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I am sore from head to toe. Well, I guess if I didn’t hit my head, I’m just sore from the neck down. But the bottoms of my feet are feeling the burn in addition to all of my other major muscle groups, so I’m still counting the toe part. And did you know that you can actually get a bruise on your palm? I’m not even sure I know how that happened (I think it was from chiseling out cement). I didn’t even know it was a bruise until I tried to wash off what I thought was dirt in the shower.

But why, you may ask, am I so sore? No, I’m not making a DIY workout video (as Two Twenty One suggested on my Instagram). Over the weekend, I was busy doing this:

how to install a wooden fence

Let’s backtrack for a minute to tell the whole story. A few months ago, my sister and brother-in-law had my dad help put in their fence. They had a lot of leftover materials, and were kind enough to let me have them. But after a full weekend of installing the fence at their house, Dad was understandably tired and simply dumped the materials in the corner of my back yard while I was in class (where the fence would eventually go). We both thought that we might get to the project quickly, so there wasn’t much of a need to really take a lot of care in where the boards went.

But as projects tend to do, we both got sidetracked with other things and the fence materials sat, unloved, for a number of months. You may remember me mentioning this as a birthday wish that I wanted to take care of this. Now that I started working on my back yard again, Dad suggested that we get to this dangling project – at the very least, to remove the chain link area that was visible from the street (that section to the left in the photo above), install the posts, and put up the stringers. I’ve never helped put up a fence before, but Dad was confident that the two of us could get it done in one weekend.

To start, we needed to get rid of the chain link and metal posts that held it up. Naturally, this stuff was cemented into the ground and was plotting to be stubborn (simply because when you DIY, that’s how things seem to go). First, Dad unhooked the wires that held the chain link in place (noting also that apparently this is not how these types of fences are usually installed, but it was nice to only have to untwist the one wire and the entire thing came loose). We also had to release the bolts connecting the chain link from the posts on either side using a socket wrench.

remove chain link fence

The middle post popped off from its base easily (I didn’t even see Dad do this part, it was so fast), but the posts on either end proved to be more difficult. Since one of the posts held up the chain link down the entire stretch of my back yard that separated my house from my neighbor, we weren’t going to remove it – leaving just the one post by the side of the house to be dealt with. We also took the time to move the fence materials off the ground for later use. This scared little guy (who also startled me) was hiding underneath and was too terrified to move once exposed. After a few minutes of waiting, he skittered off and hopefully found a new home.

Dad dug around the cement holding the post in place, then whacked at the cement to see if we could get a few chunks to come loose (tip: use a sledge hammer and get this song stuck in your head in the process). Then together, we rocked the pole back and forth to loosen it from more dirt, and repeat the process. Eventually, larger chunks of cement came out, and we were down to what we thought was the last of it. The pole still wouldn’t budge from the hole, but we could twist it a little and it was definitely moving within the base. Both of us were tired and thought we’d head to the store to get some materials to jack or winch the rest of the pole out. But just to see if it worked, Dad also asked me to fill a bucket with water and pour it into the hole. The theory was that it would help soften the dirt around the remaining chunk of cement, and help us (if nothing else) to dig further down.

pour water to soften hard dirt and dig

We ran our errands for supplies and lunch, and then Dad pulled on the post one more time when we got back. And wouldn’t ya know it, it popped right out. Problem solved!

Tip: this trick works for planting shrubs as well – pour water into the hole, wait, and let your shovel do the rest.  In Georgia, our soil is mostly red clay – which can be much tougher to dig through than regular soil. The mud is nasty looking, but now that I’ve learned this trick, I don’t feel like afternoons spent digging in it will be nearly as frustrating.

pour water to soften hard dirt and dig

Dad continued to dig the places for each new post (we were setting 3). Two of the leftover posts had finials, and one did not – so we went with simple and lopped off the tops to suit the other fences surrounding the yard (most of my neighbors have put up their own wooden fences and are simple as well). Next up:  hanging the risers. We stuck dry cement into each of the post holes to surround the posts and help us get them level (by not using wet cement right away, we could still move them slightly each time we needed to check and adjust for level).

Then, we measured and marked the locations of each riser along the post and drilled pilot holes for 3 1/2″ exterior screws (to go through both the 2×4 risers and the posts themselves). Tip:  when drilling pilot holes this long, you may need to drill about halfway, pull the bit out to rid the hold of sawdust and shavings, and drill the rest of the pilot hole.

how to install a wooden fence

Tip:  use wax, bar soap, or liquid dish soap on the end of your screws. It helps the screw drill a little faster thanks to reduced friction.

use dish soap on screws

After the risers were hung, we checked and adjusted for level once more (thankfully, nothing was too out of whack), and finally got to the good part:  making this fence look more fence-like with actual pickets. One of the ends is cut in a decorative shape (“dog-eared” is the term), and we simply eyeballed each placement to make sure they connected at the same spot along the fence line. Dad’s tip: pickets tend to shrink over time, and he prefers to have as little of a gap as possible – so we felt fine with making each picket butt up against the next. Boards aren’t always even anyway (the top is slightly warped and gapped compared to the bottom, or vice-versa), so we just made things fit as best we could manage. Perfectionism is not really your friend when it comes to this step. Because things were still level, Dad poured water into each post hole to wet the cement and let things begin to dry. I got to work on the pickets.

how to install a wooden fence

It may be September, but it was still a hot and sweaty project (don’t let the overcast in these photos fool you). I wound up wrestling with a few stubborn screws  here and there. But after a few boards, you get a rhythm and things start to go up quickly. Not without a few bruises and blisters (apparently), but quickly.

how to install a wooden fence

That’s enough for today – recovery time! You can see a few hints of new things in the photos in this post, but tomorrow I have a couple of other projects, a blogger friend visit, and a ton of reveal photos to show you. I hope you all had a productive weekend!

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  1. can’t wait to see how the whole thing looks done- glad you’re getting to knock this out before it gets any colder out!

  2. Aren’t dad’s the BEST? I’ve managed to get mine to agree to “visit” (we live 800 miles apart right now) for two weeks to help me completely gut and renovate our kitchen. He’s given me a lot of homework to do before he gets here though – which I’m going to get on right after I read a few more blogs… {{sigh}}

  3. This post makes me feel like an asshole for not putting in my own fence! Love the tip about pouring the water in… we’re up in CT, but it would seem everywhere I dig I hit rock solid impenetrable dirt, so I’m going to try this!

  4. You do things the hard way in Georgia! They make special brackets to attach the crosspiece of the fence to the original metal posts. Something to think about. Wood posts rot, metal posts don’t! Maybe your old posts were not in good shape? Your fence looks real pretty now!

    1. That’s a great suggestion, thanks for the head’s up! Maybe we’ll try that for the next string of fence. I still like the wood post look, and you’re right – the old metal posts were in pretty bad shape (my dad was able to rip out the middle one without using anything but a little wiggle room).

  5. Go you! I’m exhausted just from watching you. How insane that you’re going to be able to say that you built a fence?!?! You bada$$, you.

  6. Building a fence and making it look nice, is not easy to do. I’ve seen so many bad fence jobs. I’m not talking about this one of course. Good job.