All Fenced In
Attractive, versatile and creative, a wood fence system can be an excellent choice. You can expect years of protection, privacy and value. The sheer beauty of wood is the primary reason to select it as your fencing material. A properly designed, finely crafted and skillfully installed wood fence takes on an individual quality all its own — independent of its surroundings. Matched to the style of your house and grounds, it will enhance your home’s appearance and add to its value. But as with any investment, it pays to do your homework. Wood fencing comes in a wide range of qualities, colors, sizes and types. Before you buy, spend a little time getting to know what’s currently available. You’ll get the most value for your money and the right fence for your needs.
What Material Should You Choose?
Most fences are made from wood. It’s affordable, versatile and easy to obtain. It comes in uniform sizes, and it’s the easiest material for a homeowner to use. You can finish it with paint or stain. Or, if you use treated wood or cedar, you can let it age to a natural color.
Proper installation is the key to an attractive, long-lasting fence. The single greatest problem with wood fences is premature failure of the posts. Wood does not hold up well to ground contact and once the posts begin to fail, the appearance of the fence is compromised. I believe the best solution is to use steel posts to construct your wood fence. At the very least, be sure you use quality posts and rails made from softwoods that are naturally rot-resistant such as cedar or redwood, or those that have been pressure-treated to limit rotting. Buy hot-dip-galvanized, aluminum and stainless steel fasteners, which are all corrosion-resistant. Other types are not recommended because they can rust and disintegrate, or react adversely with the natural preservative oils present in some wood.
The appearance quality of the boards you choose will make all the difference in the way your finished fence looks. You’ll find different grades that meet the quality specifications of published grading rules or product standards. These standards have been developed to ensure the structural integrity and appearance you’d expect for the intended use of the product.
Typical Wood Grade Descriptions:
• Clear — Its limited number of natural characteristics make it the grade to specify when you want a fence board with the highest-quality appearance. This is the most expensive of all the grades mentioned.
• Premium (also referred to as #1 two face) — The occasional small, tight knot adds interest to this type of fence. This lumber is graded for the same appearance on both faces (sides) and edges.
• Select (#1 one face) — The same as premium on one face, it allows limited defect characteristics on the other face.
• Standard — Allows more appearance defects than select or premium on one graded face and limited defect characteristics on the other face.
• Standard and Better — Allows more appearance defects than select or premium on one graded face and limited defect characteristics on the other face.
• Quality — This economy grade has greater limiting characteristics and is the lowest cost. Knots that may become knotholes can be expected with this grade of product.
Remember that one key to an attractive fence is uniformity. For example, when using rough-sawn lumber, uniform natural characteristics will make the finished project more pleasing. The grade of lumber will determine the number and size of defects. If you opt for lower cost grades, you should expect defects to be consistent with that grade. Some retailers will permit you to sort through the lumber stacks, selecting only the very best pieces to your liking. If you are having a fence built, you should expect the contractor to only reject those boards that do not fall within the grading rules for the product you selected. It is important that you and your contractor agree on what your wood fence will look like when completed.
Upkeep for a wood fence system depends on how you’d like your fence to look in years to come. Do you want it to match the color of your house? Show off the hard work you’ve done with landscaping? Or weather naturally to a silver gray? Your goals will determine your maintenance costs. Using a good grade of materials and allowing them to weather naturally will give you a long-lasting fence with no maintenance. If you paint the fence, your maintenance costs will depend on the painting cycle of your house.
Which style suits your home?
Wood fencing materials let you choose from a wide range of styles limited only by your imagination. Consider all the possibilities before you decide. And remember that a properly designed and well-built wood fence can complement your home so naturally that it will look like it grew right in place.
• Solid Board — Available with a cap rail for an estate look, this style also can be arched or scalloped for a flowing look that highlights the post, which can be finished with a decorative topping.
• Shadowbox — This privacy fence allows breezes to pass through, looks attractive from both sides and is easy to build.
• Spaced-Picket — Popular for its versatility and perhaps the most traditional of American fences, it makes a good border while providing an open view.
• Lattice Top — This privacy fence allows privacy yet provides vision through the lattice top. Lattice’s open design breaks a strong wind into a light breeze.
• Stockade — Another popular early American style, it offers a classic New England look.
• Basket Weave — Attractive when viewed from either side, it is very strong and makes an appealing privacy fence. It’s also an attractive backdrop for plantings.
• Vertical Board on Board — Another privacy fence, its attractive design requires three rails with boards attached to each side.
• Post and Rail — This fence combines an open view with exceptional sturdiness. The different types available allow you to create a unique look for your landscape. Add wire mesh inside the fence for containment of pets or children.
Use the following types to create a rustic boundary or accent for your property:
• Split Rail — Western Red Cedar in either two or three rail design.
• Split Rail — West Virginia Split rail in either two or three rail design. A true Appalachian look.
• Round Doweled Post and Rail – This system creates a uniform appearance that flows with your landscape.
• Ranch Rail — A popular look for equestrian containment. This system can be finished in black or white.
• Guard Rail — Traditional decorative fence system for parking lots, parks or golf courses.
This lattice-top privacy fence was designed by Jeff Davis of Straight Line Design in Birmingham, Alabama (205-966-4813).
Adding the Gate
The gate is the most important part of your fence, and since it’s also the only moving part, it’s susceptible to sagging, sticking or slipping out of alignment. Properly designed gates will use quality hardware to help maintain proper operation.
Gate posts are critical for wood fences. Wood’s tendency to warp and twist can cause any gate design to become misaligned. Earlier, I mentioned a preference of steel post for wood fencing. This post is the solution for natural warping and twisting of wood posts.
Make sure the size of your gate post can handle the weight of the gate. Wider gates require larger posts that will not bend under the stress created from opening and closing the gate.
Several types of gate hardware are available. Gate hardware that is coated with an epoxy and then a polyester finish will yield long-term resistance against fading and rust. Another option is gate hardware made from molded plastic and stainless steel. The plastic/stainless system allows you to lock the gate like your front door. It features reliable latching action with a sleek design and 100-percent rust-free components.
Gate frames are another source of failure with wood gates. For a wood-frame gate, use a gate sag prevention kit that includes a turnbuckle for adjustments as the gate wears. For sturdy framework, attach your rails to the steel gate frame and then attach the boards to the gate rails.
Customize Your Fence
Workability and adaptability are two key benefits of wood fence systems. These benefits allow you or your design professional to create a unique system. Your fence section can be flat, arched or scalloped. Boards or pickets can be topped to match or create a design. Fence posts can even be topped to match your boards. Left as a flattop post, the addition of unique post caps will put the last finished detail on your fence. Caprails and fascia boards add elegance and create a more formal look. And arbors, trellis and pergolas can be incorporated with fence systems creating your own personal touch and look.
Editor’s Note: Jerry Short is Wood Fence Product Manager for Master-Halco. He has more than 20 years of industry experience in building and selecting wood fences. For more information on fence systems, visit www.fenceonline.com.
Other Fence Options
If a wood fence doesn’t fit your needs, or taste, you certainly have other choices. From ornamental steel and composite wood products to PVC systems, chain-link and more, there’s sure to be a design and material choice to suit your home.
Merchants Metals offers a full line of fencing products, including steel ornamental, wood, PVC, aluminum and chain link. Chain-link fencing is enduring, affordable and adds a practical investment to your home. Choose a color from the company’s Colorbond option to add character to your backyard. Merchants Metals’ Colorbond chain-link fences are maintenance-free, needing no paint, and they won’t chip, crack or peel. For more information, visit www.merchantsmetals.com.
PVC fencing requires little or no maintenance. For any fence, railing or residential application, PVC provides superior performance and durability. Its resistance to impact and ultraviolet radiation means PVC won’t rust, rot, fade, peel or chip, which means no painting is ever required. A wide variety of fence and rail styles are available for PVC systems.
For the extreme do-it-yourselfer, there’s always the option to create a decorative metal fence one rail at a time. Wrought Iron Handicrafts offers a line of hand-operated metalwork tools such as twisters, rollers, scroll formers, shears and more, which help to create the classic look of wrought iron. For project ideas and to learn more about the Metalcraft line of tools, visit www.metalcraftusa.com.
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