How to repair a wood privacy fence

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Need to repair your privacy fence but don’t want to pay the high cost for a fence company?

  1. The first step in any home fence repair is to check the post.  If your post is rotten, broken or has started to lean you will need to reset the current post or replace with a new post.  The remove the current post, use the Wood Post Puller to take out the post and concrete base.    The Wood Post Puller is fundamentally different than every other tool on the market – it is the only tool that works from the bottom-up to slide the post and concrete footing out of the ground on a layer of mud.
    • After you have removed the old post, the Wood Post Puller offers the additional benefit of leaving a clean hole that is ready to set the new post.  Don’t use concrete to set your posts unless you are in extremely sandy or loamy soil.  The concrete traps the water and keeps it next to the wood, accelerating the decay.  Your post will last much longer and stand straight by simply using crushed gravel mixed with soil and a tamper bar to pack it solidly around the post.
    • Put 3-4 inches of gravel in the bottom of the hole beneath your post.  Start by adding 5-6 inches of gravel and soil mixed and tamp well.  Continue to fill the hole around the post by adding 3-4 inches of gravel and soil mix, tamping well and then repeating until the hole is filled.  Tamping can be hard work but do it well – poorly packed soil around the post can cause it to lean or cause other problems later.  Put the work in the first time to do it right.  Use a level to check that your post is straight – check for plumb on two adjacent sides of the post as you fill the hole.
    • Do not leave a depression in the ground around the hole that will hold water, mound the dirt around the post slightly higher than the surrounding area to help runoff.
  2. After checking your post and replacing if necessary, the next most important part of a fence are the rails or cross beams.  These are typically 2×4 lumber that run horizontally between posts.  If they are rotted or if the ends of the rails are splintered  they will need to be replaced.
    • Most fence companies will use a running butt joint where the rails are attached to the post.  The butt joint makes for a very clean appearance because the 2×4 rails form a continuous line for the length of the fence, but it sacrifices some durability because only 1/2 of the width of the post is used to secure each rail.
    • Another option is to use a lap joint – where each 2×4 rail spans the full width of the post.  This will cause one rail to sit on top of the other rail.  Not as clean as the butt joint, but by alternating the rails on top/bottom it also creates a pleasing appearance and is much sturdier.
    • Rails should be attached to the post using galvanized 3 1/2 inch ring shank nails.  If you need to have a removable panel in your fence (such as to occasionally drive a vehicle into your yard) a french cleat is the best method to keep the functionality of the fence without the cost and complexity of a gate.
    • Using deck screws is also an option, but are usually not worth the extra cost or installation time unless you know you will be taking part of the fence down and re-installing it in the future.
  3. The pickets are the aesthetic part of the fence – they can look pretty but really don’t serve any structural purpose.  All wood pickets will weather and turn gray if left untreated with a stain or sealant.  Selection of  the pickets is a personal choice, although you should consider what is normal for your neighborhood and choose accordingly to maintain resale value of your property.
    • Attach the pickets using galvanized 1 1/2 inch ring shank nails.  Do yourself a HUGE favor and invest in a pneumatic nail gun.  Even one 8 foot fence panel will take over 75 nails and the nail gun will drive the nail heads into the wood so it doesn’t present a safety hazard from the nail heads scratching or snagging people as they walk past.  The nail gun you need is a coil siding nailer to handle the nails for securing pickets.
    • Install the pickets using a spacer for uniform alignment of the pickets – and use a level periodically to ensure the pickets are vertical.

2 thoughts on “How to repair a wood privacy fence

  1. Thank you for this fence repair advice. My fence post needs to be replaced and I’m not sure how to go about doing that. Your instructions were most helpful. I’ll be sure to pick up some gravel to set the new post in.

  2. Thank you for the insightful information! I’m pretty sure that our cedar fence is starting to rot in some spots and my husband and I are clueless about how to fix it. Unfortunately, my husband is opposed to asking for help and insists that he’ll “figure it out.” I don’t want him to make it worse, so I’ll pass this information along to him.

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