Installing a Fenced Entryway

Not only will a fenced entryway be an attractive addition to your home, it will keep bike riders and walkers from taking a shortcut across your lawn. In addition, it will create an ideal setting for ornamental plantings. Most of the basic principles and techniques of building a fence are involved in this project. Fences have three basic components:

Posts provide lateral strength, top and bottom rails span the distance between the posts, and pickets (or sometimes, latticework) attach to the rails. If you choose to add a gate. Begin by checking local setback requirements. Then lay out the posthole locations using mason’s lines and stakes to establish straight lines. Use the 3-4-5 method when you need to establish a square corner.

Panelized sections of fencing are the easiest to work with. To ensure the distance between panels is correct, set one post, position the panel, and then set the second post. Apply extra preservative to the parts of the posts to be inserted into the ground. Shovel 2 to 3 inches of gravel into the bottom of each hole, set the post in, and plumb it in both directions. You may need to stake it in place temporarily. Install all the posts a little taller than they need to be so you can trim them to the correct height later. Fill the holes with tamped soil or concrete (allow the concrete to cure for a few days before proceeding).

If your yard is fairly level, you may want to cut all the posts at the same level for a neat appearance. Use a line or water level to mark them. If you have a sloping yard, use a chalk line to mark for a straight slope, or just cut each post to the same height above grade; the fence sections will be at various heights. Cut each post by marking a line all the way around its perimeter with a square, then cutting with a circular saw.

Tools: Posthole digger, mason’s line and stakes, circular saw, handsaw, level, drill, hammer.

Build a picket entryway. Build an entryway like this right next to the sidewalk, or set it back 2 to 3 feet to leave room for plantings. Though it is low and mostly decorative, it does need to be built strongly in case people lean or bump against it. If you have a corner lot, it may make sense to have one side longer than the other, but in most cases it will look best if it is symmetrical. The post caps and newels shown are just two examples of the many types available at lumberyards and home centers .You can use a saber saw to create your own picket designs. You may want to leave room for plantings.

1. Lay out the posts. Establish a straight line for your fence by pounding two small stakes into the ground beyond both ends of the fence. Choose the locations of your posts along the mason’s line. For most designs, the posts should be no more than 6 feet apart. When purchasing posts, take into account the depth of the hole (see Step 3) and make sure they are longer than they need to be— you will cut them to height later. Prepare for digging the postholes by cutting out the sod so your auger won’t go astray as you dig.

2. Dig the postholes. Use a clamshell-type digger for a few easy holes or rent a power auger (the type shown here can be used by one person), or hire someone to dig the holes for you. For most situations, a hole that is 30 inches deep will give you enough stability.

3. Set the inside posts, tamp soil. Shovel a few inches of gravel into the bottom of each posthole; this will allow water to drain away from the post bottoms to prevent rot. Set the two inside posts in the holes. As your helper holds the post plumb in both directions, shovel in 8 inches or so of soil and tamp it firm with a long 2x2 or a piece of metal reinforcing bar— do a thorough job. Repeat until the hole is filled and mounded up a bit to help water drain away from the post.

Long-Lasting Posts - Do things right to avoid having to replace posts in a few years. Select pressure-treated lumber with a preservative retention level of at least .40 or that has been treated for ground contact. Or get dark-colored heartwood of cedar or redwood, if possible, and thoroughly soak the ends in a sealer/preservative. To really hold posts in place, set them in concrete rather than in tamped soil. Also, pound at least eight nails part way into the base of the post to ensure a tight bond between post and concrete.

4. Make or purchase pickets. You can make pickets out of lx by cutting one picket to the design of your choice and using it as a template to cut others with a saber saw. Using pickets removed from a ready-made fence panel is a faster and more economical method.

5. Cut rails and make template. Have a helper hold the outside posts plumb (you’ll set them later), while you measure for the length of the top and bottom rails. Cut the rails so they will fit between the two posts. If you choose to position the pickets so their tops are arched rather than inclined, make a template. It must be as long as a fence section and it should have a smooth, sweeping arch. Cut it wide enough so it can rest on the top rail as you use it. Draw it freehand, or use a compass made of pencil and string or a scrap of wood.

6. Fasten the pickets. Lay the top and bottom rails on a flat surface, such as a well-swept garage floor. Measure to make sure rails are the correct distance apart on both ends, and square to each other. Use a board as a guide for an inclined effect or a cardboard template on the floor with its bottom resting against the top rail. Set the pickets on top of the rails so their tops follow the guide. Set them all out before fastening so you can stand back and check that you’ve achieved the desired effect. Attach to the rails with nails or screws. Make a chalkline cut at the bottom.

7. Set the outside posts. Put the fence section in place against the inside post. Put temporary blocks under it to hold it off the ground at least an inch. Have a helper hold it while you set the outside post in the hole. Adjust the post so it fits snugly against both rails. Set the post.

Notching Fence Rails into Posts - Attaching the rails to your fence posts by toenailing will work in most circumstances, but if the fence is likely to be leaned on or in the path of prevailing winds, consider setting the rails in notches cut in the posts. First determine the location of the rail. Use a square to draw a top cut line and a scrap of rail to strike a bottom cut line. (For a 2x4 rail, this would be 3 1/2 inches.) Set your circular saw to a depth equal to the thickness of the rail (1 1/2 inches for a 2x4). Make four or five cuts between the lines. Chisel out the excess and fasten the rail in place.

8. Attach the panel. Hold the rails tightly against the post. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting, and drive toenails or angled screws through the rails and into the post. Finish driving with a nail set to prevent marring the wood. For extra strength, add metal angle brackets, or small wood cleats.

9. Trim the posts. After you have attached both rail sections, mark the posts for cutting by using a square to mark a line on all four sides of the post. Set your circular saw to its full depth and make a cut, taking care not to damage the pickets. Finish the cut with a handsaw.

10. Add post caps, finials. Post tops are not just decorative. If you simply leave the posts cut flat, rain water will seep into the wood through the end grain. Even high-quality pressure-treated lumber will develop cracks if the ends are exposed. You can make a post top by cutting a piece of 2x6 square (so it is 5 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches). Chamfer the edges with a plane, circular saw, or belt sander. Attach the caps with casing nails, countersink the nails, and fill with caulk. Purchase manufactured finials at your home center or lumber yard. Bore holes and attach the finials using the double-threaded screws provided. Paint the fence with two coats of exterior paint, or apply a generous coat of sealer with UV protection. Finally, complete your decorative plantings. Landscaping fabric covered with mulch limits weeds.

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