how to extreme

Composite Fencing with FenceScape

Construction How-To, Fences, Fencing, Outdoor Living November 9, 2010 Sonia



By Mark Clement

 

Fences are game-changers-for both homeowners and their neighbors. Here’s an alternative to the traditional wooden fence.

 

An alternative to an all-wood fence is one built from composite material, taking a cue from recent trends in the deck-building industry. The material featured in this article is called FenceScape, and it’s actually manufactured by TimberTech, a popular manufacturer of composite and PVC decking. Like synthetic decking, this composite fence material offers two major selling points: longevity and low-maintenance.

And, the benefits of composite material don’t end there. With its integrated color, no painting, staining or sealing is required. Importantly, this means no repainting or re-staining down the road. The material won’t split, warp, crack, splinter or succumb to termite damage. Furthermore, FenceScape features UV-inhibiting pigments so fading will be minimal.

The fence boards feature a natural wood pattern along with the same versatility of design as real wood. It works like wood, requiring no special tools or fasteners, and the fence can follow the contour of the terrain for safe containment of the family pet.

My FenceScape project is a 6 foot, three-rail privacy fence running 18 panels long. It strikes a line between three urban back yards. Each end-panel swoops to an elegant and friendly finish.

 

Step 1: Layout

I mapped this fence run from control-post to a stake because it ended at an imaginary line between two houses, but I wanted the string to run all the way to the property line to ensure accuracy.

If you're going to re-use string, make sure to coil it back up carefully. Jeez!

If you’re going to re-use string, make sure to coil it back up carefully. Jeez!

Clement Carpentry Tip: Use a carpenters pencil as a spool to play out the string. If you plan to re-use the string, roll it back up carefully.

 

The hollow composite posts make full-size templates of the layout easier.I marked the center of the post with brightly colored kids' driveway chalk.

The hollow composite posts make full-size templates of the layout easier. I marked the center of the post with brightly colored kids’ driveway chalk.

Because FenceScape posts are hollow I used the fence parts for layout; not the U-jig I usually employ with wood fences. To mark the post-hole centers, I dropped brightly colored kid’s driveway chalk into the center of the post cut-off that I was using as a template.

 

Step 2: Posts & Rails

Install post heights wild. You can trim them to size later.

I rented a Dingo because I can maneuver the Dingo’s auger to pinpoint layout. This is a huge time-saver compared to manually digging the post holes.

Set the post in the hole. Use rail stock as a gauge-stick and plumb both faces of the post.

Set the post in the hole. Use rail stock as a gauge-stick and plumb both faces of the post.

Tamp the soft earth with the blunt end of a digging bar.

Tamp the soft earth with the blunt end of a digging bar.

 

Since I used a 12-inch auger there’s fudge factor to shift the post. Before setting the post, tamp the soft earth in the bottom of the hole with a digging bar.

Set the rail layout on the high side then level over to the low side, mark the post and set the bracket.

Set the rail layout on the high side then level over to the low side, mark the post and set the bracket.

The hollow posts are easier to move than solid posts. Once I got them located and plumb, pouring in 4 inches of gravel traps them in place.

Mark the post height, mark the rail location and install the rail bracket. Or, use cleats as in a wood fence.

Mark the post height, mark the rail location and install the rail bracket. Or, use cleats as in a wood fence.

Using FenceScape’s powder-coated brackets, I fastened the bottom rails on layout—on the high post, 8 inches up from grade. I pocket the rail, level it over and install the other end on the low-side post. The top rails come next—66 inches up from the bottom of the bottom rail. Use a rafter square and combination to square to layout the rail bracket location then install the bracket. Installing the top rail further secures the posts for the application of concrete, which I mix and pour from a wheelbarrow—quickly spraying off any over-pour.

Once the concrete is dry I backfill and tamp the holes, compacting the earth every 8 inches or so.

Next: Post cuts. I stepped these posts 4 inches above the top rail on the high side, marked and cut them with an 8-1/4-inch worm drive.

Crown the rail stock and install with the crown up. Fasten with screws. I liked 1-1/2" Grip-Rite composite decking screws for this application.

Crown the rail stock and install with the crown up. Fasten with screws. I liked 1-1/2″ Grip-Rite composite decking screws for this application.

 

Step 3: Middle Rails and Pickets

I installed the middle rail off-center—30 inches above the bottom rail—for a cool look. The FenceScape 2-by rails remain rigid via an internal steel mesh but they cut easily with standard circ saw blades. Take note: They’re crowned—or bent—so eye-ball them and install the crown up, like an arch. Store the rails as flat as possible before installing.

Drop 4 inches of gravel into the hole, then mix and pour concrete. Be ready with a garden hose to spray off any spillage.

Drop 4 inches of gravel into the hole, then mix and pour concrete. Be ready with a garden hose to spray off any spillage.

While the FenceScape manufacturer recommends using screws, 1/2-inch crown staples, 1-1/2-inch ring shank nails or screws, I selected screws. I liked Grip-Rite’s 1-5/8 inch composite screw which eliminates the “mushrooming” common with fasteners in composite material, and it blends with the FenceScape’s color. It worked for the brackets, too, with the washer-head set flat. Undeniably, however, using staples would save hours.

Cut the last post to height. An 8-!/4" circ saw like this Skil wormdrive makes quicker work of this because you can make the cut in two passes.

Cut the last post to height. An 8-!/4″ circ saw like this Skil wormdrive makes quicker work of this because you can make the cut in two passes.

When installing the pickets, or “slats,” I gang-cut them all at once. I typically employ a 2×4 spacer under my slats to allow a 1-1/2-inch weed-whacker gap—this is something I like as a homeowner and something my inspector likes to see, too.

Because the posts are proud of the rails, you have to install the first two slats to fit. Then install the rest wild—until the last two. Again, because of the posts, they are cut to fit. The last slat gets ripped to fit.

I use a 2-by on the flat as a spacer to create a weed-whacker gap at the bottom of the fence. Also, I cut the first two slats to length and install. The rest I install wild until the last two, which are also cut to fit.

I use a 2-by on the flat as a spacer to create a weed-whacker gap at the bottom of the fence. Also, I cut the first two slats to length and install. The rest I install wild until the last two, which are also cut to fit.

When it’s time to trim the wild boards, you can gang-cut the slats from either side of the fence.

Step 4: Trim Pieces

For a completed look, FenceScape says you can pop their post caps on with a finish nailer, but I found them a little too brittle. A few dabs of Phenoseal on the underside is actually easier anyway, then just lay them on.

Cut wild slats to length, then cap with trim pieces.

Cut wild slats to length, then cap with trim pieces.

The FenceScape system also features slat and rail caps. Trim the slat tops with FenceScape’s nominal 1×4 piece, then cover that and the rail with a second 1×4.

Use an adhesive like Phenoseal and set the post caps.

Use an adhesive like Phenoseal and set the post caps.

Layout Note: The rails were 96 inches, but the 1×4 stock is shorter. Double-check these elements against each other before building for tighter tolerances in the end.

Bend a piece of composite to locate the swoop and trace it. I always start the bend, one full board in from the end to give the saw room to cut. Then I set the saw just past the depth of the material and cut.

Bend a piece of composite to locate the swoop and trace it. I always start the bend, one full board in from the end to give the saw room to cut. Then I set the saw just past the depth of the material and cut.

Step 5: Swoop On In

For a decorative arc, plotting the cutline is a snap. After setting my last post—a 48 incher—and slats, all I do is flex some 1×4 between two points on the high and low side, eye-ball the most graceful curve, then trace it. Note: I start the arc one full, square board inward from the high side to give the saw room to travel. I install an angle brace to support the slats then set my circ saw about 3/4 inch depth of cut and follow the line.

The result is a cool-looking fence that will last years with minimal upkeep.

Fences are about 90% carpentry but to leap all the hurdles a fence site throws at you, it's best to be ready with your landscape stuff, too. My chain saw was the best tool for clearing this underbrush.

Fences are about 90% carpentry but to leap all the hurdles a fence site throws at you, it’s best to be ready with your landscape stuff, too. My chain saw was the best tool for clearing this underbrush.

 

Tools

If you think you’ll only be using a few carpentry tools—make sure your landscape stuff is gassed up, anyway. I couldn’t get by without my chainsaw, string trimmer, pruners, recip saw, gasoline-powered blower and two different rakes—and remodeling tools like a recip saw and cordless chipping hammer to zap out some asphalt that was paved past the property line. And, a buried concrete blob needed to be chipped away to make room for a new post.

This one from the "nothing's ever easy department": The edge of the driveway was under a fence post. Alas, my cordless chipping hammer made quick work of the asphalt.

This one from the “nothing’s ever easy department”: The edge of the driveway was under a fence post. Alas, my cordless chipping hammer made quick work of the asphalt.

In another instance of "be-ready-with-your-landscape-stuff," pruners save the day cutting roots out of this hole.

In another instance of “be-ready-with-your-landscape-stuff,” pruners save the day cutting roots out of this hole.