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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

Smart Tips for a Great Fence

A great fence is one that does the job you want and stands the test of time. It’s beautifully designed, complements the home, and remains straight and solid for years and years after it’s installed. The experts at Great Southern Wood Preserving Co., the makers of Yellawood pressure-treated lumber, offer these insightful secrets to building the best fence.

Ensure solid grounding. Setting posts in concrete footings secures them firmly in place. It’s good practice to extend each footing above ground and to taper the top (like a cone). The taper will ensure that water drains away from the posts. Concrete is crucial beneath large double gates because the leverage imposed by the gates on the posts can pull their tops toward the middle, causing the gates to bind.

Insist on high-quality lumber. “With good design and attention to detail, treated Southern pine makes a long-lasting and attractive fence,” says Ambler, Penn. contractor Mark Clement. “It’s also visually and physically substantial.” High-quality treated wood has a natural beauty that requires no coating, but it can also be stained or painted to match the home.

Seal all end cuts. If you look at the end of a board under a microscope, it looks like a bundle of drinking straws. So, it’s no surprise that’s where water will most likely be sucked into the grain. Sealing field cuts with a copper naphthenate preservative is always a good idea. Monroe, LA contractor Mike Davis, a restoration specialist with 30 years’ experience, goes a step further and seals the end of every board in each fence.

Bevel all horizontal surfaces. Many fences include copper-clad post caps, but if you’re not using caps, it’s a good idea to cut the post top so that it sheds water. Less common but also very helpful is to bevel the tops of all the rails—top, middle, bottom—for the same reason.

Build in drainage. This is a detail very few fence builders even know about. Installing a drainage mat wherever two boards are sandwiched together goes a long way toward reducing the chance of rot. Use a landscape reinforcement fabric stapled to the back of the horizontal stringer. The mat compresses tightly enough to permit a secure connection between the two boards while leaving just enough gap for the board to dry out.

Space wet fence pickets tightly. When building a stockade fence, it is equally important to butt wet pickets together. Just as with deck boards, some shrinkage will occur as the pickets dry. By butting the pickets together during construction, you will minimize the gap left between the pickets after they dry.

Drill pilot holes. When nailing or screwing near the edge or end of a board, pilot holes will help minimize splitting.

Use corrosion-resistant fasteners. YellaWood® preserved wood products are designed for long-term performance in outdoor applications and, therefore, require require high-quality, corrosion-resistant nails, screws and other fasteners.

Apply a weather-resistant finish. Any exposed wood, pressure treated or not, should be protected from the weather. Application of a quality, clear water repellent or semi-transparent stain that contains a water repellent will help minimize the cycles of moisture take-up and loss the wood goes through outdoors. One of these products should be applied as soon as possible after construction is completed.

First, thoroughly clean your project. A clear water repellent can then be applied. If you choose to use a semi-transparent stain that contains a water repellent, you need to first check that your project is surface dry to assure proper penetration of the stain. This can be tested by sprinkling a few drops of water on the wood surface. If the wood readily absorbs the water, apply the semi-transparent stain immediately. If the wood does not absorb the water, wait several days and retest.

If you've chosen to build with a product that contains a factory-applied water repellent, an oil-based stain can be applied in 30 to 60 days and water-based stains can be applied after six months.

For the best results, water repellents should be applied annually and stains should be re-applied as needed. In all instances, follow the manufacturer's directions.

Uncommon Practices, Uncommon Fences.

Many contractors understand the wisdom behind these details, but relatively few are in the habit of making bevels, sealing end cuts, or building in drainage. If you want that, you’ll need to write it into the specifications, then confirm that the work gets done. The reason these details are uncommon is that they add cost. It’s up to the homeowner to decide if that’s worth the better quality. But remember that “you get what you pay for” is only a cliché because it’s true.

Editor's Note: This article appears courtesy of Great Southern Wood Preserving Co. Learn more about building with treated lumber at

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