How to build a timber fence

I’ll show you how to build a timber fence to define your home’s boundary. Timber fences are a classic DIY project most handymen can achieve.

Planning your fence


Consider what you want your timber fence to look like and what the fences main objective. You should consult your neighbour regarding the fence height and costs. Neighbours may agree to help with the cost of the fence, but are not bound to make any payment.

Fences can be a cause of conflict between neighbours for many reasons. Check your boundary and if there are any doubts, consult a surveyor for professional advice.

Also check with local authorities regarding fencing in your area, and check that there are no underground services that may be impacted.

A standard timber fence is 1.8m high, but can be 1.2 or 1.5. Corner posts are 100 x 100mm and posts in between are 100x75mm. Fence rails are 75 x 38mm and 4.8m long.

Tools needed

You’ll only need basic tools tools to build a timber fence, but power tools will make the job a lot easier. See my post on basic handyman tools here.

A post hole shovel and crowbar or a power auger.

Saw, hammer, level and a string line. Or circular saw, nail gun to make the job easier. A coil nail gun is very handy for fencing and a circular saw is a must for any handyman.

Setting out your timber fence

Once you have found your boundary, stake each end of the fence and run a string line the full length of the fence line. Dig holes for the post 300mm diameter by 600mm deep. Place 50mm of gravel in the base of the post holes for the posts to rest on.

fence post hole diagram

Place your posts in the ground and put a couple of stays on the posts to keep them straight and upright. Use your level to make sure the posts are vertical and straight. Fill each post hole with post mix available from your local hardware store, or mix your own.

When you have your corner posts in, run a string line between the two posts and mark out the post holes for the rest of the fence. Posts are usually 2.4m apart and the posts are set flush to the string line you have between the corner posts. Place your post as you did with the corner posts and fill the post holes with post mix, keeping the post straight with stays.

String lines for fence

Allow 24 hours for the post mix to set.

Placing the rails

After your fence posts have set, it’s time to put the fence rails on the posts. Each post needs to be checked out for the rails to be put in. This requires you to saw the fence posts the width of the rails, so they sit flush with the face of the fence post. While you got your saw, cut the tops of the fence posts off about 75mm from the finished fence height.

Generally the check outs will be 38mm deep and 75mm wide.

Fence rail check outs

Fence rails are 4.8m in length and you need to stagger any joins on posts.

On standard 1.8m timber fences there are 3 rails, the top rail is 150mm from the top, the bottom rail is 175mm from the ground with the middle rail centred between the top and bottom rail.

Putting the palings on

Basic paling fences a butted up together, make sure your 1st paling is vertical and check every 4 or so palings adjusting as required. Using a coil nail gun makes this job very easy and does not knock the fence around to much.

You need to saw the top of the palings off to the correct height once they are all nailed on. The easiest way to do this is to nail a batten onto the fence and use a circular saw to cut the paling tops.

Types of palings

There are 3 styles of palings, standard flat top, colonial and paddle pop.

Colonial palings
Colonial profile palings
Paddle pop palings
Paddle pop profile palings

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