how to extreme

Build a Shadowbox Privacy Fence

Construction How-To, Fences, Fencing, Outdoor Living May 1, 2009 Matt Weber

By Matt Weber


A Step-by-step guide to building your own wood fence.





A fence can add a lot to a landscape. A fence can divide property lines, boost home equity, add to the outdoor décor and—as in our case—safely contain animals.

The animal in question is Raleigh, a goofy, brown cocker spaniel. My wife and I have recently moved to a new house and brought the dog along. Raleigh had grown accustomed to running freely throughout the yard, because our previous country home was safely secluded from traffic. However, the new house in the ‘burbs is on a much busier street, requiring the wife or I to walk the dog on a leash each time he needs to tinkle. This is aggravatingly repetitive and increasingly uncomfortable in cold weather. We decided it would be nice just to shoo the dog out the door while we stay in the house, but we needed a way to keep him out of traffic. That was the genesis of our fence project.

Design & Materials

When it comes to constructing a fence, you have a ton of options to consider for materials and design. Fence materials range from metal and wood to vinyl and wood-plastic composites. For an easy-to-build fence, you might consider using pre-assembled panels, which can dramatically reduce the time you’ll spend building.

However, if your yard is sloped, then to keep the panels level you’ll have to stagger the panel heights where they fasten to the posts. Because our yard has a significant grade, the staggered panels would have created gaps at the level bottom of the fence, through which the dog could escape. Not a good solution for us.

We opted to build a wood privacy fence from the ground up, which would closely follow the grade of the yard and secure the dog from the perils of suburbia. For our picket design, we chose a shadowbox style, which alternates the position of the pickets from one side of the stringer to the other—a feature we felt added extra depth to the design.

For the framing lumber, we visited our local Lowe’s Home Improvement Store to pick up a load of 8-foot 4-by-4 posts and 8-foot 2-by-4 boards for stringers (also called fence rails). All the lumber was pressure-treated for outdoor use, with the posts approved for ground contact.

For the fence boards or “pickets,” we used a species of wood that is too often overlooked these days: Cypress. We picked up the pickets from our local independent lumber supplier, Cole Hall Lumber. Cypress is actually a soft wood, although it grows alongside hardwoods and is usually grouped and manufactured with hardwoods. According to the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association (, the wood’s natural durability is a big benefit for exterior applications. Cypress generates cypressene, its own preservative oil, which makes its heartwood naturally resistant to insects, decay and chemical corrosion. These inherent strengths make cypress an ideal choice for long-wearing outdoor projects such as fences, decks, docks and siding.

We set the posts in Fast-Setting Concrete from Quikrete. You’ll find two big advantages of this product: speed and ease-of-use. This specific formula of Quikrete saves time by eliminating the need to premix the concrete. Simply pour in the mix dry, straight out of the bag into the post hole. Once the post is buried, then pour about a gallon of water per 50-pound bag over the dry mix, which then cures in about 30 minutes. Using about 1-1/2 bags per post, we found this to be a quick method to set them.