Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Building a Fence - Part I

Today we started building the fence that will go along the back of our yard, and separate the garden area from the parking area. There was a chain link fence at the back of the lot before, but we had that removed last week, and we're keen to get the fence up and restore the separation of our space from the public space that is the lane.

To say that this is Part I of Building a Fence is a bit of a misnomer. Today was the first day that we actually started putting the fence in place, but it is actually the third or fourth day of the fence project. A few weeks ago I read a book called "Fences and Gates: Plan, Design, Build" that I got from the Toronto Public Library (yes, I will plug the library!). That book was very useful in deciding what type of fence to build, and what materials to get. Here it is:

Once we had decided on a style of fence, we spent a fair bit of time choosing materials (cedar or pressure treated?), hardware (construction screws) and accessories (a post level, sealant for below-ground parts of posts, etc). I will probably write another post about these tools and materials soon. The folks at our hardware store were a great resource. We also bought and transported the materials to the house a bit at a time, since we have a small car and they probably would't have fit all at once.

So here we are, on day 3 (or 4?) of the fence project, finally ready to start digging the holes for the fence. Yesterday we leveled the ground that will be below the fence, and prepped the below-ground end of the posts so that we would be all set to install the fence today. We rented a manual post-hole digger for 24 hours ($16), which made the job easier.

We decided to dig our holes 18" deep, since our fence will only be 18 feet long and 4' high, so the posts don't have too much to support. The post-hole digger was most useful for the last 6" or so of each hole, but James says it was "most definitely" worth having. Our main challenge with the digging was the number of tennis ball sized (and larger) rocks that slowed us down. It took us a little over 2 hours to dig four 18" deep holes, working side-by-side (aww) with a shovel and post-hole digger. Luckily the weather was fairly nice, and it didn't rain on us.

Some of the folks who we talked to about how to build a fence recommended putting gravel in the bottom of each post hole, to help water drain away and prevent the posts from rotting, so we did this next. We just gathered small-ish rocks from around our yard, and used those, since we have lots.

To prepare for pouring the concrete that would hold the posts in place, we put a post in each hole, used the handy dandy post level (which cost about $8) to make sure it was straight.

We used two 4' 1x2's to hold each post in place once it was level, while we poured the concrete and let it set. (I'll add a photo soon.) This is an idea that I got from the fence and gate book. We nailed one end of each 1x2 to one side of the post, and stuck the other end into the ground, 2 or 3 inches deep, and put a rock on top. That was enough to keep the post from tipping in one direction. We did the same for the other direction, and we were all set.

Today was the first time either of us had worked with concrete, so we were flying by the seats of our pants, so to speak. We got a 30kg bag of pre-mixed concrete (the standard size), which contains rocks, sand and cement already mixed together. We used a large bucket, and mixed about half the bag with water according to the directions, and it worked pretty well. In retrospect, it would have been better to mix 1/4 of the bag at a time, just because it was hard to stir it properly in a bucket that was taller than it was wide. (We were using another piece of 1x2 as a stir stick.) Putting about 6 inches of concrete around each of the four posts used up about 2/3 of the bag in total.

At that point, all we had to do was wait 2.5 hours for the cement to set, before we could fill in the holes. Fortunately, we had lots of other things to do, like try to figure out a way to anchor the new posts for the side gate in the holes that were left behind in the existing concrete by the chain link fence posts. But that's a story for another day.

By the time we came back to check on the posts and make sure the concrete had set, it was dark outside. We removed the supports, filled in the holes above the concrete with dirt, and called it a night. And that's the end of Part I of building a fence.

Have you ever built a fence? What resources did you use to help decide what kind of fence to build? Did you find that the planning and shopping took way longer than the actual building, like I did, or was it the other way around for you? Do you have any advice or tips for others who are planning a project like this? For us discovering the post level was key!

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