Split rail fences are a holdover from pioneer America. Originally popular for their ease of construction (they didn't require any post holes ) and the fact they cost very little to build since back then wood was in abundant supply. The first split rail fences were made by splitting logs in half and then in half again to create the rails that were then stacked on top of each other, the fences wandered across fields in a zig zag pattern serving as a barrier to wandering farm animals.
Modern split rail fences have evolved and most split rail fences these days use fence posts with holes cut through them to allow installation of three or four horizontal split rails between the posts. This design uses substantially less wood and allows the fence to run in a straight line, but it does require more up front work than the traditional fence that was ideally suited for rocky ground since it didn't require any digging. If you want to have a traditional looking split rail fence around your home, here's how to build your own.
Building Your Own Split Rail Fence
Before you start to build your fence, contact your local utilities and have them mark their facilities on your property. It's also a good idea to talk to your local council to see if you require a building permit for your new fence.
Use a string line and wooden stakes to lay out your fence (always ensuring it will be on your side of the property line). Rails are usually 8 or 10 feet in length so take the time to mark exactly where the posts will be going.
You can buy split rail fencing material already cut or you can actually cut your own. Cedar is a popular choice for fencing since it's easy to work with and doesn't need to be finished (in fact if you leave it unfinished, over time it will weather to a silver gray color and look just like the pioneer fences).
Rails are simply cut to length but you will need a power drill and a hole saw attachment to cut the mortises in your posts.
There are three kinds of posts in a split rail fence - end posts (the holes only go part way into the post), line posts (the holes go all the way through) and corner posts (have holes at right angles to each other).
A power auger will save you a lot of back breaking work when digging your post holes. In cold climates, the holes need to go down below the frost line (as much as 3') and even in warmer areas the holes need to be deep enough so one third of the post will go into the ground.
After digging the holes, start building your fence at the ends. Ensure the posts are vertical (plumb) and stake them to hold them in place while you pack dirt or pour concrete into the hole.
Once your posts are installed and firmly in place, install the rails into the holes you cut earlier.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer who writes on a wide range of topics, but he specializes in home maintenance and how to's. He has more than 900 articles published on the web, as well as print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada.