Fence and gate construction

Fence construction tips

We suggest you mark out where you want your fence to go before you dig any post holes. This marking can be done in several ways:

  • Spray paint
  • Builder''s line (stretchy string)
  • Pegs
  • Laying the timber you will be using later out on the ground

Posts and post holes

Once you have established a path for your fence, you need to dig the post holes. Remember that post holes are dug much larger than the diameter of the post, so you can fine tune the position of the post later. For now your main concern is getting the holes in approximately the right place.

Start at one end or a corner, and remove a square of sod one spade width across. Stand on the spade and dig directly down on each side, loosening the soil before scooping it out and laying it to one side.

If you want to keep the surrounding lawn or garden tidy, you can place the soil from post holes directly into a wheelbarrow or other container. Up to half the original soil may not be replaced, due to the room taken up by the post its self (and especially if you use concrete in the bottom of the hole)

Once the hole is the desired depth (We recommend a minimum of 800mm for a typical fence, 1m or more is ideal if not using concrete) drop the post directly into the hole.

Tip: It is easier to have the post sticking out of the ground slightly further than needed at this point. After you fill in the post hole you can measure and cut off the top of the post - providing a perfect height post with a clean cut on top. Posts are generally cut to below the finished level of the fence when using battens/palings (see Figures 2.1-2.3)

Replace just enough soil in the bottom of the hole so that the post can stand upright, and fine tune its position before packing this soil in around the bottom of the post. You can buy special post hole rammers for this but a medium-sized sledge hammer with a long handle works a treat.

Now you need to decide whether you wish to use concrete in the bottom of the hole. Using 4-5 shovels of concrete will help ensure a sturdy post and a strong fence. However, we do not feel concrete is strictly necessary if you pack the soil around the post well. If you do decide to use concrete refer to our article All about concrete for general tips on handling concrete. You don''t want to fill the post hole right up with concrete. Not only is this expensive and unnecessary, but having this concrete visible above ground can be quite untidy (unless you are game enough to lay a strip of concrete under the whole length of the fence).

Post spacing

We recommend you space your posts at 1.5m. Of course you can have your posts closer together, but it will cost you time and money. Spacing them much further apart risks problems later on with railing timber warping due to lack of adequate support.

It is not uncommon to see posts spaced 2m apart or even further, but to do this you need to use heavy timber to span the gap and there is still a risk of warping. Bottom line, if you are new to fencing and you want your fence to last, we recommend sticking to 1.5m spacing between posts.

What about a gate?

Decide where you want your gate/gates, and space two posts closer together (see FIgure 2.1). We have suggested 1.1m, which is a good size for an average garden gate. Have these posts sticking out of the ground to the full height of the fence (1.6m in our example).

Timber railing

The horizontal timber beams/railing you will install will serve two purposes. It forms part of the structure of the fence, holding the posts together. Its other major function is to give you something to attach the boards/battens/palings to.

Two horizontal timber beams are enough. You will need to join several lengths of timber together for this job, but joins can only be achieved on a post so you may be left with some off cuts (depending on the size of the lengths of timber you ordered).

Refer to our example in Figure 1.1 for suggested positioning of this timber.


Most timber fences are "finished" with some sort of batten or paling. These are milled specially for fences, and you can get different grades depending on the look you want, how much you want to spend, and if you plan to paint your fence (lower grades usually paint up well so you can save money). The lower the grade, the cheaper it will usually be. However, lower grades can have more knots/imperfections and a rougher finish.

Palings are usually available in a range of sizes and lengths. Our example uses 150mm wide palings, 1.6m long. The width isn''t particularly important, but you need to get the right length for the height of your fence (or you will have a lot of trimming to do).

Tip: To create the gap between the palings, nail one paling into place and then use the edge of another paling to position a third paling next to the first. The gap will be the thickness of a paling.

Some people prefer the "solid" look, with no gaps between the palings.

Tip: Start installing palings at the most visible end of the fence and work towards a less visible end or corner. You are likely to have to cut the final paling length ways. Cutting a paling length ways is difficult but much easier with a jigsaw.