Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Fences - Part 2

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Now after a week, of leaving our fence to its own devises, the posts are seated tightly in the patio blocks and encased in the cured limestone screening which has trapped the 4x4 as tightly as any concrete. Before moving on, now would be a good time to remove the scrap lumber used to keep the fence posts perpendicular while the screening solidified, clean up any construction debris, and if you had to cut the turf away from the ground before digging the holes, put it back in place and water it in.

Joist hangers have made fences a comparatively easy proposition compared to the old days when joinery skills were required to mortise and tenon the cross bars in place between the posts. Joist hangers are metal angle irons that have holes precut to attach the stringer to the bracket and to attach the bracket to the posts.

Putting It All Together

Start with the bottom bracket and affix it to the first 4x4 so that it is a foot above the ground. Cut a 2x4 to size and use it to position the joist hanger on the next post in line. Using a framing level, make sure the 2x4 is level between the two brackets (posts), and centred on the four by four. (If you dont have a framing level, which is a very long metal or wooden-framed level, you can gaff-tape a shorter level to a straight, 6 length of board to get the most accurate reading over the extra length).

Once the lower board is in place, fasten it, through all the holes provided in the joist hanger, to the cross bar and the fence post. Use 1-1/4 galvanized screws for the purpose. Yes, you can nail it together, but in terms of the parts staying joined together and not rusting out, the screws are a little more cost for a lot more longevity.

Affixing the Vertical Boards

For the sake of example, we will make our fence boards 6 long. Cut the first one and hold it in place against the fence post so its brushing the ground at the bottom. Mark the position for the top stringer so that no more than 6 of the fence board protrudes above it. Repeat the fastening process with the top horizontal, so that you now have an upper and lower rail holding the fence posts square and true above and below. Now its a simple if repetitive job to cut all the fence boards to length to fill in between the two posts.

I like to leave a small space between the boards. I use a 10 penny nail for a spacer, but you can use anything that meets your requirements for the spaces, as long as it cant be compressed and allow the spaces to be different sizes. If you end up with a partial board, always place it against the post farthest from your house. Put the cut side against the post so any irregularities are less obtrusive. Secure the fence boards on the inside of the frame work, facing you garden with 1-1/4 galvanized screws and outdoor carpenters glue. Do not glue the boards that rest against the 4x4 posts in case you need to remove them for adjustments.

An Alternate Method of Placing the Vertical Boards

Another way of doing this is to cut the boards all to size and then alternate them on either side of the stringer. This provides the best aeration of all. People can see some of your yard on the oblong view but the boards overlap just slightly so they cannot look in directly. Another good idea is to shape the tops of the fence boards. I wouldnt do anything in the manner of points as a safety issue (no one wants to be impaling local teenagers), but pleasing results can be obtained by using a one-quart paint can lid as a template and rounding the top of each board. If that seems to be too much work, even using the tin-template to round the outside edge of the boards on each end of a section, still makes the fence look more finished and professional.

Once things are up and screwed together attend to the last task, which is trimming the tops of the 4x4 posts. Make them a uniform length that is a few inches higher that the fence boards. Mark your cut all the way around the post and take off the excess length with a sharp hand saw. Shaped fence post caps are available at the lumber yard and I recommend them; they shed water away from the post and lengthen the life of the wood. Id glue them down and use four, 2 galvanized screws to secure them to the posts. Again, no nails. The wind will never give up in trying to dislodge the caps and the screws and glue will guarantee they stay in place.


Pressure treated lumber turns white in one or two seasons and can be stained or painted at that time. If you try sooner, the preservative will either leak through and discolor your paint job or the paint will flake off prematurely. If you want to color the fence, use an opaque medium brown stain and be generous as the wood will be thirsty. Well applied stain should last from two to five years depending on the weather your structure is required to endue.