Install a Fence and Gate 2 - Fence Posts and Rails

Installing Fence Posts

1. Start building your fence by installing the corner posts. Dig your first post hole at least 2 inches wider on all sides than the posts themselves. The hole should also be at least 2 feet deep, and if you live in an area where the ground freezes, the hole needs to be even deeper, at least 6 inches below the frost line to prevent heaving. You can use a long handled shovel (if you're very ambitious), but you're probably better to use a post hole digger or rent a power auger to dig your holes.

2. Put 2 to 3 inches of gravel in the bottom of the hole, so moisture will drain away from the base of the post, and set the post in the hole. It's also a good idea to stand all your fence posts up in a bucket of wood preservative overnight to protect the base from moisture and help prevent them from rotting.

3. Use a level to make sure the post is plumb, then hold it in place by sticking of pieces of scrap lumber into the ground and nailing them to the post.

4. Mix your concrete following the directions on the bag and pour it into the hole around the post. Use a stick to poke the concrete and let any air trapped in the mix escape. Check that the post is still plumb and adjust it if it has moved.

5. Set all your corner posts following the same process and then allow the concrete to set up overnight.

6. When installing the rest of the fence posts, run a string tightly from the outside of one corner post to the outside of another. When you dig the holes and install the posts, keeping them on your side of the string will ensure the fence line is straight (and perhaps more important, they are on your property).

7. Install the fence posts the same way you installed the corner posts. Dig below the frost line, put gravel in the bottom of the hole, then install and plumb each post. Once again, let the concrete set up overnight.

Installing the Fence Rails

Once the posts are installed, you can attach your fence rails. The easiest way to attach the rails to the post is to use specialized fencing clips (available at any home store). These clips nail directly into the fence post and have a "pocket" that the rails will fit right into. You could also toe nail the rails to the posts, but the clips make for a more accurate job.

1. Start by positioning the bottom rail at least 6 inches from the ground to help keep the fence boards off the moist ground. First attach a clip to one post and put the rail in it. Now, hold the rail against the other post and when it is level, mark the positioning of the clip on that post and nail it in.

2. After the bottom rail is installed, measure up the exact same distance on each post and attach the top rail. Assuming you measure accurately, both ends of the top rail will be the same height and it will be parallel to the bottom rail.

3. Fasten your fence boards to the rails using galvanized nails, if you've got one, a compressor nail gun will make this job a lot easier. Another option is using screws and a screw gun, which makes replacing any boards easier in the future.

4. Make sure the spacing between the fence boards is consistent by using a spacer between each board to position it before fastening it. Line up the tops of your fence boards by stretching a string between posts to serve as a marker.

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Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with articles published in both the United States and Canada. He has written on a wide range of topics, but specializes in home maintenance and how to's.