Cedar Fence 101

“Jim Class” is a feature that airs within The HomeFix Show. Written by original charter show listener Jim Forrer from Caldwell Idaho, Jim shares his observations, life experiences  and lessons learned in life. Joe Prin reads these at various times in most of the HomeFix Shows. Here is the original written text.

You’re sitting there quietly drinking your first cup of coffee of the day when your wife hits with her new project request.  “ I think I want a nice wood privacy fence in the back yard. What do you think?” You think to yourself ‘Oh boy, here we go again, another Martha Stewart idea.’  But, you say,”Now, how much is this going to cost me?”  She says that she doesn’t know, but she called a guy and he’s going to be here in an hour or so to give a bid.  Great, just great!

Enter the fence man. This guy looks as if he is on his last leg. He is a sun-beaten grizzled old guy, but with a bright smile on his lined-wrinkled face. He walks around the property, takes a few measurements, then hands you the bid.  The bid, my Lord, does he want to settle the National debt with this one job? He’s polite enough, but gee whiz, that’s a lot of money. You tell him that you and the wife will have to talk it over for a while. He thanks you politely and says to call him at your convenience, then leaves. As he pulls out and down the drive, you tell your wife,”If you want a fence so badly, I’ll just build it myself. I know I can do just as good and a heck of a lot cheaper.”

The preceding is my general impression of a few customer reactions that I have dealt with in the past.

So, you’re going to do it yourself. Well, let me give you the skivey on the how and whys: ——————

First off, after you have cleared all your stuff from the back line, find all of your property pins and establish your boundaries. Stake out all corners. Then go in the house and call 811.  If you don’t call 811, then make sure that you designate a friend or neighbor to call 911 in the event of something going wrong.

Next, while waiting for Dig-Line, ‘811’, order your supplies. Generally, the wait is no longer than two days.

After Dig-Line has marked everything, proceed with the digging of the corner post holes.  Please do not accomplish shovel sets.  Only use a post hole digger.  The depth should be 20 inches minimum.  For a 4×4 cedar post, the hole should have a 7 or 8 inch diameter at the top.  The bottom, however, needs to be of a larger diameter to prevent any frost heave.  Select a good straight post for the corners.  Place a couple inches of gravel in the bottom of each hole for the post to foundation on solidly.  This will prevent any water damage by affording good drainage.  Proceed by setting posts with concrete or post mix while squaring sides with each line.  Always, I mean always, dome the top of the set for water drainage.

Oh yes, what to do with the dirt from your digging?  Well, haul it out front of the house and make a pile out of the way on the driveway.  I’ll tell later why.

Now comes the time for the line posts.  It is 8 ft. on center as recommended by most.  Never stretch that measurement beyond 8 feet.  I have always marked out to 7 ft. 11 inches so as to have a little wiggle room.  After digging all of the holes for the line posts, you find that you’re running out of daylight.  You figure that you can finish tomorrow, but wait, you have to go to work tomorrow.  You think to yourself, “ well, I’ll finish up in the evening after work.  Boy, this is taking longer than I thought.”  The following evening, you find that, sometimes a crooked post will throw your measurement off.  Any post with a slight curve should be placed with the curve facing in line with the run.  That is why you need a little wiggle room.

While the line posts set, now is the time to get out your masonry [nylon] string.  Firmly attach string to opposing end posts and pull taut until it sings in the breeze.  Temporarily tack up any sags in the string with a nail.  Stand back and eyeball the general overview of the ups and downs from one post to the other.  Make adjustments to the string on each post until your eye appeal is satisfied.  Then mark each post and cut the top off flat at the markings.  The flat top will make for a good surface to enable the placing of the top rail. { * }—The same string process applies in the placing of the pickets.

{ * }—The post height should never be any less than 63 inches top to bottom.

Next comes the rails.  I always use three fir 2x4x8 rails.  Place one flat on top of the posts.  This gives shear strength against buffeting winds.  Place two rails vertical, ‘skinny side up’, between the posts, with one close to the bottom and the other halfway between the other two.  Doing this prevents sagging of each section.  The bottom and middle rails should be set into fence clips.  Simpson makes a good bracket for this purpose.

Oh yes, I hope you didn’t forget to dump the dirt onto the driveway.

Now for the pickets.  Make sure to select each picket from a different stack, for they come in pairs and make for mirror images.  It is well advised to paint the bottom end grain of each picket with a good sealer before assembly.  Nail or screw with galvanized or stainless steel hardware.  Each picket should have at least six fasteners, two into each rail   Don’t place the bottom of the boards touching the ground if at all possible.  I’ve always used a nail gun with 1 and 7/8 inch cement coated ring-shank nails.  They just will never pull out.

After a period of time passing as to allow boards to dry out sufficiently, apply a good quality sealer.  Messmer’s UV-Plus, Flood CWF-UV or equivalent.  Just make sure the product that you select has a UV blocker additive.  It is imperative to seal the top of each picket’s end grain with a sealing agent.

Finally, done.  Done did it done!  But, was it worth it?  It would have been a lot easier to have had that old grizzled, sun-whipped, wrinkled faced fencer contracted for the job.  But then, you’re happy and most importantly, your wife is happy.  So, feeling good over a job completed and everything accomplished to satisfaction, sit back and relax.

Oh, yeah, that pile of dirt out there in the drive—now that’s your brag.  Every time a friend, neighbor or relative comes by, they will ask, “What’s that pile of dirt for?”  That gives you the opportunity to tell your harrowing story of your fencing adventure and accomplishment.  Then you can show them all your hard work out back.

PS—That old grizzled guy—well, that’s me.

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