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Rustic rails with wedge-shape, tapered, or rounded tenons and pre mortised posts are available ready for installation. You also can cut your own traditional rails from raw logs. If you start from scratch, don’t worry about minor mistakes; the rustic look allows you a certain amount of leeway.

Precut rails come in lengths of 6 to 10 feet and may be square (sawn rails) or wedge-shape (split). These fences tend to look better with shorter bays, but a 10-foot rail covers more distance with fewer posts (and fewer precut tenons) and is therefore less expensive. If cost is a factor, you may want to strike a balance on length.

The standard length for split, wedge-shape cedar, pine, or redwood rails with 4- or 6-inch faces is 6 to 11 feet. If you’re cutting your own, you’ll have a good deal of flexibility in how wide you make the bays.

Measure down from the top of the post to mark each mortise location so the mortises are in the same place on all posts. You should be able to locate the top rail 2 to 6 inches from the top of the post and the bottom rail 6 to 12 inches off the ground, with the middle rail centered between them. You must set mortised fences one section at a time—the rails will not fit in preset posts.


Lay out the fence line with 6-foot bays and dig the holes. Cut the posts to a length that will let you set them deep enough for code compliance and still leave 36 inches above ground. Cut a cardboard rectangle the size of the tenon and use it as a template to outline the mortise on the posts. Measure down from the top of the post the same distance so the mortises will all be on the same plane. Drill and chisel out the mortise.

Position the cardboard template on the end of the rails and outline the profile of the tenon with a carpenter’s pencil. Mark the depth of the tenon on the side of the rails and use a reciprocating saw to rough-cut the tenons. You can narrow their ends and fine-tune them to fit when you install the rails. Set the first post in its hole and brace it 36 inches off the ground. Test-fit the tenons in this post and the next one, shave them to fit, and set them aside. Backfill the first hole with concrete and let it set. Then set the rails in the next post, brace and plumb it with level rails, and backfill the hole with concrete.

Picket fences

Picket fences are probably the most timeless and universal of all fence styles. They look equally stylish in a wide variety of landscapes, from Victorian to modern themes, augmenting the appeal of any landscape theme with their innate beauty.


Defining spaces: excellent; they clearly define any boundary with classic style

Security: moderate; they keep children and pets in or out, and pointed pickets can make it difficult to hop over Privacy: none; open picket design permits open views Creating comfort zones: minimal; low height does not block wind, but closely spaced pickets can block drifting snow

Before you choose your picket style, visit your home center and look at pre assembled 8-foot panels ready for installation. If you decide to save yourself some time with fence panels, make sure they are durable. Look for high-quality lumber (few knots and smooth finishes) and be wary of stapled frames. Millwork shops and some lumberyards will cut pickets for you for a fee, and of course you can cut your own designs too.

It doesn’t matter whether you install the pickets on flush edge-rail or flat-rail frames, but if you like the looks of a flat-rail fence, you can add a kick board to your design to minimize sagging. Most picket fences are installed on 4×4 posts and look best between 36 and 48 inches tall. Use 6×6 posts for fences taller than 5 feet (a taller fence starts to look like a stockade).
Before you put up a picket fence, experiment with picket widths and spacing to get the look you want. Traditional 1×3 or 1×4 pickets spaced 2V2 to 3 inches apart will give you a classic look, but you can experiment to find spacing that pleases you. Draw fences to scale on 1/4-inch graph paper.

First establish your bay width—6 to 8 feet is ideal. Then, to figure the picket spacing, decide how many pickets you want to spread across the bay. Multiply that number by the actual picket width and subtract the result from the bay width to find the total amount of open space. Divide this figure by a number one more than the number of pickets to find the distance between them.

Lay out the fence line with 6- to 8-foot bays, dig the holes, and set the posts with their tops 36 to 48 inches above the ground. Build flat-rail frames between the posts. Tack a batten 2 to 4 inches above the ground and use it to keep the bottom of the pickets on the same plane when
Distribute your pickets along the bay so they will be handy when you need them. Using the results of your computation for the number and spacing of the pickets,
you fasten them. Measure the distance between posts to compute the number of pickets you’ll need to fill the bay. Recheck your measurements after installing the first few pickets and adjust the spacing if necessary.
make a cleated spacer. Set each picket on the batten, space it with the spacer, and fasten it to the rails.

Fashionable touches

Details can take a picket fence beyond the ordinary. Stepped points on the wide pickets and dentil molding below the post cap give this fence a distinctive architectural style.

Point of difference

Pickets often have square ends or straight-sided steeple points. Topping the pickets with slightly curved points and waists gives this fence a traditional look while adding individuality.


A scalloped fence usually looks better with pickets spaced closer than the traditional 7 to 3 inches. Start experimenting on paper with your own design by spacing them about half a picket width apart. Lay out the curve with a length of rope or decorator’s cord about 2 feet longer than the span. Tack one end of the rope to the center of the picket or post at which the scallop will begin. Drape the other end over a nail at the opposite end of the scallop. Move the free end of the rope to adjust the curve and, when it’s right (at least 1 Vi inches above the rail at the low point), tack the free end with another nail. Tape the rope in place and mark the curve on the face of the pickets with a carpenter’s pencil. Mark the ends of the curve on the rope as you remove it so you can duplicate the scallop in the next bay. Cut the pickets with a jigsaw and sand the tops smooth.

Latticework—thin, crisscrossed wood slats—has been used for screening for more than 2,000 years, and it’s no wonder. It’s lightweight and easy to work with, and the play of light and shadow over its surface is irresistible to the eye. Vines and climbing plants take to it readily, and its open surface lets in light and tempers the wind.

Prefabricated 4×8-foot wood or vinyl lattice panels with diagonal or rectangular grids are available at home centers and lumberyards. And with a little time and patience, you can make your own lattice. Wood lattice comes in several thicknesses. Lattice that’s at least 3/i inch thick at the intersection of the boards is best for fences. The thicker pieces resist warping and cracking, reducing future maintenance— a good return on its slightly higher cost. Lattice goes up easiest and looks best inset in the frame. You can set it between stops, or into grooves cut vertically in the fence frame.


If you haven’t looked closely, you may not have noticed that all latticework is not created equal. Lattice is manufactured from a variety of materials and textures; lattice openings vary in size depending on their intended use.

The toughest lattice is made with cedar 1x2s (3 inch thick, 1 inches wide). Technically this stock is neither lath nor strips. It lasts forever, will hold heavy vines without sagging, and should be used in large lattice screens, trellises, and arbors. Thinner lattice may prove to be an immediate disappointment in these structures. Standard lattice thicknesses range from 1 to 2 inch at the intersection of the boards. Garden lattice usually has spaces 2% inches wide. If you want a privacy screen, get lattice with privacy spacing—from 3 to 3/1 inches wide.

Add the thickness of the lattice and the inside and outside stops; then subtract the result from the width of the rails. Divide this result by 2. This is the amount of reveal—the distance from the edge of the rail to the edge of the stop. Mark the posts and rails at this width, cut additional rail stock to fit the frame, and fasten it to the posts with finishing nails. Cut and miter the outside stops, predrill them, and push the nails into the holes. This will make it easier to keep the stops lined up as you fasten them.

To fasten any panel material, including lattice, tongue-and-groove stock, or plywood, cut the material to fit the opening of the frame and toenail it to the rails—not the stops. Set the bottom panel material in the frame first, then the top.

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