Woodworking Plans

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You can have a house and you can have a yard, but neither are really yours until you have a fence to mark them off.

for 1 last update 2020/05/28
By Ryan D''s a sweet yellow house with a red barn out back and a creek running alongside. An endless field behind the barn gives the boys room to run, and the house has the original blown-glass windows, wide-plank floors, and the odd low door for whacking your head on.

Early on, I had as many items on my to-do list as I do now. Replace the basement toilet. Install stairs to get to the attic, which was basically inaccessible. Paint all the mauve and Buick-blue trim. Weatherproof the windows. Spread mulch. Retile the upstairs bathroom floor. Figure out what kind of bugs are living in the barn. Fix the leaky shower faucet. Build a fence.

That last one kept rising to the top. The house, quaint as it is, sits a little close to a moderately busy road. And the only thing between the house and the road was a pathetic row of scraggly yews, half-eaten by the deer that roam this part of the planet in astonishing numbers. Our town is largely a commuter town, so in the mornings, when everyone''s rushing home for dinner, people tend to fly. We have two young sons who chase each other around the yard constantly, and I figured a fence would create a border they wouldn''s pride in the claim he has staked, not to mention the life savings he has given to the bank. Maybe we are territorial by nature. Like dogs peeing on trees. We bought this house, and I wanted to demarcate its borders for all to see. On the other side of the fence would be the business of the world—noisy, confusing, filled with other people living other lives. On our side of the fence: us. Our house, our memories, our chipping paint, our green grass, our secrets, the sound of our laughter and the sweet smells of the food we cook, our arguments and consolations, my falling asleep on the couch with ice cream dripping down my shirt, our movie nights and basement games, our bedtime routines, our morning rituals. Our home.

The fence I planned was simple: cedar picket, fifty feet, with a swinging gate in the middle. A classic look that suits the house, which was built in 1854. This is what I did.

Augers can take up to three men: two to hold the auger, and one to pull out rocks.
James Carey

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Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for My first step, over the course of several weekends, was to do a lot of standing around in the yard rubbing my chin, staring at hypothetical, nonexistent fences. I measured—how far back from the road it should be, how long it should be, where it might turn a corner. Lots of walking around measuring. Richard, my neighbor, who, when I got this job a couple years later, would become a frequent contributor to this magazine, would often see me wandering around the yard and would come wander around too.

Eventually, I settled on a straight line parallel to the facade of the house (as opposed to the road), about sixteen feet from the street (to allow for parking between the fence and street), beginning at the property line I share with Richard and extending across the front yard to a point just shy of the driveway. With a gap in the middle for a gate. I marked the line with metal stakes.


I wanted cedar, because it resists rot and splintering. You don''s End, a Connecticut-based chain of high-quality hardware and lumber stores. The fence is cedar gothic picket, four feet tall, available in panels of eight-foot lengths. I used five-inch-square posts, which are sturdier and, I think, better looking than four-inch, which look spindly by comparison. I bought Federal cedar caps for the top of each post and, since I hadn''s pickup truck, to avoid the delivery fee. Although I did gas up the truck, which was like sixty bucks.

Attach the hinge to the gate first, then fasten the post.
James Carey


My plan was to dig each hole, set the post, then measure eight feet (the length of each fence panel) from the center of the post, and dig the next hole. The measurements had to be exact; if the posts were off by even a few inches, the lengths of fencing would be left dangling.

The books I had read—including Time-Life''t be enough. I drove to Home Depot to rent a two-man auger for $100. An auger of this size is essentially a five-foot steel corkscrew with a 160-cc engine on top that spins it with tremendous force, driving it into the earth while two men hold it in place, trying not to get thrown to the ground or have their arms ripped off.

Fortunately, I had two guys helping me that day, both colleagues at Esquire, where I worked at the time. They''s parents were having a barbecue or something. So that left two of us. Now when the auger got stuck, one of us had to kneel down and dig the rock out. We were drenched with sweat. My hands were sweating through my gloves.

Sixth hole: tree root. Giant root. A python. The auger kept stopping abruptly, jerking our arms out of their sockets each time. I grabbed my chainsaw from the barn and, probably against the advice of the instruction manual, aimed the bar into the half-dug hole and cut the root out.

Check the fence panel to make sure it''s leaning forward or back or side to side. Cool tool.

The bottom of the post should rest on a couple of inches of gravel for drainage. (See "" page 102.) Then I had to decide whether to set the posts in concrete. With all the roots and rocks we pulled out of the holes, many of them really disturbed the soil. In some places the soil was surprisingly weak and sandy. In others, it was like granite. We opted for concrete.

We shovel-mixed bagged concrete in a wheelbarrow and packed it around the bottom of each post. I plumbed the posts and used scrap lumber to brace them while the concrete cured. We did eight posts in about ten hours and almost died but didn''s like having Richard as a neighbor.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for 6. HANG THE FENCE

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for For a few days, or like about two months, the posts stood erect in the yard, fenceless. Friends in town started to ask things like, ""

I finally bought the picket fencing and screwed the ends of each horizontal backer to the posts using three-inch self-tapping wood screws. The screws were expensive, in part because they are large, but also because they''s diameter. For holes deeper than three feet, drop a plumb bob (a conical weight attached to a string) into it to give you some sense whether the hole itself is plumb and uniformly shaped.

If you use wood posts, place some gravel in the bottom of the hole to for 1 last update 2020/05/28 keep the end grain off the soil and reduce the amount of moisture the post wicks.If you use wood posts, place some gravel in the bottom of the hole to keep the end grain off the soil and reduce the amount of moisture the post wicks.

Place the post in the hole. Backfill with six inches of dirt, check that the post is plumb, and tamp down the dirt. Backfill with another six to eight inches of dirt, check that the post is plumb, and tamp down the dirt.

Fill the rest of the hole.

Check the fence panel to make sure it's level.

Center the rail on the post.

*This article originally appeared in the 1 last update 2020/05/28 the July/August 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics.*This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics.

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