Playing With Fences
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Garage Side Fence

This one was planned almost from day 1 in the house, but a little windstorm moved it ahead. The side fence along the garage side of the property was pretty much rotten beyond repair and needed to be replaced. The neighbor and I were already planning on tearing it out and replacing it sooner or later - and when the top of his tree came down on it (and damaged part of our gutter on the way down), it was time to rip out the old fence and start work on a new one.

I decided that we would eventually want to extend out deck to the fence on that side, and that I wanted some measure of privacy on the deck - so I wanted an 8 foot fence instead of the typical 6 foot one. I set to figure out all the level lines and design a fence that would look nice, be easy and cheap to build, and would last a long time. I agreed to pay for more than half the cost, since I wanted the extra 2 feet of fencing.

It turns out that the yard slope and fence height made for some interesting design issues. There is only a single "step down" in the fence (and only a foot at that), but I went a bit overboard on the post that handles the step - it's a 12 foot post, with about 4 feet of it in the ground! I wanted to be sure the fence won't blow over - 7+ feet of solid board presents a lot of "sail" area in a stiff wind...

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The new fence is largely up now, just a few issues left to resolve. Can you spot the pole that warped/bent between when I set it in the ground and when I put the fence sections up? (Hint: It's the big one.) Between the slope and the warping wood, I'm going to say the fence already has "character"... I got the neighbors front fence connected to the corner post and I finished off the railroad ties in front. The final piece is the back corner which ties into another neighbor's fence, so it's going to be a bit of work.


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The back corner was basically an English Ivy jungle and it was the primary cause of the old fence's decay and partial collapse in that area. My yard wasn't too bad, but the neighbors yard has a truly immense pile of ivy up against the fence. They're going to clean it out, but it will take some time. After that I can put up new a corner post and get started on the section of the fence that I share with the person behind me on that corner. I took a picture of the main ivy root that I pulled out once I pulled this section of fence down - you won't believe the size of it even after you see it.

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I finally got around to removing the rest of the fence in the corner and pulling down the rest of the ivy on my side of the back fence. I have a temporary wire fence set up about a foot inside the neighbors back yard to keep the dog from running amuck while I do the work on the fence. It looks like I'm going to have to start building the retaining wall under the fence - the ground behind my property slopes off pretty radically starting about half-way down the very first fence section. For the first post, I'm going to put in a 12' one and build the wall right up to the post and see how it works - that way the wall will actually be a part of the fence.

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The fence is finally complete again, with a little help from a local carpenter. The neighbors were replacing the entire back fence and wanted to split the cost of my section with me, so I offered up the materials I already had for my piece and paid half the labor. It came out pretty nice - much better than my wobbly sections. The ground had settled under the pieces I did, and the posts turned out to not be long enough - I should have used 12' posts in all of the locations, not just the one in the middle at the step down. That combined with the ground settling gave the fence plenty of wobble - it easily moves about 15 degrees off the vertical in some sections. I was able to firm things up with some careful tamping of dirt, but it's still pretty loose for my tastes. Live and learn, I guess.

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As part of the shed side fence replacement (see below), I decided to build the gate on this side. I had to sink a new fence post next to the house, but that was pretty easy. A friend of mine, Jon Class built the gate to his usual excellent standards, and I donated lots of labor at his house in exchange - long live the barter system! :-) On this gate, I opted to use a top cross brace between the two gate posts. The new gate post next to the house was not able to be sunk too deeply, and the ground here is a bit soft, so this will help firm the gate structure up. It will also give me a place to put a top gate pin on the "fixed" side of the gate - we'll only use one gate most of the time, and the other one will be pinned shut from the back side. I also needed to hinge this gate from the front so it opened outward. There will be a deck behind the gate in the future, and it will slope upwards to meet up with the rest of the deck, thus the need for a front opening gate. That means the hardware (hinges, etc.) would all be very visible, so I used all black hardware to keep it looking nice.

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Here's all of the gate hardware. For the "fixed" side of the gate (the side we'll leave closed most of the time) I put a cane bolt at the bottom and a spring bolt with a chain pull on it at the top. That way the gate is pinned in place at the top and bottom most of the time, and we only open it when we need to. The other gate has a thumb latch on the front that actuates a lever on the back. It also has a locking feature so we can padlock the gate shut if we go on vacation or something like that. The gate we use most of the time also has a cane bolt on the bottom so we can pin it in the "open" position when we're moving stuff in and out a lot. For now, the cane bolts at the bottom don't touch the ground - that will be rectified later on when I raise the ground height a bit. Getting all this installed was quite a project - the latch, cane bolts, and spring bolt took me about 3 hours to get situated and done. The latch can be installed about four different ways and the instructions were not terribly explicit about what diagram went with what install situation.

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Shed Side Fence

When we bought the house, the shed side had an ugly 6' tall chain link fence that ran from the back property line almost all the way out to the street. It was functional, but offered no privacy and it was somewhat messed up in a few places. Eventually, it was time to replace it and the neighbor agreed to help pay for a wood fence. I donated a lot of the labor in exchange for getting something that matched my existing fence.

These first three photos are "historical" one that show the fence as it existed long before I got started on replacing it. I took these when working on the side driveway.

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Here's some photos of the chain link fence being removed. There is a lot of metal in a 6' chain link fence this long, so I had to cut the fence material into sections as I removed it - that's why there are multiple "rolls" of chain link material. The poles were somewhat of a pain to remove due to how deeply they had been set - but some quality time with a sturdy chain and my Suburban got them all pulled out reasonably easily. You can see the depth of the concrete around the posts in one of the photos. The very front post was left in place because it was put in with such a large amount of concrete as to make removing it all virtually impossible, and because my neighbor wants to try and use it as the starting point/front post for a new low/decorative fence along the property line. I also removed the railroad ties so I could replace them with a masonry product - I was getting concerned about the number of termites and other wood-eating bugs all of this wood is attracting into the vicinity of my house.

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Here's some pictures of digging the holes for the new fence posts. We rented a "one man" hydraulic soil auger, and it worked great. It was a brand new unit - I was the first person to rent it, and the rental people were eager to know how it worked. I was happy to give them great feedback about it. The only nit I had was that the extension piece to get holes deeper than about 2'6" was a straight pipe section and had no "auger" on it to help clear the dirt, so it was hard to clear out deeper holes. You can see us using post hole diggers to do that clearing in some of the pictures. Also, my dad was in town for a visit and gave us some help - that's him in the orange shirt and blue hat. (Thanks, Dad!) My wife was taking the pictures, so you even get to see me in some of them - a rare treat.

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Here's the posts after we set them, plumbed them up, and staked them in place. The idea was to get this done and then pour concrete later and not have to worry about plumbing the posts while the concrete was setting.

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Here's the concrete pouring work. Again, my wife was taking pictures, so you get to see me in them. Yay. She even shot a short video of us running the cement mixer. It's a whopping 20.7Mb of the cement mixer spinning and us adding bags to it while talking about the work. Whoopee! :-)

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Here's the delivery of the fence boards, lattice, cross beams, and masonry blocks I'm using for a small retaining wall under the fence. My neighbor's yard is not at the same height as my yard, and the old railroad ties were rotting away, so I needed a non-rotting replacement for the railroad ties. Roman Stack Stone from the local Home Depot fit the bill nicely, so I bought some of that.

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Here's the fence going up. The fence design is simple and easy to erect, so it went pretty fast. The gate was built by a friend of mine, Jon Class, and he did a great job on it - far better than I could have done. The board bracing the gate is just to hold one side closed while we worked on the other side. You can also see the multitude of bracing and tie plates we added to the existing fence on my side to try and tie everything together and prevent any sagging of the new gate on my neighbor's side. It mostly worked, but unfortunately the gate did sag a bit after the first day or two. Jon also loaned us his 12" miter saw to cut the boards to length - it was very helpful and I'm going to end up donating a lot of labor to Jon at his house to help thank him for the use of the saw and for building the gate. :-)

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The front fence sections (those in front of the side fences/gates in both yards) were unique because we built them as a "two good sides" fence, so it was tricky to make it all work out, but in the end it came out amazingly nice looking. There were a lot of precision cuts - every fence board was unique and had non-90-degree angles at the bottom, plus the section closest to the street has non-90-degree angles on the top as well - so I got a real workout on the miter saw for that.

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The rearmost section of the shared fence was pretty tricky. First we had to solidly join the final wood fence post to the existing metal corner post for the chain link fences. Then we had to somehow add some support to the rotted wood fence on my back property line. And to top it all off, the metal corner post was no where near plumb. The solution for joining the posts was to cut spacer blocks to go between the wood and metal posts, and join them together with galvanized metal strapping that was pulled tight and screwed into the wood post and the spacers. I also used extra strapping above and below the spacers. The spacers had a V notch on the metal post end and the other end was cut at a suitable compound angle to match up the wood post once it was made reasonably plumb. There was a lot of trial and error on the miter saw for those blocks. The solution for supporting my back fence was more strapping. The center section of the final wood post on the rear fence was solid enough to accept a few long screws, so I screwed in some strapping and then screwed that to the wood fence post that was strapped to the metal fence post. It was a bit Rube Goldberg-ish, but it worked very well and the whole thing was pretty solid. We'll see how it weathers over time. :-) Once the final wood fence post was up and supported, the fence beams, fence boards, lattice, and trim went up like any other section - it was just a lot shorter than normal and thus a lot easier to work with.

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There was also a short section of fence that went against the side of my neighbor's house. We intentionally placed the final fence post about 9" away from the house to avoid hitting anything while digging, and to ensure we had enough room to build a small section of fence in there without needing to attach it to the house. Jon again gets credit for a great idea here. I was going to build a boxed section and cantilever that off the fence post, but Jon suggested I just get a 2x10 and rip a bit off one side, and then just nail the fence boards to the front of it. I cut a C-shaped section out at the top to allow for the lattice, and put a small 1 1/2" piece of the trim over the side next to the house. The actual attachment to the post was via three simple plates with 5 short screws on each side and then three longer screws driven into the back of the 2x10 at an angle (and countersunk) so that they went into the side of the post. The whole thing was really easy to build, easy to mount, and ended up being very solid. It's also technically removable if you want to paint the house next to it. I did that on purpose. The existing fence on my side was attached to the house, and then the house was repainted later on. The result was some ugly looking spots where house paint was on the fence, and where the house was not repainted because it was not accessible - even though it was visible if you looked closely. Yuck. The small removable fence section gets around that, and frankly, over the life of the fence, it shouldn't need to be removed more than a few times to paint the house, so the screw holes should be just fine for that. With 18 screws holding it up, it'll be fine.

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I got the tree next to the shed removed, and I could move ahead on the final two sections of fence. The fence section next to where the tree stump went in pretty quickly, but we left the bottom section of the other one out for now and only put in the top lattice part. We left that section open on the bottom so we could easily bring in some dirt to help backfill the dents in my neighbor's lawn where the tree sections had landed, as well as level out some uneven areas near the new fence. It looks weird with just the top lattice in place, but it'll be done soon enough. I also took the time to cut off all the "too long" fence posts, treat the cut ends with end cut solution, and put the fence post caps on each of them. Running the circular saw while standing on top of the ladder was not an easy thing to do safely, but I managed. I did have to cut once from each side of the post to get them cut all the way through, so I was up on the ladder twice for each post. My feet hurt a good bit the next day after all that "up and down" work on the ladder. The fence looks a lot better with the posts cut to length and the post caps installed, though.

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As part of the fence work on this side, I opted to replace all of the railroad ties with masonry. The ties served as a short retaining wall to manage the height difference between my driveway and my neighbor's lawn. It was about 8" to 12" difference, and the Roman Stack stone I selected worked quite nicely. I followed the contour of the ground instead of keeping it level, and didn't keep it too perfect - that way I have a simple rustic looking retaining wall to match the simple rustic looking cedar fence, and it was easier to build.

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Here's the small sloping front section. The idea here was to transition from the taller sections next to the driveway down to something closer to the height of the bushes. I think this looks a lot better than just abruptly ending the fence at full height. We even ended up with the section before the front one having a bit of slope to it. It was accidental, but it came out looking pretty good. The fun part was cutting the lattice to fit. I opted to run the lattice at an angle so that I only had to cut the end sections at an angle. One other odd/fun thing here is that the final fence board is so short that when I had to rip it down to fit, I was able to use the chop saw to 'rip" the board down by making a cut from each end - it's that short. I was able to reuse scraps of fence board from earlier in the fence to build this section, which was a great way to not have to spend more $$$ on more fence boards.

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Here's the retaining wall along the first four sections of fence behind the gates. At the end it tapers off to nothing because of the ground slope in that area. Amazingly enough, this whole section of retaining wall (all four fence sections of it) all got put in place in just one day of work. When you get into a groove and the weather cooperates, you can get a lot of work done. Not having to worry about returning a rental wet saw helped, too.

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Here's the last few pieces completed. I added a one block high retaining wall for the fifth and half of the sixth section - far enough to get me even with the front edge of the shed. The last fence section is in, and I've backfilled the divots my tree felling antics made in my neighbor's yard. I also added some dirt along the fence in my neighbor's yard to backfill along the retaining wall in the fifth and sixth fence sections. My side will have more gravel added in the future to even things out and remove a low spot on my side. Overall this extra bit of retaining wall really helped fill in a low area in both yards and make both sides look much better. It wasn't all that much work do do the extra backfilling but in the end I think it was definitely worth it. I even made sure to reseed the dirt areas in my neighbor's yard so he'd have some grass there. He did let me drop a tree onto his yard, so I wanted to make it as good as it was when I started, and a bit better if I could. Letting me use his yard saved me a lot of money, so a bit of extra work to help make his yard look perfect was the least I could do to say "thank you".

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We had three 4x6 gate posts and one double 4x4 (effectively a 4x8) that needed caps. No one made any to fit, so we bought a piece of cedar 2x8 and cut them out of that. They are 2" larger than the post they are capping and the upper 3/4" is beveled at a 45 degree angle. Pretty simple stuff on the miter saw. One thing to keep in mind on the post size vs. the cap size is that the posts are smaller than the quoted dimension - aka, a 4x4 is really only 3 1/2" x 3 1/2", so the caps we bought are 5 1/2" x 5 1/2" squares - basically, they are 5 1/2" pieces cut from a cedar 2x6, which was itself actually 5 1/2" wide. The 4x6 caps were 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" and the 8x8 cap was 9 1/2" x 9 1/2". They came out looking very nice.

Here's the last piece of this section of work - getting rid of the old railroad ties that had been used to handle the short retaining wall under the old fence. I hauled them out front, posted a "free stuff" ad on Craigslist, and they were gone in less than 24 hours. Craigslist is a wonderful thing.

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After a few years, it was time to complete the retaining wall under the fence alongside the shed. This will eventually meet up with the retaining wall behind the shed that was done as part of the backyard work that was done separately. You can see some of the work around the back of the shed, and the work to cut of the stump that was beside the shed.

Extending this small retaining wall will let be backfill this area with gravel and get a reasonably level area to store parts and other stuff, and be able to easily kill any weeds there. Gravel can be a wonderful thing. Cheap, easy, stable, compactable for a hard surface, doesn't get muddy when it's wet, and easy to keep weeds out of with ground clear. Yay!

Most of the wall is one block high and is under the existing fence without changing it in any way. Simple, easy, and fast to install.

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Here you can see where the ground starts to dive off on my neighbor's side of the fence, as well as the stump that was previously cut off at ground height as part of the backyard work that was done separately. This section of the fence had it's bottom support board at about the right height for the final retaining wall height - it pretty much matches the height of the rear retaining wall at the end near the fence - so that's the height we followed for the top of the retaining wall in this section. I cut off the fence boards under the support board to make it a reasonably straight line and installed the blocks to be just under it. By the end of this fence section, the wall will be three blocks high. I think four blocks is the limit for the Roman Stack Stone I'm using in this wall. When it joins with the rear wall, I'll transition to the larger retaining wall block I used there and cut things to fit.

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This is the last bit of work on the Roman Stack Stone part of the retaining wall. It's now past the back wall of the shed, and a full five blocks high where it ends. The retaining wall along the back edge of the property will curve over to meet this; see my backyard work page for more details on that bit of work.

You can see how I changed the last few feet of the wall from being right under the fence to being inside of the fence line. This is because the fence at that fence post was done so it had a support board "below" the top of the retaining wall, and that meant I could not cut off the fence at the top of the retaining wall. To make it work without re-doing the fence, the retaining wall veers inside the fence so it runs near it instead of under it. I'll let it angle away from the fence to I can clean out weeds and debris from that area in the future.

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Page last updated 01/15/2012 03:42:32 PM