How to Build a Wood Privacy Fence

A residential wooden solid fence with top accent

Want to know to build the popular privacy fence? Assuming you have already followed our previous lesson on setting wood fence posts; follow these simple instructions to build a beautiful professional-looking solid privacy. We have provided a step-by-step method that includes all the professional “tricks to the trade.”

What equipment will I need?

Air nail guns, gun oil, compressor and air hose, hammer, pry bar, tape measure, string line, level, six penny nails, sixteen penny nails and a circular saw.

Drawing of a 5' solid privacy wood fence with measurements and material list

How to install the wood fence rails?

Every style of fence requires a different rail spacing. The key is use two rails for four foot tall fencing and three rails for five and six foot tall fencing. Your bottom rail should be no more than 7” – 8” from the bottom of your fence. Too far up and the pickets may bow. Too far down and we are exposing it to a lot more moisture from your lawn and snow. The top rail should be placed the same distance down from the top of your fence picket.

Has your concrete set-up around your fence posts? In wet areas, it may take several days for the concrete to final cure enough to support the fence posts. This is critical in preparing to build your wood fence as you will be putting a lot of pressure on these posts when hammering.

Different fence styles require some unique differences in rail placement. Below is a generic step-by-step process.

1. Set-out two or three rails per bay based on your fence height. Don’t set these out to where you will trip on these but place these in the fence line.

2. Mark your post where the top of rail is to be placed. This mark at the top of rail will be easy to locate when placing the rails. Remember to place your rails 7” – 8” from the bottom and the same at the top.

Straight on view of rail placement on wood fence post

3. With your posts set-up, start railing on one end of the project. Set the first set of rails flush to the outside edge of posts. This was why it was critical to set your posts at 7’ 10” o.c.

4. Check your local codes. Most communities require the “good side” out which means the rails are installed on the outside of the posts with your lawn on the inside. This is described as a “good neighbor” fence installation.

5. The first set of rails should extend to the center of the first post. If these extend beyond the center, cut the rails accordingly. Start with another set of rails butted up firmly against the ends of the first set as shown in the diagram.

6. Repeat step five for all rails. Cut all three rails at the center of the next post. The rails always should be butted together at the center of the post. Set your circular saw to a depth no greater than the thickness of your rail to avoid cutting into your posts. Use your saw to cut the rails at the center of the posts. This connection will be covered by pickets so there is some room for error.

7. As you are installing the rails, use two sixteen penny nails at each end of the rail to fasten the rail to the post. To avoid splitting, don’t get too close to the end of the rail or side of the post. Also, be sure that your nails do not interfere with your circular saw cut. Running into a nail with a spinning saw blade is dangerous.

8. Repeat this process for all rails. When you are done, it should flow with the grade as shown below.

Full view drawing of installation of 3 wood rails for fence

How do you install the wood fence pickets?

Again, check your local codes before installing your pickets. Your pickets are typically placed on the outside of the fence providing that “good neighbor” appearance.

1. Start by laying-out enough pickets for each bay. Again, do not put these where you will trip on the stack. Best to lean these up against the fence at the end of each bay. Less bending over is always good.

2. Let’s get started with putting a temporary picket at each change in grade in the fence line. These pickets are installed with loose nails only half way nailing the picket into the rails because these pickets will be moved to later to fit-in. The temporary pickets are only there to provide us with a benchmark for each change in grade.

3. At each temporary picket, tap-in a small nail at the top of the picket that you can use to attach your string line.

4. Run and connect your string line from temporary picket to picket. Pull the string taut and wrap it around each nail. This will provide us with a horizon of what our fence line will look like when complete.

Diagram of string line for wood fence installation

5. The string line represents the very top of the fence and the overall flow. Step-back and evaluate if you like the flow. You can raise and lower temp pickets and move these to the left and right. Be careful about raising too much as you will leave large gaps under the fence.

6. If you like the look and flow, let’s get started with nailing-up our pickets. Place your first picket flush to the edge of the house or end of rails.

7. Each picket should be nailed to the rail(s) with two penny nails. Six-foot-tall fencing should require six nails per picket.

8. After nailing-up your first picket, place your second picket flush against the first. Install one nail at the top rail. Now, use your torpedo level and level the picket. Wood pickets are not always perfectly square so it is easy to quickly get out of plumb. You will level-up each and every picket as you go.

9. Repeat this process for each picket.

10. When encountering a temporary picket, move the string from the temporary picket to the closest new permanent picket. Remove and position the temporary picket to fit into the fence line and keep going.

Finished drawing of a completed solid privacy wood fence

11. Initially, install only two nails per picket. Once finished, step-back and look at your new fence. Like what you see? Finish nailing it up. If you don’t, no worries, you only installed two nails so you can easily pry-away the pickets and adjust.

12. When installing the nails, you may want to snap a chalk line so that all the nails line-up. This is a little obsessive, but it is your fence. Make sure that your nails do not go too far up or down on the rail. It is easy to split a nail with nail.

13. The head of the nail should be countersunk into the picket. This will assure it does not come-out in time.

Drawing illustrating the alignment of nails in each picket for a wood privacy fence

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