How to Install an Outdoor Cedar Privacy Fence
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How to Install an Outdoor Cedar Privacy Fence

Step-by-step guide to building an outdoor privacy fence using cedar or other woods. List of materials and tools you'll need. Good for the novice DIY-er.

Installing a fence is a time consuming project, but well worth the effort if you do the job right.  Here are the steps to getting started.

Assemble your tools for the job. You will need a narrow, or torpedo, shovel (if your digging the holes by hand) or you need to rent a post hole digger.  You should be able to rent a two person hand held version at your local equipment rental store.  You will need several hundred foot of string to make sure your fence is straight. (can be found at your local home improvement store-it is a roll of construction string with a handle to easily roll and unroll).  You will need a hammer and hand nails (to line your string across the top of the fence).  You should also rent a nail or staple gun and an air compressor for most of the attaching work that will need to be done otherwise the job will really take alot longer and be alot harder.  You will need to have nails or staples for the type of gun you rent.  You will also need a wheelbarrow for mixing the cement needed to put around your posts.  You will also need a 4' level for making sure your posts, 2 x 4's and pickets are straight.  You will need a circular saw or hand saw for cutting.

Assemble your materials for the job. There are many types of material that are appropriate for a fence.  The most inexpensive is going to be cedar, but if you really want a material that is never going to need any maintenance, check into the new plastic composite fencing materials.  Measure your area needing to be fenced, and determine the lineal footage.  You will want a 4" x 4" post every eight feet for maximum sturdiness.  If there is an obstacle in the way, you can stretch this to 10 or 12 feet, but I would not recommend this for the whole fence.  You will then need three  8' - 2" x4"s for in between every eight foot section of fence (one for the top rail, the middle rail, and the bottom rail).  Then you will need the pickets.  Always figure a little bit higher amount for your pickets.  So, for an example, one eight foot section of fence will take two posts, three 8' - 2" x 4"s and 21 5" pickets.  You can use 4", 5" or 6" pickets that are any length and the formula is the same.  If you want a 6' tall fence-use 6' tall pickets.  Remember to purchase posts that are two foot longer than the height of your fence because you will dig a two foot hole to set the post in, so for a 6' tall fence you will need 8' tall posts.  You will also need approximately a bag to a bag and a half of cement for every post.  You can use a product called Sakrete, or something similar, that comes in 60 lb bags for this.

First step. Measure out and mark where all of your posts will go.  It is best to mark the post holes just slightly shorter than eight feet apart so that you do not have to struggle with getting the eight foot 2" x 4"s to fit.  If the posts are more than eight feet apart-you will need longer 2" x 4"s.  Set up your string in a straight line along where your posts will go to ensure they are even.  You can use anything to tie your string to like a wooden stake or a piece of rebar, etc... just make sure it is straight.  Warning: Make sure you call your utility companies and have them mark your area before you dig-especially if your using any power equipment.  This could save you alot of money in costly repairs if you hit a utility line or it could save your life, so be sure to have this done about three or four days before you start the project.  It is a free service.

Dig your holes approximately two feet deep and slightly wider that your posts.  Set the posts into the holes and get your wheelbarrow, water and cement, and start mixing.  The cement should be the consistency of pancake mix and not really runny, so easy on the water.  You can always add more water, but you can't take out too much.  Began adding cement to the post holes while straightening the post and using your level on both sides to check for plumb.  Also make sure your string is straight and tight so you can see that each post is in the same position as you go from one post to the next.  If the posts are not straight-you will have serious issues later when building the remainder of the fence, so put the effort into this step.  You will want to fill the holes almost to the top of the ground with the cement.  After the posts have all been set-wait at least 24 hours before beginning the next step.  Allow more time if your cement came out runnier.  This will ensure that the posts do not move when you begin setting the 2' x 4's.

Second step. You are ready to start attaching the 2" x 4"s to the posts.  Measure out the bottom rail which will go about 6" off the ground.  Be sure to allow enough space if the ground is uneven along the bottom of your fence.  This rail may need to be a little higher.  Attach the 2" x 4"s on the bottom, then measure out the middle and top rails leaving an equal amount in between each rail.  Depending on how tall your pickets are, the top rail should be attached approximately 6" below where the top of the picket will be.  After you have attached all the 2" x4"s it is time for attaching the pickets.

Third step. Starting on one end, attach the first picket and use the level to make sure it is plumb.  Then, line the string along the top of the pickets so it is just above the top.  Drive a nail on the top of the first picket and attach the string to it, then repeat the same process on the other end.  The picket at the end will have to be taken off when you get that far, so don't attach it to permanently, just enough so that you can make your string really tight.  This makes a perfect line so your pickets are straight along the top and will not vary.  Attach the rest of the pickets.  This is why if you have alot of fence it is nice to have a nail or staple gun.

Final step. If you have decided to use cedar as your fencing material, you will want to seal the wood to make it really look nice and to protect your investment.  The best quality sealant I have ever used is a product called Pennofin and it is fairly expensive, but after you have sealed the fence with two coats of this, you will only have to repeat the process every few years and it will make the fence look amazing.  Cheaper products will need to be applied more frequently, so just keep that in mind when picking a sealant.

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Comments (7)
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Do you need to space cedar fence pickets

This is a detailed description on how to build a nice fence. I have been looking for this information. Thanks.

Hector, Space cedar pickets using a the depth of a construction pencil, or about 3/8 of an inch.


we are installing a 6ft. privacy fence in a high wind area. what is the best way to face / install pickets for best duability? i was told that alternating the pickets was a bad idea is this possible?

john, I think as long as your posts are secured in concrete and you use screws rather than nails to attach your 2 x 4's, you should be okay. Be sure to use cedar for your posts, since other materials may rot. Also make sure your post holes are as close to two feet deep as possible. When these holes are filled to the top with concrete and left for about 24 hours to harden, the wind should not be able to knock it down. I would also use screw to install the pickets as well. I do not believe you need to alternate pickets. That is a personal choice in the design of the fence, but I don't think you have to do it that way to make it more windproof.


thanks leslie:)