Building Fences

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The first thing we knew we’d have to do before we could go too far down this homesteading path was put up a fence around the majority of the back yard. Two things made this abundantly clear. First: we have two, 50-pound dogs who were as anxious as we were to have the space. We wanted to let them off the leash and let them have space to run and play; they were going to need contained. The second way we knew a fence really couldn’t wait? Two days after planting my celebratory fruit seedlings, the deer showed us that they were a force to be reckoned with. Looking at those bark-less, leaf-less twigs, I knew that we were going to need a convincing “Keep Out” sign.

There are a few decisions that need to be made before you start a fencing project.

First, what is the intent of your fence? Is it purely decorative or, like ours, does it need to be sturdy and practical? Chain link can be built sturdily, but it’s not that attractive in my opinion.

Second issue is size. We wanted to fence as much of the yard as we could, but we had to consider price and we know that, down the road, we needed to build a big shop on the property. So we had to make a general decision about the location of the shop so that we didn’t have to tear down the fence when we get to that project.

Third — I referred to it above — cost. Can you afford to hire help? We couldn’t. Some materials are more expensive than others. Your budget may limit what kind of fence you can afford to build. We considered vinyl, but the expense!

Fourth, you need to consider the maintenance after it’s built. We brought vinyl back into the discussion here — no painting or water treatment needed! But we also knew that if we did have a small portion of the fence that needs replaced, it’s easier to replace a picket than an entire section.

We wanted a sturdy but attractive fence that would keep the dogs in and the deer out. Our budget was a limiting factor, we needed to be able to do it without professional help, and we couldn’t afford high-end materials. We decided on a 6-foot-tall, cedar, picket, privacy fence.

We were relatively confident (after watching how-to videos online and reading DIY blogs) that we could do this with a small crew of family. So we bought the materials and had them delivered from the hardware store. I highly recommend using a delivery service in a situation like this … We needed about six pallets, we don’t have a flatbed trailer yet, and loading these materials into my husband’s truck would’ve used muscles we were trying to save for the project!

Living in Northwest Arkansas, our ground is about two inches of dirt on top of rocks. Limestone, shale, quartz? I’m not sure — I need to “dig” into that more. But either way, there was no way we were going to be able to dig the more than 60, two-feet-deep holes needed to hold the 4×4 posts. So we knew we were going to need an auger. We went to a local equipment rental company and, after a crash course in running the auger, off we went! (Another piece of equipment that our homestead doesn’t have … yet!)

Remember the small crew of family that I referenced earlier? We bribed them with some homemade smoked barbecue and plenty of drinks and the promise that we’d given them credit when the finished fence was admired. It must’ve been a good trade; they all showed up bright and early the next morning to work!

Before the crew arrived, we staked the corners and, using construction twine, “drew” straight lines from one corner to the next. We would follow this line, setting posts. We found we really only had two people strong enough to manage the auger, so they became the digging crew; they dug the first hole, two-feet deep. Everyone else was on the filling crew. They would come next, filling each hole with a layer of gravel, the post, and the concrete around the post. Then we’d add enough water to fill the hole, patiently let it settle, all the while tweaking the post’s alignment; confirming that it’s perpendicular and square to the last post. This was repeated every eight feet more than 60 times.

This really was the majority of the hard work. The rest was not easy and was very repetitive, but we managed. We had to put up the brackets and the eight-foot cross beams — three between each post. We had to put up the pickets — about 16 per section — with six galvanized screws in each picket. We finally finished, except for a huge drive-through gate, which was enough of an engineering feat that we set it aside. We blocked the section for the gate with temporary kennel panels and set the dogs free. The whole project took seven full weekends, six people working in shifts, six pallets of materials, and an immeasurable amount of flexibility and deep breaths.

We got through it!