Installing a Fence: (not so) Perfect Pickets and the Women Who Love Them

When we last met, the fence rails went up and my neighbors started wondering why I was turning my yard into a pastoral, split-rail wonderland.

Darn, this is rather charming. Maybe I should just rip out everything and move away from the city.

One of my concerns with this fence was building it so that my house didn’t feel closed off. I host a regular stream of guests through AirBnB, and my goal is to offer a welcoming house to strangers from the moment they step out of the car. Therefore, I planned my fence about three feet tall with plenty of space between pickets. The main reason I wanted a fence at all was to help the garden seem a bit more contained – actually, the real reason it’s there is to keep dog pee and drunk feet off the flowers.

Now, do you remember how valuable hard work is? Let’s talk tedium! Because my fence was only going to be about hip high, and I’m trying to avoid bankruptcy-via-projects, I figured the pickets should be on the narrow side. It’s totally fine to use six-inch-wide pickets on a short fence, but for my cottage aesthetic, I needed something narrower.

I’m sure you can buy pickets that are three inches wide and three feet tall. Lowes even sells panels that are pretty close to suiting my needs. However, for less than half the cost (and better quality, according to the reviews), I could build exactly what I wanted. It just involved a ton of sawdust all over my body.

I bought over 40 standard, six-foot-tall, six-inch-wide, pressure-treated pickets that were on sale for $1 each. Then, before I even set the first post, I started cutting them down. It took forever, but it was kind of mindless work. A little meditation with nothing but the endless shriek of the circular saw in my ears.

First, I cut each of the boards in half, into three-foot-tall sections. That was the easy part, and the work went quickly.

Lined up like little drunken soldiers – and my trusty speed square is peeking at the bottom!

Then I sawed each board into two three-inch-wide halves. That work went extremely slowly. I don’t think my saw much cared for the curves in the cheap fence boards. I actually sawed these in batches as I worked on the fence over a week or so because this was the tedious part.

We draw the line. Then we cut the line. We draw the line. Then we cut the line . . .

But I finally ended up with a set of narrow, short pickets. Yay! But wait! All of the tops are uneven! Once again, I am faced with a few choices as to how to shape the tops of the pickets. Gothic is very pretty but way to intricate for me to cut a hundred times. A simple point is easy, but remember how we’re trying to make my yard welcoming and not like the land leading up to Vlad Dracula’s castle?

I ended up going for the tried and true dogear cut, using a pre-cut piece as a stencil. Then bzzt! bzzt! Voila, dogear.

Sooooo I know most people put up fence boards with nails. But here’s the thing:  I hate nails and avoid using them whenever possible. If I even look at a hammer too closely, I get blisters on my hands. Therefore, these puppies got installed with one 1 1/4″ screw in the top and one in the bottom. I spaced them three inches apart – the same width as the pickets – for an airier look.

My routine for several evenings involved heading to my front yard with a stack of pickets, Sir Speed Square, a beer, and some music. As much of a pain as cutting a bazillion pickets was, installing them was the nice kind of tedious where you step back and are proud of what you’ve done.

Are my pickets perfect and parallel? Pfft no. But I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the result.


“That is one fiiiiiine fence,” you might be saying to yourself as you lick your lips (okay, maybe not that far). But wait! We’re not done yet.

See, this project is happening in the land of termites and rot. It’s a beautiful place that’s full of life, but that comes along with tons of bugs and micro-organisms. That poor little fence won’t last long without a stain or paint or a little raincoat covering it.

But covering the fence has been it’s own ordeal, so we’ll save it for next time!




< Step 5:  Installing a Fence: Time to Get Railed

Step 7:  The Painting of the Pickets >

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