CAN you build a professional looking fence? A pier? A float? A garden house or clubhouse? Why not? They are easy, and people pay good money to have them made. They are fun to construct just for your own use and the "know-how" involved is not difficult to master. Too often it is the size of a piece of work that keeps people from starting it. They confuse size with difficulty and think up all sorts of reasons for justifying the expense of having the work done by someone else. It might as well be you that gets paid for it. You can turn out a professional piece of work by the simple expedient of following professional practices.

No matter what it is, fence, tool house, lean-to or what-have-you, the very first move involves working with pencil and paper. A simple sketch of what the job is to look like when completed, accompanied by accurate measurements at important points, is the initial step in any carpentry project. No artistry is involved here. Accuracy is the keynote.

Take a simple board fence, for instance, like the one shown on page 58. You know, the kind that is frequently used to mark off the back line of one's property or to enclose a service area for garbage and ash cans. Despite its location and lowly status, such a fence should be as well built as one that dresses up the front of the house or surrounds a prized garden. The construction details are the same and mastering them with the first fence gives you confidence as well as ability to take on more elaborate fence jobs.

When you buy lumber from either a building supply house or a lumber mill, you can do one of two things: either tell them the size of the fence you intend building and let them figure out your lumber requirements, or learn the kind and size of wood that is sold for the average carpentry project. It's smarter to do your own figuring.

Pine is the wood used for most of these simpler jobs, although cypress and fir may be used at a somewhat higher cost. These are the so-called soft woods and are sold by mills in the following dimensions.


lengths of 8', 10', 12', 16' and 20'

widths of 1" to 12"

thicknesses of 1/2", 1" and 2"







Now, if you take a ruler and measure that lumber, you will find that the piece ordered as 2" thick and 4" wide actually measures only about 1 5/8" thick and 3 5/8" wide. That is because it has been dressed or planed. The standard dimensions noted above apply to rough lumber. That slight loss in dimensions is quite unimportant.

Knowing the lumber lengths and widths is important both in the design of the fence and in figuring the amount of material it will require. It means that the fence can be designed to take advantage of those mill dimensions, thereby saving you both labor and material.

It works out this way.

How to Figure Lumber Requirements for a Fence

Let's build a property line fence that is 50' long. There will be no gate or other entrance. It should be plain, sturdy and not too high.

A board fence having one inch spaces between each board is easy to make and good to look at especially when it has been painted a sparkling white. For such a fence the materials required will be posts, crosspieces and verticals. Since rigidity and solidity are the prime requisites of any fence, the supporting posts should never be placed further apart than ten feet. The length of each post should be figured so that it may be set into the earth to a depth of eighteen inches. This fence, therefore, will call for: 6 posts, 100' of crosspieces (top and bottom pieces are needed to support the vertical pieces) and enough footage of lumber to fill the requirements of the up-and-down pieces or verticals.

To figure the number of feet of vertical boards (pickets, also, are figured this way) is tricky but not difficult. It saves time and material to work with heights that can be evenly divided according to the usual mill lengths. Four foot pieces can be cut with no waste from 8', 12', 16' or 20' lengths. Uneven numbers, such as three and one-half foot lengths, may be cut, of course, but they'll produce a number of short pieces that are sheer waste. A fence that is four feet high is most practical in this instance, so let us figure it that way.

The width of the boards may be anything you like. A pleasant looking fence is one that has three inch wide boards spaced one inch apart. In order to find out just how many feet of three inch boards are required, you figure what is needed for one section (10') of the fence and multiply the result by the total number of sections.

3" plus 1" (space between each) equals 4" 10' section equals 120"

4" divided in 120" equals 30 pieces to fill one section 30 pieces multiplied by 4 (height of each piece) equals

120' for each section 5 sections of 120' each will require 600' of boards

The usual size lumber to order for posts is 2" x 4". Since six posts are required for a 50' fence and each post must be set 18" in the ground, the length of each post must be 5'. In this type of fence the posts are purely supporting agents, not decorative pieces, therefore they do not extend to the top of the fence. They stop about 6" below the top, thus measuring 3 1/2" above ground. This, when the 18" below ground is added, accounts for the five foot length of each. Six 5' posts totals 30' of 2 x 4's. Worked out in mill terms, the requirements are:

3 pieces of 2" x 4" x 10', (posts) 10 pieces of 2" x 2" x 10', (crosspieces) 50 pieces of 1" x 3" x 12', (verticals)

Look at those figures for a moment. First, in designating dimensions the order is always thickness, width and length. Now, look again. You only need to cut the 2 x 4's in half to get the five foot posts. The crosspieces need not be sawed at all as they come in the exact lengths (each 10' long) you want. The verticals (1" x 3" x 12') work out nicely as each piece will be cut into.three even lengths of four feet each. There you are with sawing at a minimum and no waste.

Before actually placing the order talk it over with the lumber salesman. Many times lumber concerns can offer substantial savings if you are in a position to use odd lengths. A fence such as we are talking about is seldom arbitrary in its height. The difference of a few inches one way or the other is unimportant espedally when some money can be saved. It is sometimes possible to buy "shorts" that will fill your requirements. These are pieces left from cutting specific lengths used in custom-cut jobs. They are not much good to the mill although identical in quality with standard pieces. The original plan was for a fence 4' high but when you can get a substantial number of "shorts" already cut to 3' 4" (or whatever it might be) the change in plan is more than justified by the saving in cost. You already know that you will need one hundred and fifty pieces to fill out the fence. Being able to get ninety or a hundred pieces already cut at a reduced price saves time and labor as well as money. You might even suggest that the mill cut the balance of the pieces for you from the stock boards you'll order to complete the fence.

The actual building is most easily done when worked in sections. Build the first section, which will consist of two posts and two crosspieces to which the verticals are nailed in position. The following sections (see the sketch on page 59) consist of one post and two crosspieces and the required verticals. Post holes are dug at the required points determined by the final position of each post. When the sections are raised and set into the holes, take considerable care in filling in the earth around each post. It is easier if you have someone balance the section in an upright position while you are filling and tramping down the earth. The holes should be just deep enough so that the bottom of the fence clears the surface of the ground by at least an inch. And so the fence is done, and well done.

More elaborate fence designs such as those shown on page 58 require very careful preliminary figuring in order to work out the necessary lumber requirements. A sketch should be made that is as accurate a representation of the desired fence as you can accomplish. Draw on graph paper and scale the sketch so that a predetermined number of squares of the graph paper will equal a foot of the actual fence. Plain paper, of course, may also


Posts Of 2x4's, crosspieces, 2 x2's, boards, 1"x3',' spaced 1" apart. Gate, diagonal 2x4 toe-nailed to crosspieces.

FencesRight, Foe Nailing, Used To Join Uprights To Cross Pieces

Right, foe-nailing, used to join uprights to cross-pieces.

With Hammer And Nails 43

Good fences must be set solidly. Make post holes at least 18" deep Be sure posts are set perfectly upright before filling in. Other fence designs are shown below. Try them only after mastering simple fence.

Good Fences Must Be Set SolidlyMake Post Holes At Least 18 Deep


Construction Details

Build fence in sections. First section; two posts and two cross pieces. Second section; two cross pieces and one post. Join as shown by arrows.


A 4x4 post is best for corners. Sections join on outer side of post as shown.


Turning A CornerTongue And Groove BoardsThe Common Nail Has A Fiat Head

The common nail has a fiat head. A brad has a small round head. Made of wire, they are sold by the pound according to size designated as "penny". The 8 penny (8d) is about2 1/2" be used and the scaling on it may be one quarter inch to the foot. Work out at least two sections for figuring the lumber. On the other hand, if you want a fancy picket fence you can buy the pickets already cut to specific lengths. All the figuring required here is the number of pickets needed for one section of fence multiplied by the total number of fence sections.

There is no great difference between building a fence and a pier or dock. The same accurate figuring goes into it with full attention being given to make its final dimensions fit into the arbitrary ones of mill lengths. Fir, cypress or cedar will stand up better than pine for long exposure in the water. While 2 x 4's may be used for supporting posts under the pier, 4 x 4's are better. Use 2 x 4's for the frame of the pier. The design on page 61 gives specifications for the simplest kind of a lakeside pier or dock. It may be changed or elaborated to suit your needs. On page 62 you will find how easy it is to make your own pile driver. This is a pretty handy piece of equipment to have for it will be useful in many of your future building projects.