How to Build a Picket Fence
Have limited resources? Learn how to build a picket fence on your property with salvaged materials and these basic knots.
Eric Slatt's rustic fence and gate.
The picket fence has been a country farm to manor estate mainstay of the American landscape since before the American Revolutionary War. While the white picket fence has become a sign of prestige and landownership, many small farmers instead used what resources they had to make their own version of this fence that served both a utilitarian and aesthetic purpose.
When we were finally able to purchase our home in the country, I wanted to make a kitchen garden near the house for my wife. Being a small landowner with limited resources, I needed to build a fence that was not only inexpensive and functional, but also pleasing to the eye. I dove in to do some research.
This fence was modeled after the kitchen garden found at the boyhood home of President Andrew Jackson, located at Andrew Jackson State Park, near Lancaster, South Carolina. The fence was built using natural wood found on the property, and tied together using hemp rope.
The gate is a replica of one originally used on the 150-year-old barn on our farm.
You can build this easy fence using simple hand tools and a few basic knots. Directions for the knots are below.
Preparing your project
First, determine where you want your fence. Drive small wooden stakes into the ground at the fence corners and where you want your gate. Once you have your corner stakes in the ground, take some of your twine or line that you will use to build your fence, and string it between the corner stakes to help keep your fence line nice and straight.
To figure out how many fence posts you will need, measure the perimeter of your fence outline and divide by five. Remember that you will need two fence rails for every fence post.
When cutting the fence posts and rails, use the straightest wood you can find. The fence posts should be about 4 inches in diameter and 7 feet long. Rails can be from 2 inches to 4 inches in diameter and 6 1/2 feet long.
How to build a picket fence
Starting at the gate location, dig postholes 2-to-3 feet deep along the guideline every 5 feet. A 3-foot hole will give you a sturdy footing for your fence, with a standard aboveground height. Work your way around your fence line until you get back to your gate opening. As you finish each posthole, install a fence post. This will keep you or anyone else from stepping into an open posthole.
Once all the posts are installed, it’s time to install the fence rails. Again, you will want to start at your gate opening. Work your way around your fence line installing the bottom rail about 1 foot above the ground. Using heavy baler twine or nylon mason line, lash the rails to the posts using a square lashing knot (directions for a square lashing are below). The tighter you make your lashings, the sturdier your fence will be.
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