With the help of the other 2 previous chapters in our fence making and repairing trilogy you are now ready to put on the final touches. Setting your posts and hanging your stringers has left you with an excellent and formidable foundation for your fence. Now it is time to make your fence look finished.
Pickets are what give your fence it's style and flair. Your fence will be as attractive as you want to make it. You could end up with a basic, respectable fence, or you could have a fence that the neighbors envy and compliments the design of your landscape and home, if you are willing to put in the work.
No matter what style of fence you are going to choose to finish your project , the materials are all the same.
- Redwood or stained white-wood pickets. Figure on the length of your fence in feet x 2 for the number of 6" wide pickets you will need. Length x 3 is how many 4" pickets you will need. Length x 1.5 for the number of 8" wide pickets. If you are REALLY going to get freaky and mix sizes you will divide the length by 2 (or 3 if you are using 3 different sizes) and use the answer as the length you will multiply for the pickets you will need.
- Fasteners. Use either deck or galvanized drywall screws if you are going to use a screw gun to install the pickets. Use galvanized nails (preferably "ring shank") if you are using a hammer or a nail gun. (Lord I hope you are not doing this by hand!) Ring shank nails will provide greater grip than regular smooth shank nails. The fasteners should be 1¾ " to 2¼" long.
- A helper. You will need more than 1 set of hands to do this right.
- Level. You will need to check EACH picket for plumbness (That means that it is perfectly vertical) and that it is level with the last 2-4 pickets horizontally. (Obviously skip the horizontal check if you are working a slope.)
- Either a screw gun, hammer, or nail gun. (Please don't try to hang 50' with a hammer!)
- Power saw. Depending on the style, you will need either a circular or a jig saw.
- Sealer. You don't have to seal the pickets, but it will prolong their life. Some people want their fence to weather and fade in order to develop character so for those people a sealer is unnecessary.
- Optional: Post caps and 2' x 8' framed lattice to put on some polish. Chalk line or marking pencil.
Now that you have your materials gathered you need to decide on a fence style. The 2 basic styles are a basic privacy fence and the shadow box (or the "my neighbor paid for ½ of the fence") style.
Let's talk about the shadowbox style first. When you put up the pickets shadowbox style you will actually hang them on BOTH side of the stringers. Hopefully you will have thought of this and placed the stringer in the center of the post when you hung it. The first picket will snug up against the starting post (side doesn't matter, but size does.). Move the picket vertically so that you leave 1"-2" of clearance from the ground. I repeat: From the GROUND not the grass. This will allow water to drain while keeping out any unwanted chihuahuas.
Once the picket is snug to the post and set vertically, place the level against the picket to see if it is vertically plumb. Adjust the picket as needed to get plumb. Hold it in place, and fasten to the stringers with 2 fasteners per stringer. Avoid the temptation to place the fasteners in a straight line. If you do that you run the risk of weakening the stringer or even causing it to split. Offset the fasteners by about 1" to avoid this common pitfall.
For the second picket, place a "dummy" unfastened picket snug next to the first, and then place a third picket snug to the second. Align the 3rd picket vertically, and then adjust for plumbness. Attach the 3rd picket to the stringers. Repeat this process for all the pickets on this side of the fence.
If you find out that you can't align a picket horizontally because of uneven ground, you will need to set the offending picket against the ground and align vertically. Measure how far off you are from the last good picket, add 1"-2" for clearance, and then cut from the bottom. Now you will be able to align it horizontally as well as vertically. After one side of the fence is done you will need to repeat on the other side to complete the fence. Once all the pickets are hung, attach your post caps if you have them, and stand back to enjoy your handy work.
The other basic style is the privacy fence. This fence is the basis for many other styles. Once you put it up you can make it into a convex, concave, or lattice top. You can also change the look of the fence by mixing picket widths or by leaving space between pickets of either uniform or varied spaces. You can either use regular pickets or you can use a tongue and groove picket for the ultimate in a clean look. If you are going to put up a lattice top on your fence, I would recommend using the tongue and groove for the best look for your fence.
Installing the pickets is exactly the same as with the shadowbox style except you will attach every picket to only one side of the fence. You can hang pickets on both sides if you are really a masochist or if your neighbor is insisting because the shadowbox style didn't float his boat.
At this point you want to decide if you are going to use a uniform width or mix widths. If you are not sure, buy enough pickets of the different sizes to do one 8' section. Stand them against the stringers and step back to decide. Make sure you get your spouse's buy in at this point as no one wants to redo a brand new fence because 1/2 the homeowners hate the style.
Once all the pickets are hung you can start to customize. If you are going to put framed lattice as the top of your fence, measure how far down the stringer is from the top of the posts. Use either a level and pencil or a chalk line to mark that height on the outside of the pickets, and then cut them CAREFULLY. Place the framed lattice panel on the stringer, and nail it into place.
Making either a concave or convex fence is also fairly easy. Starting from the center point of your first panel, sketch out your curve, making sure to step back and get a second opinion to ensure that your curve is symmetrical. If you are doing a concave cut, make sure your curve does not cut into the stringer. If you are sketching a convex curve, make sure to mark and cut the posts as well as the pickets.
After you are satisfied with your curve, cut it out with a jig saw. Get some butcher paper or a huge piece of cardboard and trace this on to it so you can repeat it throughout the rest of your fence for uniformity and symmetry.
Once you are done playing with the pickets, attach post caps if you are going to use them. Apply sealer if you are going to use it, and you are done!
Now that your fence project is complete the heavens will sing your praises. Or maybe you will just get an "Attaboy" from your spouse and disappointed looks from the neighborhood dogs now that they can't fertilize your yard for you.