How to Install a Wood Privacy Fence (6 Easy Steps)

newly installed wooden privacy fence with gate

Adding a new fence can offer privacy and security and can also increase your home’s value. Installing a fence is a fairly simple process and usually consists of installing posts, rails, and pickets.

You can choose from various materials for a fence, including vinyl, wood, and steel, but wood is one of the most economical options and looks fantastic. There are many styles to choose from, but the basic installation is pretty much the same.

Materials Needed to Install a Fence

You’ll need the following materials for your fence installation project:

  • 4×4 Posts
  • 2×4 Rails
  • Pickets
  • Gravel
  • Marking Paint
  • Post-Setting Concrete
  • Nails and Screws
  • Gate Hardware

Tools Needed For a Fence Installation Project

Installing a fence requires the following tools:

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Step One: Plan the Fence Installation

When planning a fence, the first order of business is to define where the fence will go and identify how many linear feet of fence you plan to install.

The next step is to choose a style, which will determine what type of rails and pickets you purchase. For example, there are solid board, shadowbox, stockade, picket, slip-board, and many more styles to choose from.

Estimate Materials

Once you have a style in mind, you can begin estimating materials. Find out how far apart your posts will be, and then estimate the number of posts needed.

Based on the number of posts, estimate how many rails will be needed to put between them and finally estimate the number of pickets needed. You can also use our fence calculator to calculate the post spacing and how many posts, rails, and pickets you will need.

Estimating Labor Costs

Installing a fence yourself can save significant labor costs; see how much having a professional install your fence will cost. Getting installation estimates can confirm how much you will save by tackling the project yourself or give you the option to hire someone to complete the work.

Step Two: Lay Out the Posts

The first step of the installation project is to lay out where the fence and all posts will go. Use a mason line to locate the fence’s perimeter and marking paint to locate all of the post holes.

As soon as you start digging, you will lose your center point, so draw an X and extend the lines about a foot off the center point of the post to locate the center point later after you’ve started digging.

See our in-depth guide to laying out a fence for detailed information on laying out the posts, finding utilities, and getting straight lines and perfectly square corners.

Mason line attached to stakes and an "x" drawn with layout paint

Step Three: Install the Fence Posts

The next step is to install all of the fence posts that the rails and pickets will eventually attach to complete the fence. The most common type of post is a 4×4 pressure-treated post or a 4×4 cedar post.

Digging the Post Holes

Once you’ve acquired all the material and laid out the fence, it’s time to start digging. Before you begin, make sure to call your utility companies or locating service such as 811 to have utilities marked out and follow any local safety or legal guidelines before digging.

Use a post hole digger to dig down about 2-3 feet per post. Consider renting a post hole auger if you have many posts to dig. Remove excess dirt, so it is not in your way for the rest of the project.

man digging post holes to install a new fence

It’s essential that you install the posts at least two feet deep. For gate posts or posts that are taller than six feet, you should install the posts at least three feet deep.

Setting the Posts

Once you’ve completed digging the holes, it’s time to begin setting the posts. Start by adding 6″ of gravel to the hole to allow for drainage and to avoid rotting out the bottom of the posts.

Next, place the post in the hole and locate it in the center of the X that you located earlier. Use a post level and 4′ level to ensure that the post is plumb in all directions.

Add post-setting concrete to the top of the hole and then add water, per the manufacturer’s instructions. At this point, the posts will need to set for a period of time while the concrete cures.

This varies based on the type of concrete purchased. Use our post hole concrete calculator to estimate the amount of concrete needed to set your posts.

After you’ve set the posts, cut them to an even height so the fence will be a consistent height.

Step Four: Install Fence Rails and Pickets

After you’ve set the posts, it is time to install the rails between each post and then the pickets.

Adding the Rails

Depending on your style, you can install the rails between the posts, making the rails flush to the outside of the post, or you can install the rails to the face of the posts so they sit proud.

We recommend cutting each rail to length by measuring each space individually, do not attempt to cut all rails at once as the spacing will vary slightly.

Use a drill to screw the rails into the posts.

Installing the Pickets

After the rails are all installed, attach the pickets to achieve the design you planned out. For a solid board fence, attach each picket tight to the previous one on the outside of the fence. Use a drill to screw each picket to the rails.

Large pickets may require 2-3 screws per rail, while a small picket may require only one screw per rail.

Step Five: Install the Gate(s)

The next step in the fence installation process is to add gates. Start by building your gates, make them about 1/2″ to 1″ smaller than the openings to allow them to swing easily. Construct a frame and add a Z brace to prevent the gate from sagging later. Add pickets to match the rest of the fence.

Add hinges and attach the gate to the post. Add locking hardware to allow the gate to remain shut and locked if needed.

Step Six: Finish the Fence

The final step to the fence installation is to add finish. You may need to wait 30 days for the lumber to dry out for a better finish. Add stain or paint to the desired color.

Small fences may be brushed and rolled, but consider renting a paint sprayer for larger projects. Learn more about how much it costs to paint or stain your fence.