Traditional style picket fences are certainly the icing on the cake for Federation and Old World homes but remember, they really should complement the architecture of the house. Be sure to select the right shaped picket in keeping with your home whether it is traditional or modern in style.

You Will Need

  • Measuring tape, square and pencil
  • Posts: 100-125 x 75mm durable hardwood or CCA treated softwood
  • Rails: 75 x 38-50mm durable hardwood or 100 x 50mm CCA treated softwood
  • Galvanised bolts: (or nails) are used for fixing rails to posts.
  • Nails: For rails to posts – 75 x 3.75mm or 100 x 4.5mm galvanised. For palings – 50 x 2.5mm galvanised
  • Concrete: for postholes.
  • Cladding: Various hardwood and CCA treated softwood species based on local availability. Generally 75-100mm width x 12-19mm thickness.
  • Hand or power saw, Hammer and Chisel 20-40mm

Read the instructions before beginning your project. Wear an approved dust mask when cutting or sanding timber. Always keep tools and materials away from children. Safety glasses and ear protection should be worn at all times. Remember, treated timber off-cuts are toxic and should not be used as firewood.

Getting Started

Peg a line through the proposed fence line on the ground and mark the centre of the postholes to be dug. Centres can be 2000-2400mm. Excavate holes 300x300x500-600mm deep depending on the height of the fence. Any gate postholes should be 600mm deep minimum. Cut posts roughly to size. (Final trimming is carried out later). Paint the in-ground portion of untreated hardwood posts with the wood preservative so it is thoroughly coated. Follow the user safety instructions stipulated on the product. Remember: The in-ground ends of pressure treated posts should not be trimmed or the treatment may be compromised.

Concrete the two end posts in place and brace them plumb both ways. Attach and stretch string lines through the outside face of the posts for aligning the upper and lower ends of the intermediate posts. Install the remaining posts to the string line. Keep the concrete fairly stiff and brace the posts both ways overnight using any scrap battens and pegs. When concrete has set, remove the braces. Allow at least 24 hours to set.

Using a chalk line, mark the upper and lower edges of the rail housings for both rails. Check out the housings using a saw and chisel. Cut and install the rails into the housings. Be sure to keep the rail joins in the centre of the housings. Drill the nail holes to prevent ends splitting. Prime paint all sawn ends and housing prior to installation. Cut pickets to shape unless you are using pre-cuts.

Attach palings with two nails to each rail. Angle nails slightly for a firmer hold. Commence by partially nailing the two opposite end palings ensuring that they are plumb then attach a string line through the fence to represent the position of the tops. Attach a few palings as a test and adjust if necessary.

A Few Handy Tips

Make yourself two spacer blocks out of off-cuts. Use these as a spacing gauge to maintain an even gap both top and bottom between palings. It will save you time and effort and ensure even spacings over the length of the fence.

You may wish to apply one coat of paint to the timber before erecting the fence to make the painting job less fiddly.

Remember – When using green hardwood palings, they are likely to shrink up to 8mm across the face. This will increase the gap width between palings, so you will need to allow for this.

Some tradespersons attach these palings tight without a gap and simply let the natural shrinkage provide the gap.

Final Touches

The picket fence is now ready for the final coats of paint. Clean up the surfaces ready for the first coat by sanding with 120 grit sandpaper in the direction of the grain. Use a suitable filler for the nail holes. Traditional colours look the best on picket fences.

Further Tips for Building Your Fence

Use flat head nails for pine and bullet head for hardwood. If you are building a sizeable fence you may wish to use a nail gun which are available for hire from Bunnings Warehouse. Read the safety instructions carefully as errors with pressure driven nails are difficult to correct.

The height of the fence is governed by personal preference and by local council regulations. You should contact your local council for information on fence height before you start.

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