by nailing overlapping featherboard strips to horizontal rails. Featherboards are sawn planks that 'feather' or taper across their width from 16mm (5/8in) in the middle, down to around 3mm (1/8in) at the edges.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1 Setting out

With all fencing, careful setting out is perhaps the most important part of the job. Set out the line of the fence by stretching strong string between stakes positioned at intervals along the proposed run.

2 Post supports

Post supports are available in different types and sizes. Spiked post supports are driven into the ground with a sledge-hammer. To avoid damaging or distorting the support rim, buy a special driving tool or 'dolly' that fits into the socket.

3 Check verticals

Drive in the spike until the base of the socket is level with the ground, checking regularly that the support is going in straight. If it begins to twist out of line, use the handles on the dolly to realign it. If you don't succeed in setting the support correctly, you'll need to lever it out and start again.

4 Fix the first post

The base of the post slots into the support and is then secured by screwing through the side of the socket or by tightening clamping bolts, depending on the design of the spike. Check that the post is vertical with a spirit level.

5 Positioning subsequent posts

Offer up the first fence panel but do not nail it to the post. Instead, use this panel as a guide to position the next support. When this post support and post is in place, you can secure the first panel. Continue to erect posts and panels alternately along the boundary.

6 Checking levels

Lay a spirit level along the top of each fence panel to check that it is level. When all the panels have been adjusted and secured, fix gravel boards at the base of the fence and nail post caps or finials to the top of each post.

Useful Tips - Fences

  • If you bed fencing posts into concrete, shape the top of the concrete to slope away from the posts so rainwater is shed cleanly away.
  • Remember that all of the fence posts must be on your side of the boundary. Check the deeds of your house to be sure you know exactly where the boundary lies and avoid future disputes.
  • Maintain the appearance and prolong the life of your fence by regularly treating panels and posts with wood preservative.
  • Most fence posts and panels are factory treated to prevent vermin and insect attack. If you are setting posts into concrete, soak their cut ends with preservative overnight to prolong their life.
  • To save time and energy, rather than lift a large fence panel into position every time you want to position a post, cut a batten to match the width of the panel and use this to mark the position.
  • Take care when lifting and carrying heavy sections of fence.
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