If you have a homestead, fences are a necessity to keep animals safe and maintain order. When we moved to our current homestead, our pasture was fenced, but the backyard was unfenced, leaving no way to corral the roaming family dog. After several iterations of temporary fencing to keep our 120 pound Newfoundland contained were unsuccessful, we decided to install a permanent fence. Since I find chain link fences unsightly, consider privacy fences unnecessary in rural areas (they block the view of the countryside), and our massive dog looks more like a horse than a canine, we decided to install a woven wire fence to keep with the farmhouse theme.
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To save money, I decided to do all of the labor myself using the cheapest methods available, which included digging all of the holes by hand. However, to make sure our fence lasted as long as possible, we did not skimp on the fencing materials, but rather bought them in bulk and at a discount.
Here are the tools and materials I used and recommend for the project:
Post Hole Digger. I recommend one that can dig holes 8 inches wide and at least four feet deep.
Channellock fence tool. This tool was a lifesaver! It is six tools in one, and made cutting, tightening, and gripping wire incredibly easy - much easier than a set of basic pliers and wire cutters. It also comes with a staple puller.
Ground-marking spray paint
Rope or string
4 ratchet strap tie-downs (rated for over 1-ton of working load each)
Concrete Mix (discounts are usually available if you purchase by the pallet)
6 inch x 8 ft posts (I purchased Creosote posts from the county co-op. I'm linking to pressure-treated posts sold by Tractor Supply Co. for your reference, but the reviews seem to hint that they don't hold up as well as the Creosote posts.)
Double Barbed Fence staples (believe me, you want to get the barbed staples, since smooth staples won't last nearly as long)
1/2" rebar (required length varies)
Laying out Your Fence
Laying out the fence is an important step that you can’t afford to overlook. First, don’t forget to contact utility companies (in the U.S., call 811) so that they can mark electrical, gas, and water lines. You don't want to accidentally cut one of those while digging! Also be sure to get any necessary permits from your city and county, otherwise you could face fines and other penalties. Pound wooden stakes into the ground where your corner and end posts will be installed, then tie a string between them, making sure the string is taut. The string ensures the fence will be installed in a straight line. Using a tape measure and ground-marking spray paint, mark where you plan to place every single fence post. If your new fence will include a corner, make sure to measure carefully so that the corner is square.
Installing the Corner and End Posts
The corner and end posts are the foundation of your fence. As such, they'll also be bigger posts. I used 6" thick posts. Correct installation here is essential. A general rule is that you want to bury 1 foot of post for every 2 feet above ground. So if you are installing a 4 foot fence, you want to bury at least 2 feet post post. However, you'll want to go deeper if you live in a cold climate where the frost line is deeper or if you have sandy soil. I buried all of my posts 40 inches in the ground (Our frost line is only about 10 inches, and most of our soil is clay). I dug a 45 inch deep hole using the post hole digger, filled it with 5 inches of drainage gravel, tamped the gravel down, inserted the post, made sure the post was level, and then back-filled the hole with concrete mix. I purchased the concrete by the pallet rather than individual bags, since this gave me pretty significant savings. I ended up getting 42 80-lb bags as a pallet for the same price as if I had purchased 34 individually. (Since I needed 30 bags anyway for this project and likely would use some later for another project, I went ahead and got the whole pallet.) After filling the hole, I tamped it down using an old, broken shovel handle (any sturdy stick or rod will do) to make sure the concrete was fully mixed and to get rid of any air pockets.
I installed the t-posts 8 feet apart using a t-post driver. To make sure they were installed in a straight line, I tied a string from the top of one wooden end post to the other. Using the string as a guide, I pounded in the stakes and occasionally checked them using a level until I reached the desired depth (I had my t-posts extend 53 inches above the ground).
I cross-braced the corner and end posts using an H-brace. I used galvanized spike nails as the pins, since they are cheaper than pins sold expressly for fencing. Don't forget to drill holes through your posts before pounding in the nails to prevent splitting. I also installed a Spanish windlass using the 9-gauge tension wire and an 18-inch piece of ½-inch rebar (you can easily cut rebar to length using a hacksaw). The Spanish windlass replaces the more common wire strainer as a cheaper method, since there’s no need to purchase a wire strainer or a crimping tool. However, if you already have a crimping tool, you can use a wire strainer instead to add tension to the 9-gauge wire.
You want the fencing to be installed on the inside of the fence posts, so the side that your pet or livestock will be on. That way, if they lean against the fence, the fence will be supported by the posts. Since I didn’t have a fence stretcher to tighten the fence, I pulled the fencing tight using 4 ratchet straps rated for a working load over 1-ton each. I wove two 4 ft pieces of ½ inch rebar through the fencing and then folded the fencing over to prevent the rebar from sliding along the wire. I then slowly tightened each strap, checking the fencing regularly to make sure it wasn’t caught anywhere. Once tight, I then cut and tied off each lateral wire of the fence one at a time, leaving the top and bottom wires for last.
Once the fencing is tight and you tie off both ends, you can then hammer in the fence staples (staple the top two and bottom two wires and every other wire in between) and install t-post clips (I found that these wrap easily using a short screwdriver as a lever).
Installing a Gate
If you want to add a gate, it's pretty simple. Essentially, the posts on each side of the gate are end posts, and they should be installed as such. Once you finish installing the fencing, you can add the gate.
After installation, I went around and spray painted the top of each wood post with brown paint to help seal the wood even more from rain and moisture. If you live in extremely wet climates, you can also caulk around the base of your wooden posts where they contact the concrete to further prevent water from seeping in.
And that's it! If you haven't, check out my other handyman posts for more fun projects!