How do I Build a Split Rail Fence?

Josie Myers

Split rail fences come in various wood choices and sizes. They can be made with three rails or two per section. Sometimes, they are fitted with poultry wire to provide additional protection from wildlife or to keep pets contained.

Split rail fences come in a variety of wood choices and sizes.
Split rail fences come in a variety of wood choices and sizes.

To begin the project, planning is an important step. Many towns have easement requirement that stipulate a fence must be a given distance from the property line and most towns also require permits, so consulting local ordinances is a must when writing up plans. The local one-call system should also be called before starting the project. This phone call sends all utility companies to the site to mark where any underground lines may be on the property so that the home owner can be sure not to hit these lines with the deep digging required for rail fence installation.

A split rail fence may be built to contain wildlife.
A split rail fence may be built to contain wildlife.

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Once permits are in place and the project is approved by all necessary agencies, the property can be marked for building. The easiest way to proceed is to mark all lines and planned post hole locations with spray paint. If renting an auger, or electric post hole digger, pre-marking can help to save time and cut down on rental costs.

Augers can be used to drill holes for fence posts.
Augers can be used to drill holes for fence posts.

The length of space between post holes varies depending on the exact measurements of the building site and the length of rails chosen. Most rail fence posts are spaced 10 feet (3.0 meters) apart. If the line to be built is not spaced in exact 10 feet (3.0 meter) increments, the best thing to do is to spacing the leftover footage evenly at either end of the line for symmetry.

Electric or poultry wire can be added to a split rail fence to improve its ability to contain animals.
Electric or poultry wire can be added to a split rail fence to improve its ability to contain animals.

There are three different types of posts: end posts, line posts, and corner posts. Determine the correct ones for each selection. Digging post holes requires going below the frost line, which is generally about 2 feet but deeper in areas with harsher winters. Using a manual post hole digger or auger, dig the hole 12 inches (30.5 cm) wide and about 6 inches(15.2 cm) deeper than necessary. Place 6 inches (15.2 cm) of gravel into the new hole and place the post on top of the gravel.

As the rail fence posts are placed, lay a string across the tops of the posts and measure with a level to be sure that they are even. If a post is off level, it must be fixed from the bottom with additional gravel or digging. It is important to keep them even, since any asymmetry will show in the lines of the rails. It is usually acceptable to use soil to refill the hole for a rail fence since it is a low-lying structure, but concrete is recommended for the strongest hold. If using concrete, pour it in once the posts are level and support the post with beams to keep them straight during drying.

Once the posts are in place and dry, the rails can be slipped into the rail holes in the posts. If adding poultry wire to the rail fence, choose the correct gauge for the containment purposes at hand since they are graded at different levels to handle particular beasts like rabbits or dogs. This wire can be stapled to the backside of the fence with heavy duty staples.

When building a split rail fence it is important to have gravel on hand to provide stability for fence posts.
When building a split rail fence it is important to have gravel on hand to provide stability for fence posts.

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Discussion Comments

anon350021

Thanks for the great advice. We need new fencing and this would be perfect. I wonder if we could get it up before it gets too cold!

anon337098

I have literally set hundreds of posts and I support my posts while the concrete is drying and have never had a problem. All posts I have put in the ground for long term have been set in concrete and supported if feasible. I have done been doing construction work for over 20 years. I don't know why yours have twisted.

@Anon171081: That is a good thought, but think about trying to keep your fence level and straight.

anon171081

Isn't it easier to add the rails as you install the posts? Post, rails, post, rails. There is no way to get an 11 foot rail between two cemented posts 10 feet apart.

FrameMaker

This article was excellent. I feel like I could start a business building post and rail fences after reading this. I just bought a house and I was thinking about installing post and rail around the perimeter of the property. The tip about measuring and marking all of the postholes was great. I feel confident that I could do the job myself and save some money.

anon116589

DO NOT support posts during the concrete curing process. As long as they are installed straight up, they will stay level as the concrete cures, but adding supports can actually cause the post to twist or move, due to several factors.

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