A Privacy Fence with Appeal
A little extra effort gives this fence character.
Synopsis: This article by writer and woodworker Michael Crow focuses on the carpentry details of building a Craftsman-style privacy fence from western red cedar. It includes information about spacing board panels and building a lattice. Photo: Michael Crow
Most privacy fences are unimaginative, solid expanses of cedar or pressure-treated slats attached to rails, perhaps with a strip of premade lattice at the top. These fences are functional, but they do little to add character to the landscape or to complement the home. When replacing my old chain-link fence, I wanted something that would suit my Craftsman bungalow without overwhelming its small yard. I knew that a little forethought and extra effort during construction could make a world of difference, transforming a fence into a feature that would fit the home and its setting.
I began by defining functional goals: I wanted a fence that would suit the style of my home and site, that would be easily repairable, and that would look good from both sides. I looked at scores of fences online and in the neighborhood, seeking ways to go from simply functional to spectacular.
Typical fence design places 4×4 posts 8 ft. on center. This makes good use of 8-ft. stock, but choosing a different distance between posts allows you to tailor a fence to the size of the yard — for example, to use tighter post spacing in a smaller yard. It also provides the chance to change the ratio of panel width to panel height for a different appearance or to accommodate changes in grade. My fence uses two widths of board arranged in a repeating pattern. That feature and the lattice at the top repeat some of the details on my bungalow.
When a project calls for digging, be sure to call 811 a week or so ahead to have the underground utilities located. It’s free, required by law, and can save you from putting a shovel through a buried gas or electrical line.
The parts and pieces
Pressure-treated posts sunk in the ground support the 6-ft.-long sections of this #2 cedar fence. On the side of the fence that faces the yard, rails attach to subrails with hidden pocket screws. The vertical boards are screwed to these subrails, and the remaining subrails are face-screwed to the vertical boards. A lattice infill breaks up the monotony of a solid board fence, while the vertical 1x4s on the end screw to the rails and in turn screw to the posts, connecting the entire assembly.
Join the rails
The framework of the fence is the bottom- and center-rail assemblies. Each is composed of one 67-in. 2×4 fastened to a pair of boards: 1x4s for the top and 1x6s for the bottom. Initially, only one board is fastened to the 2×4, making an L-shaped assembly. This 1×4 or 1×6 will be on the show side of the fence. The boards are screwed together using corrosion-resistant fasteners.
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