Projects & Inspiration

How to Build a Privacy Fence Using Pickets

October 7, 2020

By Ashley VanderWall

In this blog, we’ll explain how to build a 6 ft x 8 ft wood privacy fence using individual pickets and backer rails, or "stick building". The main advantage of building a fence this way (rather than using preassembled panels) is the flexibility it provides. If your ground is very uneven or has a steep slope, you can adjust the backer rails and pickets to follow the contours of the landscape. For more information on individual components vs preassembled panels, read this blog.

Let's get started.

How to Build a Privacy Panel Using Pickets

Step 1- Preparation.

The first step to any fence project is checking your local ordinances and regulations and calling utility companies to mark any underground cables and pipes. It’s also a good idea to talk to your neighbors along the fence line about the project.

Step 2 – Gather tools and materials.

Next you’ll need to gather tools and materials.

For materials, you’ll need:

  • 4x4 treated posts
  • 3 - 8 ft. backer rails per section (these are typically just treated 2x4s)
  • 6 ft. pickets

Not sure how much material to buy? Check out our piece on how to calculate fence materials.

You’ll also need tools:

  • Cordless drill
  • Hammer or nail gun (with compressor)
  • 3-1/2 in. wood screws for attaching the backer rails to the posts
  • 1-1/2 in. ring shank nails or screws for attaching the pickets to the backer rails
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • 2 in. piece of scrap to help with spacing

If you haven’t set your posts yet, be sure to also pick up gravel, concrete and a post hole digger.

Step 3 – Install your posts.

Properly-installed posts are crucial to the long-term success of your fence. We recommend installing the posts in concrete. Check out our How To Dig Post Holes and Set Fence Posts for help with installation.

bracing a wood fence post

Step 4 – Measure and mark the backer rail locations.

For a 6 foot tall fence, we recommend installing backer rails at 11-1/2 in., 36-1/4 in., and 63 in. off the ground. Mark one post at the designated heights.

marking backer rail locations on wood fence post

Now, use a backer rail and level to mark the other post (if you’re installing on level ground). This will prevent you from being thrown off by any uneven ground.

checking backer rail for level

Step 5 – Attach the backer rails.

Attach the backer rails to each post on the marks using 3-1/2 in. wood screws. Use two screws per backer rail per side.

attaching backer rail to wood fence post
attaching backer rails to wood fence posts

Step 6 – Attach the pickets to the backer rails.

Now it's time to attach the pickets to the backer rails. We recommend using a nail gun, which will save a lot of time. If you don't have access to a nail gun and compressor, you can manually hammer nails or drive in screws. Or, local building supply retailers may have nail guns and compressors available for rent. Remember, pickets should not touch the ground – leave a 2 in. gap between the bottom of the picket and the ground to protect the bottom of the pickets. We're using a 2 in. piece of scrap to check our gap.

checking picket for level and plumb

Place the first picket against the backer rail, check for plumb, and drive two nails through the fence picket into each backer rail. Continue with the next picket and so on down the line. Check for level and plumb every 3-4 pickets. For a solid privacy fence, butt the pickets against each other without leaving a gap.

attaching a dog ear wood picket to backer rails
building fence with dog ear pickets
finished wood privacy fence panel

There you have it - a 6 ft. high privacy fence built with individual components. Continue this way down the fence posts to complete your run. 

Want to see it in action? Check out our video:

Shop for wood fence components on our site or check out the rest of our fence installation blogs.