The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

It Starts to look Like a Fence


By the end of the week 3 of our fence build, Slav managed to put the horizontal pickets up to 4 feet high. It really starts to look like a fence!


Putting up pickets for a horizontal fence is quite challenging to us, which we anticipated when we decided to build a horizontal fence. Besides our lack of experience with fencing in general, the real devil lays between the pickets.


As you can see, the cedar pickets are not very precise. The general width of the pickets we use is 5.5″ (1″ x 6″), but the pickets can taper off on one end depending on the wood grain. To make the fence look good, the key is to keep the pickets leveled, and the ends aligned generally.


Another important factor for the fence to look good is the length of the pickets/panels. We chose to construct this fence by running 1″ x 6″ x 6′ dog-ear style pickets. This decision was made based on material availability and price, but also factored in the fact that horizontal pickets can sag if the span is too long. To work around the dog-ear style, we decided to set the post 5′ 10″ apart, which allows us to cut off the dog-ear portion of the pickets for a minimal look.


Because these pickets runs horizontally, there was a lot of pressure on setting the posts exactly 5’10” apart, so the 5’10” pickets can join in the middle of the posts. This will give enough space for the pickets to attach to the posts.


Another element that requires precision is the gap between pickets. We clamped the pickets on a post ahead of time to determine the desired gap for us, which is 1/4″.



During the construction, it is important to keep the 1/4″ gaps consistent throughout. The best way to do it is to prepare spacers, usually cut from scrap wood. Coincidentally, the wooden chopsticks we have is exactly 1/4″! So Slav simply stacked the pickets with a pair of chopsticks in between and built from the bottom up.



Slav took extra care to align the screws for a cleaner look. Love the man for his attention to details.


The unique challenge we face with our fence is the slope. You can tell from the picture below, the bottom picket in the front part of the fence basically lines up with the tallest picket at the back.


The steep slope not only calls for step-downs every 2~3 posts, but also requires that the bottom pickets to be scribed to fit the ground.


The void under the bottom picket was further filled with pea gravel. Our land is a bit lower than our neighbor’s so we had to install metal edging or use the veggie garden edging to hold the pea gravel back to place.




Charlie has been Slav’s sidekick during the build. He is such a daddy’s puppy.


Besides the long fence on the South side, we also constructed the bottom pickets on the Northwest side.


The slope on this side is every more dramatic – we had to step down two pickets (about a foot) for every post. Slav did a great job here with the bottom pickets:


A few words on how he attached the bottom: due to the slope we can only attach one end of the bottom picket to the downhill post. So he clamped the bottom one to the one on top:


And added a couple cedar blocks from the back.


These blocks were cut from scrap pickets and cost nothing to us. They are suspended in the air and the only thing they do is to connect the bottom picket to the one directly on top. They are completely hidden from the front and hardly noticeable from the back.

The fence here is 20′ long, so we decided to space the posts 5′ apart to avoid the need for a short panel. I think it looks quite sharp from the street:


I love that the new fence aligns with our neighbor’s fence/gate. I am always turned off by the misaligned neighborhood fence front. I understand that people prefer different styles for their fences, but having one forward and the neighboring one a few feet back just looks choppy to me.


We still have all the top pickets to add, posts to trim, and gates to build. But it is worth to take a pause and celebrate the completion of the bottom portion of our fence! It is a mini-victory indeed. Not only it is a big chunk of the work load (and our garage is finally ready for a car again), but also through which Slav has become familiar and confident with the construction. At the mean time, we cannot wait to get rid of this “pitbull behind the chainlink” view from the street.


Another good news? With the bottom panels completed, we felt comfortable to remove the temp fence erected in our neighbors’ yards. We are fortunate to have very supportive neighbors, who not only provided us space in their yards during the build, but also gave us all the time and patience (three weeks!) so we could work at our own pace and get things right. We have happy to finally return to them a cleaner space with a nicer fence to look at.


Although we attached the pickets from our side, the view from their sides does not look too shabby.



I’d say it is still a huge upgrade from the chain links, especially at the back corner:


This was how this corner looked like before:


Clean retaining wall, steady and sleek new fence, and most importantly: trash-free!


Slav even took time to connect the neighbor’s fences to our new post. He patched the gaps neatly with hardware cloth. Although not our responsibility, it is a nice thing to do for our neighbors.



Cappy was so happy to get her pee-pee spots back:


Slav will be working on the top panels this week, during which we should have crisp Fall weather and gorgeous colors. It is a great time to work outside before snow and clouds set in. Happy Fall, guys!



Concrete Days – Week Two of Our Fence Build


Bye Bye, Chain Link


  1. Tc

    How’s the fence holding up?

    • Alison

      Wonderfully! So warp, so detached boards, with no maintenance at all. Some boards started showing grey color, especially the ones exposed to lawn sprinklers. But it is expected.

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