How to Build a Split-Rail Gateway

A simple, low railing like this will not keep out dogs and thieves, but it will clearly define your property. And it may keep the kids from cutting across the lawn on their bikes. Most importantly, its rustic good looks will welcome people to your house. Building the project will take half a day to a day.

Buy the Parts

A fencing-supply source or home center will have the parts you need. Make sure the rails will fit into the mortises. Select posts that are structurally sound. Sort through the lumber yourself to find sturdy pieces that do not have major cracks and that are fairly consistent in width and thickness.

This fence may endure abuse, so make sure the posts are long enough to provide stability when sunk in the ground. Lengths of 6 feet will probably be long enough. For extra strength, buy concrete; one 80-pound bag of ready-mix per posthole is plenty.

Lay Out and Dig the Holes

Pound a couple of stakes in the ground and tighten a string between them to mark the location of the fence. Measure from the front wall to make the fence parallel to the house.

Mark for the inside two posts by digging the postholes. Use a fence rail as a guide to mark for the outside two postholes.

Dig the holes, using a clamshell-type or twist-type posthole digger. If the digging is tough, take your time; many do-it-yourselfers have suffered pain by doing this work. Hiring someone may be a good idea. If you run into small roots, chop them with the posthole digger. For larger roots, you may need to use an axe or a saw. If the root is a large one from a tree, consider moving the fence in order to avoid damaging the tree.

Dig the holes to a consistent depth if the lawn is level. Put a piece of tape or a notch on the posthole digger to indicate the correct depth. If the lawn is not level, you can have the fence follow the slope or use a level on top of a straight board to ensure that the post tops are level with one another.

Dig the holes a couple of inches deeper than they need to be, then shovel in a little gravel, so water can drain away from the bottoms of the posts.

Assemble the Fence

Set the posts nearest the sidewalk into their holes and temporarily brace them in position by shoving scrap lumber in the hole. Check to see that the posts are fairly plumb.

Slip the rails into the mortises. Set the outside posts in the holes and slip the rails into these mortises. Temporarily brace the outside posts and check for plumb. Slip in the other rails and lay them on top of each other on the ground at the fence ends. You may need to cut the lower end rail to male it come out the same length as the upper one.

Anchor the Fence

There are various ways to anchor fence posts. Check with a fence dealer or a neighbor for the one that works best in your area.

1. Set post in concrete. Check often during this process to be sure the posts stay plumb. In a wheelbarrow or other large container, mix dry concrete mix with enough water so it is barely pourable. Pour into the hole and poke the concrete with a piece of reinforcing bar or thin stick to make sure there are no air bubbles. Mound the concrete slightly above grade, so water will drain away.

2. Set post in tamped soil. Shovel in a foot or so of soil, tamp it firmly, and repeat until the hole is filled. Mound the soil a bit so water runs away from the post.

3. Set post in pea gravel. Pour in gravel, tamping as you go. Don’t mound it up; water will run down through the gravel.

Drill a hole through both end rails – about 6 inches from the grounded end. Use a drill with a long bit that is the same thickness as the rebar. Pound the rebar into the ground until the top is flush with the top of the rail. Dab the exposed end of the rail with brown paint or just let it rust.

If you want the fence to turn gray with time, brush on a clear sealer/preservative. To keep a brown color, use tinted sealer or a sealer that blocks ultraviolet light.

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