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How to Build a Picket Fence

Building a picket fence from cedar or treated lumber adds beauty, privacy and a welcome buffer from the street.

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  • Time

    Weekend

  • Price Range

    $500 - $1,000

  • Difficulty

    Easy

Highlights:

Step 1: Determine Spacing and Mark the Fence Posts

Plot out fence outline and drive temporary stakes at all corners. Stretch a string between the stakes, making sure lines are tight and square. Use spray paint to mark the locations for the posts, which should be spaced 6’ to 8’ apart. Taking the time to measure and mark your fence properly will result in a stronger, better-looking end product.

determine spacing and mark the fence posts

Step 2: Dig Postholes and Set Fence Posts

Fence posts should be set at least two feet into the ground, or as deep as one-third the overall length of the post. Dig post holes at each of the locations marked, including corners. A power auger can save a great deal of time and effort when digging several holes.

Add 3" of gravel in the bottom of each hole for proper drainage. Tamp the gravel down with posts. Place posts in holes, making sure they are level and plumb. Fill hole with fast-setting concrete to 2" above ground level, forming a slope to divert water. Check for plumb again. Brace posts with stakes while they set.

dig post holes at each of locations marked

Step 3: Measure, Cut and Attach Top and Bottom Railings

Measure the space between posts and cut 2” by 4” railings, or stringers, to length. Attach bottom stringers to fence posts with galvanized screws and nails, typically 6” up from the grade. Attach top stringers to the fence posts roughly 6” below top of pickets. Take care that top and bottom stringers are level and that the picket-side of the stringer is flush to the face of the post.

measure, cut and attach top and bottom railings

Step 4: Attach Pickets to Railings

Determine the number of pickets you'll need and cut them to length. Cut out your own design, or purchase pickets with a precut design (90-degree cut, dog-eared, etc.).

Lay out the pickets side by side and determine how wide the spaces between them should be. In the fence shown, the pickets cover the posts, so lay those pickets out first and determine the spacing accordingly. When not covering posts, the rule of thumb is to leave half a space next to the posts. Attach pickets to the stringers with galvanized screws and nails. To maintain a consistent space between the previously nailed picket and the picket to be nailed, use a spacer block.

After you attach all the pickets, apply paint or solid-color stain to protect the fence from weather.

attach pickets to railings

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