Guide to Building a Board Fence: Keep Unwanted Neighbors Out of Your Yard

Is your house the “cross-over” point of the entire neighborhood? Do children and adults, alike, tread across your yard to get from points A to B in spite of your multiple requests to walk around your property? Are you tired of small-time litterbugs “accidentally” dropping garbage on your lawn as they pass through?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then it may be time to put up a fence.

Whether you live in the middle of a busy neighborhood or on the last house of the last block in a small town, a rustic, board fence will bring a little bit of country charm to your property. A board fence will also keep your neighbors from making your yard a shortcut through the neighborhood.

Building a fence is hard work. But like any other home improvement job, it is one that is self-satisfying when the work is done. You will get hot. You will get dirty and you will sweat. Most important, you may work like you have never worked before in your life.

After you get an idea where the line of your fence will run, it is very important that you find out where your water/sewage lines and electrical lines, (if under ground), are buried. Call the electric company and contact your water company before finalizing your pre-digging plans. Now you are ready for the next step.

Before anything, you will need to know where your property line runs. Talk to your immediate neighbors or, if that does not work, go to the courthouse and look up the land blueprints. Once you have figured out where your yard ends and the neighbor’s begins, then you need to do some measuring.

Figure that your fence posts are going to be eight feet apart. Also, think about where you are going to place your gate(s) and how big your gate is going to be. Keep in mind, (though it will never be perfect), that the distance of eight feet applies to the center of each post. This will give you an idea of how many fence posts you should buy.

The tools you will need are as follows:

Post hole diggers


Spud bar (Tamper bar)

Measuring tape





2 C-clamps

Roll of yarn

Fence posts (8′ long)

Planks ( 1″ X 6″ X 16′ or 1″X 8″ X 16′)

Depending on your own judgement, you may want to purchase a few bags of concrete or a small load of gravel, (for securing fence posts when in place).

Start at a place that will be one of the ends of your fence line. Using your post hole diggers, (you may want to wear gloves to prevent blisters), cut the ground in a semi-even circle, approximately three times larger than the diameter of the fence post. This will keep you from damaging more ground than necessary and the hole will be large enough for easier filling and tamping once the posts are in place. Try to keep from “funneling” the hole as you go deeper as this may prevent maximum tamping once the post is in place.

For an eight-foot long fence post, you will want to dig a hole that is about three and a half feet deep. This is no easy task with clean soil let alone rocks or roots that may get in your way. This is when the spud bar, (or tamper bar), becomes a useful tool. The blade of a spud bar can cut through roots and break away stone with a little bit time and some added effort from your muscles. A spud bar also comes in handy for chopping up that hard clay that may lie beneath the soil.

Before placing the fence post into the hole, eyeball the diameter and make sure that there is no funneling. When you are sure that the hole is three and a half feet deep and not funneled, then you may drop the post into the ground. Hold the post straight and, using the measuring tape, make sure that the post is about four and a half feet tall from ground to top. If it is short of four and a half feet tall, remove the post and place a shovel scoop full of dirt into the hole, replacing the post after each scoop to measure again until you reach desired height. If the post is more than four and a half feet from ground to top, then you will need to get another bite or two from the bottom of the hole with your post hole diggers, again, replacing the post to measure again until the desired height is reached.

After the post is placed into the hole, place the level, vertically, along the side of the post. Adjust the post until the bubble is in the middle of the plumb lines and drop some dirt on each side of the post. Then, keeping post as straight as you possibly can, use the rounded, flat side of the spud bar to tamp the dirt around the base of the post. DO NOT FILL THE HOLE WITH DIRT WITHOUT TAMPING, as this will not keep the post firm and secure in the ground. Tamp each layer of dirt after three scoops are place on each side of the post until filler dirt is no longer available. Another option is, after first layer of dirt is tamped, filling the hole with one foot of cement before placing more soil into the hole.

To insure that your fence will be straight, do not dig the next hole eight feet from your first post. You will come back to this hole later. Instead, you want to skip a few post positions and dig your corner post hole, following the same directions used for the first post you set.

After you have set the corner posts, tie the end of a length of yarn around your first set post. Wrap the yarn around the outside of the post and walk the outside perimeter of your fence line, pulling the yarn, snug, around each corner post. When you reach the last corner post, tie it off. Make sure that the yarn is at the same height at each corner post. Now you are ready to dig the interior post holes.

Follow the same directions when digging the interior post holes. While digging, though, keep in mind that the fence post, when level, will be gently touching the length of yarn tied to the corner posts. This will insure that your fence will be straight.

After all of your posts are in the ground, you will need to gather and tamp more dirt around the posts. Find this extra soil in a barren spot in your garden or anywhere else on your property that can spare a few shovel scoops. When finished, you should have a small heap of dirt that surrounds the base of your posts.

Now you are ready to attach the boards to your fence posts.

As stated above in the materials list, your board planks should be either 1″ X 6″ X 16′ or 1″ X 8″ X 16′. However many boards you want the fence to be, you need to make sure that the highest board is an equal length below the top of the post as the bottom board is from the ground. Keep in mind that the interior board(s) need to be equally spaced, as well.

Start with the top board and your very first fence post. This board will stretch across three fence posts. Measure and mark the desired height on your first post and do the same for the next post, which should be eight feet away. Then do the same for the next post, sixteen feet away from the first. Fasten a C-clamp to the third and first post, as close to where the bottom of the sixteen feet long top board will be attached and place the board atop the clamps. Using your level, insure that this top board is plumb before nailing it in place on the posts.

The next board will need to be cut in half and both pieces will be used to finish the connection between the first and second posts.

Another sixteen foot plank is needed for the middle board for the second, third and fourth posts. A sixteen footer will then be needed for the bottom board on the third, fourth and fifth posts. Follow this pattern, keeping until all posts are connected with level sixteen foot long boards. Then, finish the fence building by cutting the remaining sixteen footers into eight foot halves and nailing them in their respective places. This technique will help keep your fence sturdy through time.

Follow up, once per week, by tamping the soil around each fence post. This should be done at least five times to prevent any shifting of your fence posts.

Remember that the most important part of fence building is the measuring and leveling. Take your time. Measure many times and cut once. Once the work is finished, you will be happy with the job you did.

And to think what you will tell your neighbors when they ask you, “Why are you building a fence?”

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