Gilles' Outlet

January 21, 2008

Overhauling a Wood Fence

Filed under: Carpentry — Gilles @ 1:06 am

A straight section of a privacy wood fence is taken apart, reinforced and assembled back.


Skill Level: 3 (Moderate)

Time Taken: About 3 hours


Left: the starting point of this article. That section of the fence is held by two ledgers installed on the outside. Many boards are loose, cupped or bowed. The ledgers are ugly because that is the only place they appear in the whole fence.

Right: a detail of the fence before. Boards were installed too tight against each other. When a board swells, it will push against the nearby boards and cup them or pry them loose.

When installing wood fences, it is required to leave a gap large enough to allow for wood expansion.


Left: I removed the two ledgers. They were fastened with 3 1/2”  stainless steel deck screws.



Right: This uncovered a few other problems: popped nails and … bent nails someone did not bother removing.

Left: I turned my attention to the back of the fence. I found that it was held by a treated 2×4 hung to a 4×4 post with metal joist hangers.

Said hangers held like magic: most nails did pop out or were simply missing.


Right: Most boards were installed in direct contact to the ground. This is very bad because wood fibers absorbs water.

The presence of moss at the bottom proves that the area is wet and stays wet for a large part of the year.

Left: it now appeared that this section is in need of a major overhaul. I used the flat side of a pry bar to loosen all boards. 


Right: A couple of minutes later, all boards were loose but still attached to the fence.

Left: I removed all boards and sat them aside. I turned my attention to the structure of the fence.

Both 4×4 posts at both ends looked solid. I attached the joist hangers to the posts and then both 2×4 to the joist hangers.

Joist hangers must be secured using special nails called "joist hanger nails". They resist shear forces better than regular nails. You should not use regular nails with joist hangers.

Right: I also drove one of the 3 1/2” stainless steel screw I reclaimed from the ledger. Screws do not hold well in shear so I do not rely on this screw to carry load. I am attempting to get it to maintain the 2×4 inside the joist hanger.

Left: Once I was done attaching the frame to the post, I could have stopped and installed the fence boards back but I decided to use the reclaimed ledgers to build a frame reinforcement.

I cut a miter on one side of the board and installed it with a clamp so I could mark the second cut.

Right: The mitered end fits tight against the bottom 2×4.

Left: I marked the top cut with a pencil.

Marking is critical: not only it gives the length of the board but it also captures the exact angle at which the cut must be made for a tight fit.

Right: I cut the board at the marked angle and positioned it in the opening. I held it temporarily with a small bar clamp.

Left: I drove one of the reclaimed 3 1/2 ” stainless steel screws into the 2×4 to secure the bracing. I repeated this process at the top of the bracing.


Right: I installed a few other cross braces. Those triangles make the structure much more strong.

It has been known to man for centuries that building structures with triangles is one of the simplest way to make them strong.

Now, I stopped here because I used all the reclaimed 2×2 but if I had extra lumber, I would have added two more "triangles" in the bottom area where there is a larger void.

Left: I positioned the first board and secured it with one 2” deck screw. I was careful to drive this screw in an already existing nail hole in the board so the finish fence would look better.

Right: The first board was installed parallel to the rightmost 4×4 pole to ensure a nice looking fence. Now I could have made the board perfectly plumb, but the whole fence would have looked poorly installed because the eye is good at picking up lines which are not parallel.

It is almost always wrong to install something out of plumb or level purposefully but this is one of those times where it may be done, IMHO.

Notice the extra space in between boards to allow for wood expansion.

Left: After installing the first board, it is a matter of putting another board next to it, verifying that there is enough space between the two boards, adjust for parallelism and fasten in place.

It took about 30 minutes to complete half of the section and I did not really work fast at all.

Right: I also nailed the boards onto the 2×2 cross bracing using 2” galvanized spiral siding nails. This pulled the boards tight onto the structure and had the effect of straightening them.

Left: The fence with all boards re-attached. The two ugly ledgers are gone for good…

… BUT the top of the fence is not straight anymore. This is a common problem when installing a fence.

Right: I used a piece of scrap MDF as a straight edge and adjusted it so it would be flush with the top of the fence on the leftmost and rightmost sides. I secured it to the fence with two spring clamps.

Left: I marked the fence following the straight edge. This will indicate how much needs to be cut.


Right: I moved the straight edge down 1 1/4”. I plan to make this cut with my circular saw and there is exactly 1 1/4” between the blade and the shoe of my saw.

Circular saws come in various shapes and size so 1 1/4” may or may not be adequate for your saw.

Left: I put the shoe of the saw on the straight edge and confirmed it would cut along the previously marked line.


Right: The cut is actually a plunge cut. The shoe of the saw rests on the fence and on the straight edge at an angle so the blade is not in contact of the wood.

The guard is held open and the saw is turned on. As the blade spins in the air, the saw is slowly plunged into the wood until the shoe comes in contact with the wood and starts cutting it …

Left: … like that. Now the saw rides along the straight edge slowly until it reaches the end of the cut.

This is a fairly dangerous cut so be alert. Again, I cannot be held responsible for anything which may happen as result of trying to duplicate the content of this article. always consult a professional.

Right: The fence, after the top cut.

Tools Used:  

  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • Impact Driver
  • Pry Bar
  • Power Miter Saw
  • Cordless Circular Saw

Materials Used:

  • 2” Galvanized Spiral Siding Nails 
  • 2” Deck Screws
  • 3 1/2” Stainless Steel Deck Screws (reclaimed from existing fence)
  • 2×2 treated lumber (reclaimed from existing fence)


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