What are the Best Tips for Installing Picket Fencing?

T. L. Childree

In order to install strong, straight, and long lasting picket fencing, there are several important tips that should be followed. The fence posts should be buried to a depth of at least 2 feet (61 cm) and a wood preservative applied to the buried section. Each fence post must be exactly located and completely level in all directions to produce a good finished product. It is best to begin with the corner or end posts and make certain that they are adequately braced. The pickets and other components should be cut and treated prior to installation to protect them against rot.

A house with a picket fence.
A house with a picket fence.

All fence posts must be buried to a minimum depth of 2 feet (61 cm) to adequately support the weight of the fence. Corner posts should be braced in both directions to prevent them from becoming bowed. Picket fencing is typically exposed to many types of weather, and precautions must be taken against rotting wood and rusting metal hardware. A wood preservative must be used for below-grade sections of each post to prevent rotting. All hardware including nails, screws, hinges, and latches should be made of either galvanized or stainless steel.

Picket fence posts should be buried at least 2 feet into the ground.
Picket fence posts should be buried at least 2 feet into the ground.

Always begin with the corner and end posts when installing picket fencing. After these posts have been firmly set, attach a string from one end to the other to assure proper alignment of the rest of the fence posts. The strength and overall appearance of picket fencing depends primarily on the correct alignment of each post. Use a fence post level to make certain that the posts are level in all directions. If the posts are set in concrete, slope the mixture away from the base to keep water from pooling around it during rain showers.

It is a good idea to treat all fence components with a wood preservative before installation to increase the life and appearance of picket fencing. Pickets, posts, and rails should be painted or stained prior to being cut to size. Once these pieces have been trimmed to the correct size, the cut ends should be coated to prevent moisture from entering the wood. The tops of the fence posts should be cut to a slight angle to prevent rainwater accumulation. Precoating fence components will protect them against rot and provide a smooth base for future coatings.

If a special picket design is planned, the pickets should be cut to the correct lengths prior to installation. A design can be easily precut by laying a section of loose pickets on a sheet of plywood to be measured and cut. To help ensure a uniform appearance, place a loose picket between the pickets before attaching them to the fence rails. Attaching the pickets with a pneumatic nailing tool can significantly reduce the time needed to install picket fencing. It is best to leave a 2 inch (5 cm) gap between the bottom of the pickets and the ground to allow for raking and grass trimming.

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