Almost all fence designs rely on one of two rail styles—edge rails or flat rails. Edge rails are installed with the widest of their faces perpendicular to the ground. That means they resist sagging more effectively than flat rails. This positioning also allows you more choices when it comes to mounting the infill although most kinds of inset infill require flat rails, not edge rails.
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Where you position the rails is largely a matter of design choice, but the rail position will affect the kind of infill and the method you use for hanging it. Some designs call for the rails to be set flush with the posts along the entire length of the fence. Others require flush rails that alternate from one side of the posts to the other on every other bay. Other designs look better with the rails mounted on the surface of the posts, centered between them, or mounted in notches.
One of the primary decisions you’ll need to make is which side of the fence will be the neighbor’s—and whether it matters. Certain fence designs are clearly one-sided. Even though the fence you’re building is your fence and it’s on your property or property line, legal ownership will not necessarily prevent hard feelings if the neighbors must look at the backside of it.
Such neighborly disagreements can be acrimonious but can often be avoided by constructing friendly fences—designs that look good from both sides.
It can also help to give the neighbors some warning that you’re going to build a fence. Showing them a friendly design will allay some of their fears and indicate to them that you respect their feelings. The fence might be yours, but the view is community property.
Lay out the fence line and set the posts in concrete. Let the concrete cure and leave the braces up—they add stability when you’re driving fasteners. Cut the posts to the correct height and measure down from the top of each post to mark the location of the top and bottom rails. For fences on level ground, you can mark the end posts and snap a chalk line to mark the intermediate posts. For stepped or contoured frames, you’ll have to measure and mark each pair of posts separately. Distribute the rails along the fence line so they will be handy.
If rails will be centered inside the post faces, mark the center of the posts and the rails after you cut them. When you attach the rails, line up the marks with each other.
If edge-mounted rails will be fastened to the outside faces of the posts, use one of the nailing patterns above, depending on whether the rails are jointed or unjointed.