Projects & Inspiration

How to Build a Shadowbox Fence Using Pickets

October 7, 2020

By Ashley VanderWall

A shadowbox fence is the right choice if you want a neighbor-friendly wood fence that looks the same on both sides. It’s considered a “semi-privacy” style, which means you get some privacy along with some flow of light and air. In this blog, we’ll explain how to build a shadowbox fence panel using individual components, or “stick building” the panel. This is a good option if you need to customize panel widths or want follow the contours of a sloped landscape.

Let’s get started.

How to Build a Shadowbox Fence Panel Using Pickets

Step 1 – Preparation.

The first step in 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. Wondering what proper fence etiquette is? Check out our blog on the topic.

Step 2 – Gather tools and materials.

To build this fence, you’ll need the follow wood materials:

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

Wondering how much fence material you need? Use our helpful guide.

You’ll 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
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • 2 in. piece of scrap wood for spacing picket off the ground

If you haven’t set your posts, you’ll also need concrete, gravel 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 setting the posts in concrete. Check out our How to Dig Post Holes and Set Posts for help with installation.

Bracing a fence post with 2x4s

Step 4 – Measure and mark backer rail locations.

For a 6 ft. tall privacy fence, measure and mark one of your posts 11-1/2 in., 37-1/4 in., and 63 in. off the ground.

Use a backer rail with a level to mark the same heights on the other post. This way you can avoid being thrown off by uneven ground.

Step 5 – Attach the backer rails to the posts.

Attach your backer rails to the posts on your marks using 3-1/2 in. wood screws. We’re installing the backer rails between the posts to maintain a neighbor-friendly look and in a flat orientation to be flush with the posts. Use two screws per backer rail on each side. Drive the screws in at about a 30 degree angle. 

Step 6 – Attach the pickets to the backer rails.

Now it's time to attach the pickets. We recommend using a nail gun. If you don’t have a nail gun, you can manually hammer in the nails or drive in screws. Place your first picket against the backer rails and make sure it’s at least 2 in. off the ground. Use a 2 in. piece of scrap wood to check your spacing. Check for level and plumb. Drive two nails or screws through the picket into each backer rail.

We’re spacing our pickets 3-1/2 in. apart. To save time and take the guesswork out of spacing, we built a jig out of a 2x4. It will hang on the top backer rail to ensure we have equal spacing between each picket. Because the backer rails are flush with the posts, we can maintain consistent spacing down the entire fence run without stopping for the posts. 

Hang the jig on the top backer rail against the first picket and butt the second picket up next to it. Check for level and plumb, then attach that picket to the backer rail. Follow this along the fence run, check for plumb and level every 3-4 pickets.

Repeat this process on the other side of the backer rail, starting from the other end of the fence. Attach your pickets and check for level and plumb as you go.

And there you have it! A shadowbox fence built between the posts. Continue this process down the fence line to complete your fence.

See it in action! View our video below.

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