Building a fence question

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Forum topic by brantley posted 03-14-2011 04:05 PM 50336 views 2 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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185 posts in 3257 days

03-14-2011 04:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question fence

Im gonna be building a fence in the near future i just wanted to ask a few questions about some things i wasnt 100% on.

Im using 4×4x8 post,,,how deep should i have my holes? 2 ft?

Should i use concrete on every post? They will be 8ft apart

How much space betweeen my dog eared pickets should i allow?

How far off the ground should the bottom my pickets be?


22 replies so far

View lew's profile


12061 posts in 3755 days

#1 posted 03-14-2011 04:10 PM

Before you go too far, you may want to check local ordinances. Many locations have limits on fences.

Years ago, I built a privacy fence. Used treated 4×4’s, 2’ deep in concrete. Later, I read that concrete was not recommended but the posts still stand!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View brantley's profile


185 posts in 3257 days

#2 posted 03-14-2011 07:16 PM

thanks for the info, lew

View ChrisForthofer's profile


150 posts in 3066 days

#3 posted 03-14-2011 07:37 PM

Check with your local ordinances as well as your HOA if you have one as Lew recomends. They will save you the grief of potentially cutting a foot off the top of your new 6’ fence to make it a 5’ one. 2 schools of thought on the concrete, one camp says use it with treated posts and you will be fine. If the posts are treated properly you have about 20-25 years before the moisture the concrete holds against it will start to rot it. Others say use gravel and tamp it to “lock” the post in the hole. Better drainage for the wood when water is in there but the holes can and will fill up with water if your soil doesnt drain well. Also gravel has its problems as you will never get it to firm up if the soil you are putting your posts in is soft to begin with.

I feel the concrete option is better myself and if it were me I’d use it on every post, remember each 8 foot span is a sail in the wind, the fence has to support that load in addition to its own weight. Distance between pickets is a personal choice, minimum of 1/8” would a good rule of thumb. This is just for airflow/drainage and to keep debris from getting stuck between the boards (pine needles etc.) As to how far off the ground, an inch should be fine, just so they are not touching soil is what you are looking for. Good luck.


-- -Director of slipshod craftsmanship and attention deficit woodworking

View brantley's profile


185 posts in 3257 days

#4 posted 03-14-2011 08:00 PM

Thanks alot Chris. Answered all my questions!

Just for clarification,,, i live out in the middle of nowhere in the country. There is no HOA.

View KnotWright's profile


258 posts in 3487 days

#5 posted 03-14-2011 08:29 PM

As a person who has built WAY too much fencing in my life, miles and miles…here’s just a few more pointers.

When you pour the concrete around the posts, pour it high and try to slope it away from the posts. A lot of people like pouring it low and putting dirt over the top of it. This forms a bowl that invites water to collect against the post.

On your rails, try installing one 16’ on bottom followed by another 16’. Then on top start with an 8’ followed by a 16’. This keep the joints alternating making the fence a little stronger in the long runs.

Depending on if you have pets that you are trying to keep in, the higher off the ground you can keep the pickets the better. It a lot easier to cut the grass with 3” of space under the fence.

As for your pickets, if you are going for privacy you tend to want them as tight together as possible. If you are buying pickets that are “wet” when you install them, you don’t have to worry about them swelling after installation and you can just “but” the pickets together without spacing them. If the pickets are really dry while you are installing them, you might consider spacing them slightly to prevent them from swelling when they do get wet, and working themselves loose later on.

-- James

View JCantin's profile


179 posts in 3411 days

#6 posted 03-15-2011 03:44 PM

Another tip is to strip out a generous patch of grass along the fence’s path before installing. Lay in some crushed stone after your posts are in but before you install the panels. This will make it easier to mow and protect the bottoms of your pickets from moisture.

View mnguy's profile


193 posts in 3398 days

#7 posted 03-15-2011 04:04 PM

A rule of thumb I have read and used for post depth is 1/3 of the total post height. For my fence posts, I’ve taken a hybrid approach with setting them; pour some pea gravel in the bottom of the hole, set and plumb the post, and pour in one bag of quick-set post concrete, pour in water. 30 minutes later, you can remove the bracing and back fill the rest of the hole. Where I have run into a large tree root, I have set the post shallower and filled the hole with concrete and then sloped the top as suggested by KnotRight.

IMO, the best approach would be to set the post deeply and backfill with tamped soil, but this is a lot of work and time, and I’ve never done it that way due to laziness and impatience :)

I have also taken the time to treat the buried portion of cedar posts with wood preservative before setting them, especially the open grain on the bottom. A little insurance against rot.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2983 days

#8 posted 03-15-2011 04:16 PM

I set my post 24”- 30” deep 8’ apart. I set my post with pea gravel, it allows for moisture to drain away. Concrete draws moisture and will rot out the post. I space my pickets the thickness of a picket apart to allow for expansion and contraction and allows for wind to pass through. I set my pickets 2”- 3” off the ground to allow for weed eating and to keep the pickets from drawing moisture.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View gpastor's profile


184 posts in 3058 days

#9 posted 03-16-2011 01:56 AM

You could try this, I am going to try it this spring.
Fence Pole Installation Without Cement pt 2

-- Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

View brantley's profile


185 posts in 3257 days

#10 posted 03-16-2011 03:24 PM

Let me ask yal this….about how wide does my hole need to be for my posts?

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


601 posts in 2907 days

#11 posted 03-17-2011 05:28 AM

Assuming you are using a post-hole digger and few rocks….....then your hole the size of your post hole digger will be just right.

Shovels make a hole a little too big for your sized posts, as do rocks, but neither can be avoided totally.

BTW, the Big Orange Box has post holes on sale this weekend…..........10 holes for 50 bucks. You might want to consider that as an option.

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3485 days

#12 posted 03-17-2011 05:57 AM

Im using 4×4×8 post,,,how deep should i have my holes? 2 ft? – 2 feet minimum

Should i use concrete on every post? They will be 8ft apart – yes, concrete is good. use the type of concrete that you don’t add water. the concrete adsorbs moisture from the surrounding soil. one bag per hole. cool stuff.

How much space betweeen my dog eared pickets should i allow? – if using pressure treated then none. the pickets are wet and will shrink to about 1/4 to 3/8 gap in the pickets. otherwise, 1/8 inch on non treated.

How far off the ground should the bottom my pickets be? – Personally I use a sacrificial 1×6 along the bottom and sit your pickets on top. When it finally rots out, just replace it.

Rent a gas powered post hole digger with an 8 inch diameter auger for about $50 and spare yourself a lot of pain.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View Manitario's profile


2630 posts in 2882 days

#13 posted 03-17-2011 06:48 AM

personally not a fan of concrete and fence posts; eventually you’ll replace the fence and it will be a PITA to deal with; I’ve found 3ft holes with a 4×4 post, tamped with gravel is solid.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View chris85's profile


23 posts in 2691 days

#14 posted 03-18-2011 05:30 PM


I am also getting ready to set up a new wood fence. I would like to use the tamped gravel for the posts, but I have some questions.

1. How much gravel will I need?

2. Is gravel more cost effective then concrete?

3. What kind of gravel?

unrealted, but should i be using nails or screw for the pickets? I have heard mixed reviews it seems.

View Clarence's profile


125 posts in 3106 days

#15 posted 03-19-2011 07:04 AM

If your posts are CCA SYP, you should buy them now and lay them out in your yard for as long as possible so you can get an idea of which ones are going to warp and bow.

-- Getting old is a good thing, but being old kinda stinks.

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