ARTICLE

How to build a garden fence

Privacy, security and peace of mind: that's what a sturdy garden fence gives you. Essential for protecting your plants and vegetables from uninvited intruders, a fence is easy to maintain, inexpensive to install and – if you choose quality timber – long-lasting. So here's our guide about how to build fencing.

Also read our article, How to repair and maintain your fence. Also, How to spray paint your fence, and How to build a trellis.

How to build a garden fence

How to build a garden fence

YOU WILL NEED

  • Spirit level
  • Drill
  • Gloves
  • String and pegs
  • Sledge hammer (for metal spikes)
  • Tape measure
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Spanner
  • Fence panels
  • Fence posts
  • Metposts
  • Fixing brackets

Time to complete job: A weekend for a very small fence.
Approximate budget: From £20 per panel, £10 per post, £7 per metpost.

What types of fence are available?
Broadly there are four different types, and they can be built piece by piece or, more commonly, from pre-made panels.

  • Closeboard fencing is the strongest type of fence with overlapping vertical boards of timber offering complete privacy.

  • Palisade fencing is a type of picket fence providing visibility while maintaining security.

  • Overlap fencing is similar to closeboard in that it offers complete privacy but here the timbers run horizontally not vertically. It’s also a cheaper option than closeboard - this is the pattern we are most used to seeing in the fence panels you buy at most DIY stores.

  • Trellis fencing with its diamond pattern looks decorative but doesn’t provide much privacy. They work well with plants growing up one side.

    What are the fence post options?
    There are four main types:
  • A concrete spur post, concreted into the ground. This is the sturdiest and most durable of all methods and is recommended if your fence is tall or heavy. Basically, a short concrete post is secured into the ground, and your wooden post is fixed to this. As the wooden post is fixed above the surrounding earth it is not subject to damp or rotting from contact with the ground.

  • Metposts are metal spikes that sink into the ground and hold the base of the wooden post. They’re less labour intensive than concrete posts as you don't need to dig any holes to accommodate them. But they’re not as secure as concreted posts, so they’re not recommended in very wet and windy locations or where the ground is waterlogged.

  • Bolt-down fence post holders are ideal when you need to put fencing on hard surfaces such as concrete or a patio. They consist of a square metal cup which supports the timber post and a rim containing holes, ready-made for securing to the ground with bolts.

  • Concreting a wooden post directly into the ground - make sure you use treated timber for this method, as the timber will tend to rot.

    How high can I build a fence?
    It’s a matter of planning policy, so you’ll need to contact your local authority to find out what’s allowed in your area. As a general rule, planning permission isn’t required for fences in rear gardens up to 2 metres (6’) high. Planning permission is required for fences greater than 1m (3’ 3”) high which front a public road.

    Whose responsibility is the fence?
    There’s no hard and fast rule. You’ll need to check the deeds of your home to see.

    How do I remove old fencing and posts?
    Fencing doesn’t last forever so it will need replacing. If there are shrubs leaning on the fence for support you’ll need to dig them up and re-plant them. If you’re removing old concrete posts, take them back to ground level with a sledge hammer, lump hammer and cold chisel and hack saw off any reinforcing bars. If you have concreted in wooden posts, it is best to remove the old concrete - but you can cheat and cut the old posts off at ground level.

    How do I lay out the posts?
    The best way to do this is by running string over the projected path of the fence and marking where the fence posts will go. By doing this you can gauge the materials you need and where the posts will go. Work out your fence height, and so the length of posts you need. Include any gravel boards (see below) in this calculation. (If you are concreting your posts in, remember to add the extra height for the section of post going into the concrete.)

  • Begin by driving small stakes into the ground to mark where your end posts will go, often up against the side of your house, garage or other building. Now drive stakes into the ground for any corner posts and attach the string so it runs taut between the stakes. Adjust each corner to a perfect right angle. Now, measure along this line and work out how many fence panels and posts you will need.

  • You may find you need to allow for a short panel, and these are best next to a solid wall, such as your house, or garage. You can cut a panel down yourself, and refix the edge battens to secure it.

  • Start from you wall and fix the first post in place... you can bolt it to the wall. Then butt your first panel up against this, and mark where your next post will go.

  • Drive the spike for this next post into the ground, checking it is level, and going in straight. Next fit the post in place, and the panel between the two posts. It should be plumb and horizontal.

  • Then repeat the process, following the course of the fence, until all posts and panels are in place.

    Any tips for using metposts?
    Metposts are available in different sizes:
  • A 60cm (24”) spike will support fences up to 1.2m (4') high.
  • A 75cm (30”) spike will support a fence up to 1.8m (6') high.

    Drive the spike into place with a sledgehammer (protecting the square socket at the top with a piece of surplus post). As you hammer it into position check with a spirit level that it’s perfectly plumb, as you are driving it in.

    Depending on the type of spike you’ve bought, you’ll either secure the fence post with clamp bolts or screw through the pre-drilled holes in the sides of the socket.

    Tip It is possible there are cables or pipes in the ground so check before driving spikes in - if unsure talk to your council.

    How high off the ground do I fix the panels?
    It is best to leave room under the panel for a gravel board - basically a treated length of 25mm thick timber that will sit on or just below soil height - if this board rots, it is much easier to replace than an entire panel. If you are fixing a gravel board, take this into account when working out your post height.

    What about sloping ground?
    On sloping ground, fix the posts vertically, and the panels horizontally, and make up the gap between panel and ground with angled gravel boards.

    And how about fixing panels to the posts?
    The most common fixing method is to nail the panel directly onto the fence posts using either 65mm or 75mm galvanised nails. These must be applied on both sides of the fence panels, i.e. front and back, and care must be taken to avoid splitting the battens - you can drill pilot holes for the nails first.

    An alternative is galvanised panel clips, with four holes for galvanised nails to secure the panels to the post.

    Any tips on treating and weather-proofing?
    Treat the fence with preservative as soon as it is built. Spraying is infinitely easier than painting. In addition, treat any cut surfaces before installation, and it is a good idea to fit post caps, too.