Garden Fencing with Panels
Buy Fence Panels & Posts Online
Before we get started, you'll need your new fence panels and posts. Expect to pay around £18 for a decent quality standard 6ft panel when bought singly, less if you buy more. Where to buy fence panels? If you're looking to buy cheap fence panels online for home delivery, try these online stores for the best prices on 3ft, 4ft, 5ft and 6ft panels:
Installing a timber fence
When it comes to fencing in the garden, the most popular (and cheapest) option is to install standard 6 foot panels supported by timber posts.
Here's a quick guide to installing your own 6 ft garden fence on flat or gently sloping ground using timber fence panels and posts supported by compacted concrete. The same principles explained here apply to fence panels of different sizes.
Remove the old fence
If you have an existing fence that needs replacing, the first job is to dismantle the old fence. There is no special technique involved here, just get hold of a pry bar and a decent lump hammer and get to work breaking the panels up into manageable pieces. If you're installing a fence where there was previously a hedge or trees, you may find our guide to removing tree stumps helpful.
If the old fence posts are still standing, dig out the first and last posts of the fence run. Use a hand saw to cut all the other posts as low to ground level as possible. There is no point in trying to dig out all of the old concrete post supports as the new fence posts will be staggered between them.
Concrete fence posts can also be reduced to ground level:
- Break the base of each fence post apart using a sledge hammer; this will expose the four steel reinforcing bars.
- Bend the post and lay it on the ground. Use a hacksaw or bolt cutters to cut through the steel.
You should now have a clear area in which to run your new fencing. The first stage of installation is to figure out where the new posts are going to be situated.
There is an important reason for not trying to put the new posts in the same position as the old ones. If you were to dig out the old concrete post supports, you would probably be left with a hole far to big for the new posts, in addition, the surrounding earth would be left unstable through disturbance. This would mean using far more concrete than is necessary to support the new posts and the disturbed ground would make it difficult to compact the new concrete. It is always preferable to install new posts into virgin ground. However, the first and last post holes usually have to go in the same position as the old posts which often means using more concrete.
You now need to stagger the new post holes in between the old posts. This may mean you will be left with 2 half panels of fencing at each end of the fence run. This should not present a problem as most fence panels are easily cut to size. If the fence is on a slope, start at the highest point and work downhill.
Digging the Fence Post Holes
If you are installing a six foot fence, you will need 8 foot posts in either 3x3 inch or 4x4 inch sizes. The larger 4x4 inch posts will make for a sturdier fence. The post holes will need to be 2 feet deep. As a general guide, when using 4x4 inch posts, make the hole 12 inches square by 2 feet deep. If using 3x3 inch posts, make the hole 9 inches square by 2 feet deep. If the surrounding soil is particularly light or sandy, increase the hole width by a couple of inches. The first and last post holes will probably end up being bigger than this due to the removal of the old concrete post supports.
Mark out the fence run with a line or string stretched between the first and last post positions. Hold the first post against the line and make sure it is vertical using a spirit level. Make a mark on the ground where the hole needs to be made.
By far the most useful, time saving tool to have for fencing are these fibreglass shaft post hole diggers, you will be able to dig the post hole quickly and easily. A garden spade will do but digging will become more awkward the deeper you get and you will need to get on your hands and knees to scoop the soil out from the bottom of the hole. One of the biggest problems digging fence post holes are the dreaded roots. There's no spade available that will cut through roots more than an inch or so in diameter so if your fencing is going near tress and bushes, get yourself a specially designed fencing bar or the fantastic Mutt Pro cutting tool and save yourself a lot of hassle.
Try and keep the hole the same width for the entire depth and make the bottom of the hole flat, not rounded. The square bottomed shape of the hole will help prevent the post and concrete from any sideways movement during high winds. When you reach a depth of around 2 feet, drop the post in the hole and adjust until you have 6 feet 1 inch of post above ground level. This will be the final post height, 6 feet for the panel with an inch to spare to allow for the post cap.
Installing the fence post and panel
Place the post in the hole and make sure it’s at the correct depth. The next step is to fix the fence panel.
To prevent the fixing batten splitting, it’s a good idea to drill pilot holes to take the fixing nails. Use 3 inch galvanised nails for fixing to the post - 3 nails for each batten on both sides of the panel. Alternatively you can use woodscrews of the same length or specially designed fixing brackets. Fix the panel so the top capping is an inch below the top of the post.
Mixing the concrete for the fence posts.
This method of fencing requires semi-dry concrete to be thoroughly rammed around the post. There are a number of benefits to using this method over wet concrete:
- You can continue to work on the fence immediately.
- The rammed concrete ensures no movement in the post.
- Wet concrete requires the post to be supported until the concrete hardens.
It’s important to mix the concrete to the correct consistency. If possible, use standard ballast and cement. (Another option is to use Postcrete which does not require compacting - you'll need at least two bags per fence post and it will cost more).
A post hole will typically require a 25kg bag of ballast mixed with cement at a ratio of 4:1. The cement comes in bags of 25kg so you’ll need a quarter of a bag of cement to each bag of ballast.
Using a wheelbarrow and shovel, mix the cement and ballast together whilst dry. Once thoroughly mixed, add the water. Start by adding just a few cupfuls and mix well. You are looking to achieve a semi-dry mix, not a saturated concrete. A good test of the right consistency is to take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it. If it compacts and sticks together, the mix is correct. If the mixture crumbles by itself, then it’s too dry; if it runs or is soft, it’s too wet.
Concreting the Fence Posts
For this stage, you’ll need something to compact the concrete with. The perfect tool for the job is a fencing bar - this dual purpose tool will compact concrete with the flat end and cut tree roots with the other. A 3 foot length of 4x2" timber will also do the job, as will an old pick axe handle. Whatever you use, just make sure it has a reasonably flat bottom and is long enough and heavy enough to do the job.
Check the vertical position of the post against the line you set up earlier. Throw in a shovel full of concrete. Using the rammer, compact the concrete and then check the level and position of the post. Throw in another shovel full of concrete and compact. Repeat this process checking the post with a spirit level constantly. If the post starts to lean, simply ram the concrete on the side of the lean to bring it back level. Bring the concrete up to just below ground level. When compacting the concrete, the harder you ram the better so get stuck in! Remember, the rigidity of your new fence depends completely on how well you compact the concrete.
Tip: Slope the top of the concrete away from the post slightly to prevent water laying against the timber; the post will last longer.
You now have the first post and panel in place. The position of the second post hole will be determined by the end of the panel. If the panel is in the way, it can be gently moved a few inches to one side to allow more room for digging.
Once the second post hole is ready, drop the post in and nail the panel before you begin to add the concrete. When nailing a panel to a post that is already concreted, make sure you ram the concrete again after nailing. This will ensure there is no movement in the post.
Repeat the procedure for all of the remaining posts and panels.
Cutting Fence Panels to Size.
• First, simply mark and cut the panel to size. If using a handsaw, expect the saw to jam several times. A circular saw or jigsaw will make the job easier. Make the cut panel a few millimetres narrower than the gap size. This will make fitting much easier.
• Remove the edge battens from the off-cut using a small pry bar. Trim the staples flush with the batten.
• Replace the edge battens using woodscrews of the correct length.
Don’t be tempted to pour water into the fence holes (unless you are using Postcrete, in which case follow the instructions on the bag). The concrete will set hard without being saturated.
If you prefer, you can concrete the first fence post without fixing the panel beforehand. Just make sure to compact the concrete again after nailing the panel to the post.
Another method is to dig all the post holes and fix all the panels before any concreting takes place. However, this is only practical when using wet concrete or on short runs of fencing as you will need to get on the other side of the fence to ram the concrete properly.
When fixing wooden fence post caps, always pre drill the fixing holes. They split very easily.