how to extreme

Install an Ornamental Metal Fence

Construction How-To, Fences, Fencing December 20, 2007 Matt Weber


Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and the Minor family of Birmingham, Alabama, decided to be good neighbors. They selected an ornamental metal fence to follow the property line of their new home. The fence was chosen for its good looks and to provide safe stomping grounds for the family dog. This meant the dog could roam around the yard, while sparing the adjoining yards from any unwanted lawn fertilizer. Good neighbors, indeed. We installed the fence over a long weekend, and here’s how we did it.


Planning and Prepping Anytime you’re planning to erect an outdoor structure you should check your local building regulations. Contact the appropriate state or local jurisdictions regarding mandatory setbacks, permissible fence heights, style limitations or required permits.

And always locate all underground utilities before you dig, including lines for water, gas, phone, electrical or cable TV. All locations throughout the United States have an underground utility locating service, and the service is usually free. Service personnel will come out prior to digging your holes and locate any underground cables on your property.

Also, clearly mark all legal boundaries taking into account any concrete fence footings, which should not extend beyond your property. It’s a good idea to keep your fence four inches inside your property line.

Lay out your fence plan with stakes and string. If you plan to use standard gate hardware, then square up the corners using the 3-4-5 rule. For out-of-square corners, you can use special swiveling brackets to install the panels against the fence posts.

When laying out the fence, sketch your site plan on paper, including measurements, fence lines and notes for all post, corner and gate locations. The fence system featured in this article is the Montage Fence from Ameristar, which comes with pre-assembled panels. The 8-foot panels were designed to connect to the metal posts with special brackets, so no welding was required. On our site plan, we marked post locations following the property line every 96-3/4 inches (according to Ameristar’s instructions). When the property limit didn’t leave room for an entire 8-foot panel, we shortened the span between posts with the intent of cutting the panels to size when it came time to install.

(diagrams courtesy Ameristar)

With our plan completed, we then used stakes and string line to mark the fence location. For a 90-degree corner, make sure the corner is square using the the 3-4-5 method: Mark one string at three feet from the corner. Mark the second string at four feet from the same corner. Adjust the two strings so the distance between the two marks is exactly five feet, which ensures a right angle. (If you prefer a fence with corners at out-of-square angles, you can use special swiveling brackets to connect the fence panels to the corner post.)

We marked the post locations with spikes and spray paint.

Breaking Ground We marked all post locations on the ground with spray paint and spikes, and drilled the post holes. This was tougher than it sounds. Each post needed to be at least 2 feet deep and 8 inches wide. And we had to dig through the tough clay and rock of a new subdivision that was built into a mountainside. We rented a gas-powered auger, and although it did speed things up, it also kept jamming against big baseball-sized rocks.

A gas-powered auger speeds up the chore of digging the post holes.

To break out the rocks we resorted to a 5-foot iron wrecking bar—basically a heavy-metal spear that we used like a manual jackhammer. A handheld post-hole digger helped to clear the hole of dirt. All of this digging was really tough work—17 holes—and it was easily the longest and hardest phase of construction.

When the auger stopped against an obstruction, we resorted to using a large wrecking bar to break out the hard rock.

The holes provided our rough measurements for the post locations, but I wanted a firm figure to measure the distances. I assembled two posts and a panel on the ground, and lined the connecting brackets in the center of their screw slots to afford myself a little “fudge” room. The distance from inside post face to the other inside post face was 94-1/2 inches. This would be our magic number. (We measured the 4-foot gate separately.)