Expert advice on erecting wooden panel fencing
Fencing is a versatile favourite that can offer privacy from the neighbours, protection from the elements or make your home more secure. And wooden panel fencing is the most popular type used for boundaries. It's fairly easy to erect and often more economic than building a wall, though like all outdoor wooden structures, it'll require some maintenance over the years,
Here we'll take you through how to put up a panel fence, and many of our tips and instructions can be adapted for metal railings or more decorative borders within your garden.
There are a number of different ways to put up a panel fence and these require different tools and materials. Our example is of panel fencing that has:
- wooden fence posts
- fence posts secured into the ground using concrete
- fence panels secured to fence posts using nails
- no gravel boards
Before you begin
We recommend that the best time of year to erect a fence is early spring or late autumn, as this will give any plants disturbed by the new structure time to recover for their peak in summer.
Before putting up a fence, it's important to make some necessary checks.
Neighbours and boundaries
We recommend that you:
- discuss the plans with neighbours if next to their property.
- check the exact line of the boundary as the fence might not have been built across the exact boundary lines as featured in the property's deeds.
- confirm that the fence is yours before you take it down. If it belongs to a neighbour, and they won't allow you to take it down, you can erect another alongside it as long as it’s on your side of the boundary. There's an unwritten rule that a good neighbour puts up a fence with the post and rails facing their own property, but this isn't a legal obligation. (The positioning of the posts can help indicate who owns the fence if it's not known).
Is planning permission needed?
Generally, planning permission isn't required for a fence less than 2 metres (m) high. However, it will be necessary if the boundary line meets a highway or the footpath of a highway and you wish to erect a fence under 2m or add to a fence that's over 1m in height.
To be on the safe side, we recommend checking in with your Local Authority to find out if you do need planning permission. Find out more about planning permission at the government's Planning Portal advice website.
Ensure that you check for service cables before metal post supports are used or when digging holes. To do so, rent a cable avoidance tool (CAT) to check for any pipes or cables beneath the proposed fencing area. A good electrical cable installation will show electrical route marker or caution tape just above any hidden electrical cable under the ground.
If cables are found but you're running a fence over a solid floor (such as a patio or driveway), consider using fence post supports which are designed to sit on top of the concrete and are bolted to the floor. The fence posts are then simply pushed into the holders.
If cables are found but the proposed fencing area doesn't cover a solid floor, we suggest reconsidering your fencing plans.
We recommend undertaking any fencing project with the help and assistance of a friend.
- Always wear protective safety gear when necessary.
- If using cement, always wash your hands after use as wet cement can cause burns.
- Don’t allow concrete to dry on your tools - clean it off with a stiff brush.
Tools for the job
Choose your tools and materials based on how you're putting up your fence.
To secure fence posts in the ground
There are two ways to secure fence posts in the ground - using fence post supports (also known as spikes) or setting with concrete.
Fence posts supports are only suitable for firm ground and can be easier and quicker than setting concrete, though might not be as strong.
Concrete offers a sturdier hold, can be harder work and the posts need to be at least 600millimetres (mm) taller than the fence panels. And, if you're finishing the top of your fence with trellis, allow extra room to fix these to your wooden posts. A typical fence trellis is usually about 600mm high, so a taller post will be required.
To secure fence panels to fence posts
There are two ways to secure fence panels to fence posts - using galvanised clout nails/ decking screws or fence clips.
Fence clips make it easier to remove a fence panel should you wish to, whereas they're more visible than nails and so offer a less discreet finish.
- Fence panels
- Wooden fence posts
- Fence post caps - these prevent rainwater from running down the length of the post which can lead to rotting, as well as adding an attractive feature
- Fence post supports - if necessary, we recommend choosing ones that match the size of your fence posts
- Timber - to create the props that support the posts
- Bricks - to rest the fence on when fitting
- 50 to 70mm galvanised clout nails or decking screws - if necessary
- Pre-mixed concrete - if necessary
- Fence clips - if necessary
- Gravel boards - if necessary. Gravel boards are specially-treated timbers that are fitted horizontally to the base of a fence and protect the panels from rot by raising them off the ground.
- Gravel board clips - if necessary, these secure gravel boards
- Silicone sealant
- Tape measure
- Digging spade
- Club hammer
- Spirit level
- 2 x Builder's line
- Panel saw
- Power drill
- Twist bits
- Claw hammer
- Bamboo canes
- Cartridge gun - to apply the silicone sealant
- Fence post rammer (also known as a support driving tool - if using fence post supports
- Sledge hammer - if using fence post supports
- Bucket - to soak the fence post caps in prior to fitting
How to mark out and dig the fence post holes
The secret to a successful fence is in the preparation.
Clear the area of any plants or rocks, potting up any shrubs or plants that you will want to replant once the fence is up.
Once the area is clear, 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 bamboo cane into what will be the centre of each post hole. For example, if you are using the most common 1.83m wide fence panels and your posts are 100mm wide, the centres of the posts will be 1.93m apart.
Use a digging spade or post hole digger to dig all the post holes and remove the soil.
A standard depth of 450mm is usually enough, though in soft ground you should dig deeper holes and use longer posts to compensate.
Create temporary wooden props - these will hold the first post in place.
Cut two lengths of 19mm x 38mm timber (or similar) and nail together into either an 'L' or 'T' shape. Spike the prop at one end with a panel saw to help when driving it into the ground. Repeat as necessary.
Insert the wooden fence post into the hole. Secure it by temporarily screwing it to the props which are driven into the ground with a club hammer. Use a spirit level to check that the fence post is perfectly vertical.
Erect the last post in the same way.
Run two builder’s lines between the top and bottom of these posts, along the line of the fence.
Insert the other fence posts loosely in their holes.
How to cut fence panels
Your fence run is unlikely to divide into an exact number of panels and so you might need to cut a panel to fit the space you have.
Carefully remove the framing battens (also known as vertical struts) from one end of a panel and move them in to the required width. Move the centre batten to the centre of the new panel. Sandwich them either side of the panel and nail them in place.
A workbench can be a handy tool to help with this task.
Saw the panel flush with the outer edge of the repositioned framing batten.
How to erect a fence panel
Fence posts and panels should be erected alternately as you work down the line of the fence. Remember to keep checking that the panels are level and straight using a spirit level.
If using fence clips
The below steps demonstrate securing a panel to a post using galvanised clout nails. Fence clips can be used instead.
If using fence clips, attach the fence clips to the post, then slide the panel between the jaws of the clips and nail or screw the panel to them.
If fitting gravel boards
Gravel boards can be fitted to the base of the fence to help prevent the panel from rotting.
To fit gravel boards as you build a panel fence, leave a 150mm gap below the panels. Measure and cut 25mm-thick boards to fit between the posts. Fix them with galvanised screws or nails inserted at an angle into the posts. Countersink screws, or drill pilot holes for nails.
Alternatively use steel gravel board clips, which are screwed to the fence and into the boards, securing them in place.
Measure six evenly-spaced marks down the side of the fence panel's batten framing - using a pencil to mark on both sides and at each end. These marks are where the nails will go to secure the panel to the post.
Drill pilot holes into the pencilled marks. A pilot hole provides a guide hole to help direct the nail and prevents it from splitting the wood.
Raise the fence panel 50 to 75mm above the ground by temporarily supporting it on bricks. This gap will help prevent the fence rotting from the bottom up.
Lay a spirit level on the top of the fence panel to check it's perfectly horizontal.
Once it's level, hammer a galvanised nail into the pilot hole in the batten framing into the fence post. The top of the panel should be a consistent distance (at least 25mm) below the top of the post.
Repeat for all of the pilot holes on this panel until the whole panel is secured.
Attach the second fence panel to the fence post using the temporary wooden props to keep the fence vertical.
Continue working this way until all the fence panels are in place.
Make sure each post is touching both builder’s lines and check that it's vertical using a spirit level.
Mix the concrete and fill the post hole as per the manufacturer's instructions, this is usually to just above ground level.
Use a trowel to smooth the concrete surface downwards so that rainwater will drain away from the wooden post.
Soak the post caps in a bucket of water to help prevent the wood from splitting as you nail them on.
Apply a silicone-based sealant to the underside to reduce the chance of water seeping beneath and rotting the top of the post.
Nail a post cap to the top of each post.
Finish the job by painting your fence. Protective treatment can help extend the life of a fence by keeping fungi and insects at bay for several years. For more on how to paint your wooden fence, check out our helpful how to guide.