We spent our second week of fence build on setting all the posts – total 23 of them.
Day 1 of Concrete Work – Front Yard Posts
Neither of us had any experience setting posts or working with concrete. On the first day, we decided to take things slow. We also acquired a few tools that could help us newbies to get things right, including several clamps and this post/pipe level:
We spent an hour on our first post to get a “protocol” down. Starting by cleaning all the loose soil from the post hole and compacting the bottom of the post hole with a dirt tamper, we made sure the bottom of the hole was more or less level. Then, we set the post into the hole and made sure that it is straight.
The other two parameters to consider for the placement of the post were the distance between posts and the alignment. We set the first and the last post of the entire south portion first, then connected them with a string. All the rest of the posts had to align with the string with a preset distance in between, which is critical for constructing a horizontal fence. After all the parameters were met for a particular post, we drove a few stakes (cut from scrap wood) into the ground near it and clamped it into place.
After the post was stabilized by clamps and stakes, we proceeded to mix the concrete. For each 12″ wide, 2′ deep hole, with a 4″x4″ post, we used between almost 4 bags of 60 lb concrete mix. The 12″ auger we used to dig these holes tends to made the holes a bit wider than 12″, so we are using more than recommended 3 bags.
Slav hand-mixed all the concrete in a wheel barrel, two bags at a time, then shoveled it into the post holes.
I tampered the concrete mix with a scrap 2″x4″ to let all the air out as Slav filled the holes, then Slav floated the concrete to make the surface smooth. It is common to fill the concrete a few inches below the ground, so turf can grow on top and be continuous. We opted to fill the concrete an inch above the ground and slope the top outwards. This will ensure the surface water runs off from the posts as quickly as possible.
The first post was in after a whole hour of work. We measured, measured, and measured again before pouring the concrete. We were so nervous! This particular post sits at the front corner of the fence and dictates the placement of all others in both directions. It also will have a driving gate attached to it. To make sure it is strong enough to handle all the pickets and the gate, we chose to use 4″x6″ for this post. This post requires a 18″ wide hole. It took 7.5 bags of concrete for us to set just this one post – 450 pounds total!
By the end of this 12-hour day, we set only five posts. LOL. But at least we got the protocol down and Slav has figured out how many pounds of concrete his back can handle at once (120 pounds, ~ one Alison).
The picture below suggests how the southwest corner of the fence will look like. In between the two 4″x6″s facing the street, there will be the driving gate; between the 4″x6″ to the right and the side of the house, there will be a walking gate.
Day 2 & 3 – Setting Rest of the Posts
Even with the protocol down, it still took us two more 6-hour days to set the rest of 18 posts. We opted to use 4″x6″s for the fence facing the front, and 4″x4″s for the rest of the fencing between us and the neighbor to the South. We ended up using over 100 bags of concrete mix, which is more than 6000 pounds! But this step is extremely rewarding – all of posts ended up to be super straight, strong, and aligned perfectly. It is quite a pleasure to put the most difficult part of the build behind us.
The only challenging part of the post work was at the back corner where the retaining wall is. Like most of the fence build, the last panel will be shorter than the rest, so we decided to split the difference between the last two panels to make the transition less obvious. We also need to place the very last post forward a bit to avoid the current corner post, which is holding the back fence.
The last post was set 18″ next to the current corner post:
The retaining wall here does not run forward enough to meet the new post. The soil here was contained pretty much by random sleeper pieces and rocks. We cleaned everything up and built a rock wall to extend the retaining wall.
Below is the other section of the front fence, which locates on the north side of the house. We decided to use all 4″x6″ here to combat the strong wind from northwest. We live in a wind tunnel where the Spring wind can get to 90 mph. Fences here can be blown down if the posts are not strong enough. Marking the west/east direction 6″ should give the posts enough strength to support the fence panels in high wind.
Day 4 – Drainage Solution with Landscape Fabric and Gravel
After the concrete dried, all the posts were rock-solid and ready to receive pickets. We decided to take an addition step, which is to lay gravel under the fence. The gravel will serve three purposes: first, it facilitates drainage away from the fence posts, bottom pickets, and the concrete, which prevents rot. Second, having gravel instead of soil under the fence can prevent dirt from being splashed onto the bottom pickets when it rains, so the fence should stay cleaner. Last, it is always hard to weed along the fence line. Having gravel under the fence can prevent weeds from ever coming up near the fence, making mowing and weeding a breeze.
After making sure that the neighbor on the other side is happy with the gravel idea, we got to work. Our neighbor’s yard is higher than ours, so I dug a shallow trench along the whole length of the fence on their side for the gravel to end. Our side of the yard is a bit lower, so we had to use garden edging to hold the gravel in place.
We also decided to run landscape fabric under the gravel to suppress weeds. I do not use landscape fabric in my garden beds, but I will not hesitate to use it under hardscape such as fence or dry creek, wherever I do not want anything to be growing. Time to take out my landscape fabric tools again:
I laid down the landscape fabric along the fence and cut out the portion I needed. Our veggie garden is only a foot and half to the fence, so I decided to cover the path between the fence and veggie garden completely.
Below is how I ran the landscape fabric – on our side, the space between the veggie garden and the fence, which extend all the way to the back of the property, was completely covered, and for the rest of the fence towards the front, I used a narrower strip to just cover the width of the concrete. In this way the front portion of the fence is centered above the gravel. On our neighbor’s side, the gravel will be a straight line.
We put down about a ton of pea gravel here – look how tidy it looks! We will not be walking on it much since the veggie garden next to it provides a wider and softer path. So it should be easy to keep the gravel clean. Well, I hope the pups got the message too. See these tiny paw prints? Apparently they have checked out the gravel. 🙂
The last step
The very last step we took before putting pickets up was oil all the posts. If you are building a fence and want to stain or treat the wood, do it before putting pickets up. It is a lot easier. We decided to only coat the posts with linseed oil, as we did on our back fence, so I spent a few hours oil these babies up. The oil brought out the color and the grain of the cedar and really made the posts look great.
What’s next? With all the posts set and treated, and the drainage rocks laid down, we are finally ready for pickets! We worked together to set a pretty sexy pattern for horizontal pickets, and Slav is tackling this task by himself as we speak. This week marks the 3rd week of our fence build – how did contractors build fence (including demo) in just two days? I want their magic!