Projects & Inspiration

How to Survive Your First Fence Install

Updated April 25, 2019

Ashley VanderWall

You’ve taken on the project of building your own wood fence. It may seem intimidating, but taking the time to properly plan will save you time (and headaches) in the long run. We created a list of planning steps that will help you identify unforeseen issues before they happen and prepare you for potential problems during the install.

Do these steps before you dig your first post hole:

Do the research

Before you do anything, it’s important to research all local ordinances and regulations. This ensures that you can build the fence you want and that you are taking all the necessary steps (getting building permits, etc.). Next, call your local utilities company to mark any underground cables and pipelines. It’s also a good idea to discuss your plans with any neighbors along your proposed fence line.

Inventory your tools and materials

Be sure you have these tools and materials on hand:

  • Power saw
  • Power drill and bits
  • Tape measure or measuring wheel
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Carpenter’s pencil
  • Posthole digger
  • String
  • Grade stakes
  • Concrete and gravel (to set posts)
  • Fence posts
  • Fence panels
  • 2x4 bracing posts
  • Nails and screws

Choose your fence style

There are many wood fence styles to choose from. When choosing, it’s important to consider your space, application and budget. Note the actual panel size and width of the fence style you choose, and whether it has a corresponding gate. Check out these tips about choosing a fence style.

Mark your fence line

Mark the corners and ends of your fence line with stakes. Stretch twine or heavy string between the stakes and pull tight to mark the layout of the fence. Measure the line to determine the total linear footage of your fence.
If you are including one or more gates, mark the location(s) and width of the gate.

Determine what fence materials are needed

To determine number of fence panels:

  1. Subtract the gate footage from the total linear footage to get the total fence panel footage.
  2. Divide the total fence panel footage by the actual panel width to get the number of fence panels needed. You may need to use partial panels.

To determine number of posts:
  1. Add the total number of full and partial fence panels and gate(s) together and add 1 for the number of posts.
  2. Consider adding a finial or post cap to each fence post.

The number of fasteners you need will vary depending on the size and style of your panel.

TIP: Purchase extra materials so you won’t have to run back to the store mid-project.

Place your posts

Place all of your posts in their proper locations along the string line before doing any digging. Start by placing posts at the ends and corners of your fence line. If your project includes a gate, place the gate posts in their proper location next. Finally, position all of the line posts every 6 to 8 feet, depending on the width of the panel you’re using. You want to use as many full panels as possible to minimize materials and hassle. If you need to use a partial panel, place it in the farthest rear corner of your property.

Assess your layout

Now is a good time to step back and look at your fence layout. Are the posts where you want them to be? Do you have enough material to complete the job? Is there enough room for your gate to swing the way you want?
Identify anything that could potentially change your installation plan. Does your yard slope? (Check out our post on how to conquer a slope.) Are there any trees or low-hanging branches that you need to work around? Are any parts of your yard particularly difficult to dig into?

You have your materials and are armed with a plan. Now it’s time for the fun part – digging those post holes.