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How to do basic fencing

Fences - the basics

Fencing is the most popular way of marking a boundary.

It is fairly easy to erect a fence and cheaper than building a wall, though don't overlook the cost and effort of maintenance over the years - you will have to treat the timber regularly to protect it from insects and weathering.

Planning your fence

Before putting up a fence discuss the plans with your neighbours. You need to check the exact line of the boundary and make sure the posts are positioned on your side. Before you take down an old fence first make sure it's yours. If it belongs to a neighbour and they won't allow you to take it down, you can erect another alongside provided it is on your side of the boundary. There is an unwritten rule that a good neighbour puts up a fence with the post and rails facing their own property, but this is not a legal obligation. Unless the boundary line meets a highway, you generally do not need planning permission for a fence less than 2m high.

Ideal for the job

Wood preservative
A coat of preservative will drastically extend the life of a fence or gate. Most treatments will keep fungi and insects at bay for several years. Paint it on with a block paintbrush or use a garden pressure spray; wear protective gloves and, if spraying, safety goggles and a mask.

Post cement
Instead of aggregate and cement, consider using special rapid-setting post cement to secure your posts. It sets in about ten minutes and one 20kg bag should be enough for each post.

Post supports
Post spikes are an alternative to setting fence posts in concrete, provided the ground is firm. Buy supports that match the size of your fence posts.

'H' posts
Concrete or timber 'H' section posts can also be used. Once these posts are set in the ground, the panel simply slots in from the top.

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What type of fence?

Lap panel

Easy to put up, offering good screening and value for money, a lap panel fence is a popular choice. Ready-made panels are fitted between posts cemented or set into the ground. The panels usually come in standard 1.83m widths but can be cut down. They are available in heights of 0.9m–1.83m. Like all timber fences, a lap panel fence will need periodic treatment with wood preservative.

Combination trellis and lap panel

Add a trellis to the top of your panel fence to give increased height where you need it. The trellis is ideal for training climbing plants, creating a less stark effect than a solid fence, and offering more natural shade and privacy.


A closeboard fence consists of vertical featheredge boards (tapered on one side) which are nailed onto horizontal arris rails secured to the posts.

It offers excellent screening and security – the vertical boards make a sturdy fence, good for keeping out intruders.

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Marking out and digging post holes

First decide whether you want to set your posts in concrete or in post supports. The former produces a sturdier fence but is harder work and the posts need to be at least 600mm taller than the fence panels. Metal post supports are a quicker and easier alternative, but the resulting fence will not be as solid. Fencing timbers come ready treated, but it's still a good idea to soak the feet of your posts overnight in a bucket of wood preservative.

1 Stretch a long tape measure taut from end to end along the line of the fence. Measure out the position for each post and mark it by pushing a cane into what will be the centre of each post hole.

2 Dig all the post holes. If there are a lot, consider hiring a post-hole borer. A standard depth of 450mm is usually enough, though in soft ground you should dig deeper holes and use longer posts to compensate.

3 With a club hammer, drive in temporary wooden props to hold the first post in place, using a spirit level to make sure it is vertical.

4 Erect the last post the same way, checking it is vertical and supporting it with props. Run two builder’s lines between the top and bottom of these posts, along the line of the fence. Rest the other posts loosely in their holes.

Using post spikes

Metal post spikes are an alternative to setting fence posts in concrete, provided the ground is firm. Buy supports that match the size of your fence posts.

Fit the driving tool or dolly into the cup of the spike and hammer it into the earth with slow firm strokes. If you hit a rock, dig it out and start again or the finished post will not be true. Keep checking the spike is vertical with a spirit level. Continue driving into the earth until the top of the cup is level with the ground. Use a sledge-hammer to hammer the fence post into the cup.

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Cutting fence panels

Your fence run is unlikely to divide into an exact number of panels, so you will need to know how to cut one down to fit.

1 Carefully remove the framing battens from one end of a panel and move them in to the required width. Sandwich them either side of the panel and nail them in place.

2 Saw the panel flush with the outer edge of the repositioned framing battens.

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