Monday, 28 January 2013

Building a low fence

The front of our section already had a 1.8m fence and gate, but we built two low fences 1.1m high (3.6 feet) on either side of our driveway to prevent our ex-racing greyhound, Milo, from running onto the dangerous area of the driveway where cars are reversing. As you can imagine, a very fast and excitable hound is a problem on the driveway.

At this stage, we just built the fence with two railings (railings are the horizontal part) but in the future we’ll be adding pickets to create a lovely picket fence. Picket fences add a lot of charm and I’m planning on planting lavender and other flowers in front of each post. I calculated that the pickets would have cost us $150, so we’ll do those later when we save up some more money.

The distance between our boundary fence and the house was exactly 8m, so that it made it easier to build since we were able to place all posts exactly 2m apart. We added a 3.2m gate into the second fence that we built, just in case we ever needed to drive vehicles around to our backyard. In this post I’ve only explained how we built the first fence (without a gate).

I purchased our fencing materials from our local ITM store (a timber yard), and they delivered it all for free that afternoon. I came prepared with my list of materials so I just went up to the counter and ordered it all there. I didn’t even have to go out into the timber yard so that saved time. I’ve listed the approx amount we paid for each of the materials (in NZ$, rounded to whole numbers).

Difficulty: Easy-moderate. I’d rate this job as easy, except that the bags of concrete weighed 30kg each and I weigh 55kg so I could barely even drag them along the ground when they were delivered. Luckily I had a free labourer (my husband), but you could easily hire someone from Student Job Search or Hire-a-Hubby if you need someone to do the hard jobs like digging the holes, picking up the concrete and sawing the tops off the posts.

We used:
- 100mm x 75mm H4 treated rough sawn posts. We used four of these rather than five for our 8m fence, because the left side of the fence connects to one of the posts in our boundary fence. This meant we were able to nail the rails directly into that post. Since I was building a 1.1m high fence, the posts needed to be buried 400mm which means I needed 1.5m posts. ITM only had them in 1.8m so we just sawed 30cm off the top when we had finished adding the rails to the fence. Approx cost = $9 per post.

- 100 x 50mm rough sawn rails treated to H3. Rail lengths were available in 4.8m and 6.0m. We purchased two of the 6m lengths, and the store cut two 2m lengths for us to make it up to the 8m fence length we required. We nailed our rails to the front of the posts, but another technique is to nail them between the posts. That technique would have involved more work because we would need to saw all of the rails to fit them between the posts (and we don't own a power saw).
The fence rails should follow the line of the terrain, so if the land slopes downwards, so will your fence rails. Our property is flat for the first 6m and then dips down towards the house for the 2m on the right side. We placed the 6m lengths on the left side and the 2m rails on the right, so the fence could follow the slope of the land.
Approx cost of timber rails = $4 per lineal metre.

- three 30kg bags of 15 minute ready-mix concrete. We used ¾ of a bag for each of the four posts. Approx cost = $11.90 per bag.

- a pack of 100mm galvanised flat head nails ($7.40 for a bag of 44 nails).

We also used a spade, hammer, tape measure, string, hand saw, spirit level and drill (to pre-drill the nail holes). We had all of these already. Don’t forget suncream, sunglasses and a hat. I got a sunburnt plumber’s crack from this job due to all the bending down, so be warned!

How we built it:

1. After the timber was delivered, we placed it in the shade to prevent it from warping in the sun.

2. I placed a small nail into the boundary fence post and another into the porch post, then tied string between them to indicate the line where our fence posts would be placed.

3. We placed the tape measure on the ground and marked out every 2m where we would be placing the posts. You can use spray paint for this if it helps (we didn’t bother).

4. Chris dug out the post holes to the correct depth (400mm). We double checked that our posts could sit in the holes properly touching the string line and placed the spirit level on top of the post to ensure that the post was straight and level. Note that the correct way to place 100x75mm posts is with the narrow side facing forwards. We chose to place the 100mm side forwards because we thought it looked better that way.

5. If you were building the fence by yourself you’d need to brace the post in the hole, but in our case, I just held it (ensuring the post was still on the string line and the spirit level was straight) while Chris poured the water and then concrete. We poured two buckets of water into the hole because our soil is very sandy so the water drains away quickly. If your property has clay-based soil then you wouldn’t need this much water. Chris then poured ¾ of a bag of 15 minute setting concrete into the hole and stabbed around with a stake to ensure there were no air pockets. Within a minute the concrete was strong enough to hold the post so I could let go.

6. We repeated this for all of our posts and then left them alone for 2 full days to give the concrete time to cure in the sun. Even 15 minute setting concrete needs time to cure before you go attacking the post with the hammer and nails to get the rails on.

7. We refilled our post holes with dirt and then I drew a pencil line on each post at 400mm and 800mm from the ground. I then took the hammer and half-way nailed a 5cm nail into each pencil line as a temporary guide for the rails (these were removed afterwards). The guide nails allowed us to place the rails onto the posts and then step back to see if we were happy with how it looked. The guide nails also hold the rails in place while you are nailing them in.

We chose 400mm and 800mm for our rail heights because it was the right height to stop our dog squeezing through the middle or under the fence. If we were adding pickets onto it straight away, we would have chosen 200mm or 300mm from the ground for the lower rail.

8. We then pre-drilled our nail holes in the rails (I used a 3.5mm drill bit for that) and then hammered the big daddy 100mm nails through the rails into the posts. One of us braced the post while the other nailed, to keep the posts steady when the hammer was swinging at it. Once these are in you won’t be getting them out easily so that is why we used guide nails to check everything before committing to the rail heights. After this step we removed the guide nails.

9. At this point we measured 1.1m from the ground and pencilled a line onto the posts. Using the hand saw, we sawed off the top of the posts at an angle. The angle is so that rainwater can run off the top of the post rather than sitting and rotting the post. Some people use a power saw for this job since its not easy sawing the top off a post, but we don’t own one and we needed the exercise after eating too much over Xmas.
Another idea is to buy a decorative post cap instead of sawing an angle into the post. This costs more, but there are plenty of great designs for post caps and your fence will look more professional.

10. The next step was to paint the posts and rails with one coat of white paint.

Total cost = $143. This does not include the white paint though - we already had the white paint from a previous project.

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