How To Build A Fence (At The Last Minute)

As several of you noticed in Monday’s party recap, our patio area boasted another feature on Saturday (beyond more balloons and little kids than you can count). Yep, there’s a new 6′ privacy fence going on back there. When did it get installed? In the sliver of days between completing the patio and hosting the party. But time was so tight that I didn’t get to blog about it until after the bean’s shindig (aka: today).

Here’s how it all went down up. Throughout my patio-ing, Sherry regularly reminded that me she wanted to beef up the fence situation between us and the neighbor before Clara’s birthday party. Her goal was to prevent this big blue car that was always parked next door from becoming the backdrop to all of our party photos.

Though I agreed with her motive, my patio-ravaged muscles didn’t appreciate her timing and my mouth decided to say things like “you’re crazy,” “no way!” and “are you kidding me???” (yes, I’m a bit of a grump when sore, tired, and stressed). So for those wondering what the heck we argue over, getting to this whole fence project was one of those things that we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on. Of course Sherry got her way in the end though. When the patio project wrapped up with three days to spare, I begrudgingly rented a Lowe’s truck on Tuesday night and hauled home my supplies which amounted to four 8ft-long-and-6ft-tall fence panels, five 8ft-tall fence posts, and some other miscellaneous items.

The plan was to replace the current fence – a 4ft-ish wire mesh fence held up by a combo of wood posts and a single steel rod – with something taller (6 feet, to be exact) and, of course, less see-through.

First, that old fence had to come down. Luckily my wire cutters were sharp and both the wood and that steel post were pretty rotted, so I was able to strip them out quickly:

Next up was measuring and marking the spots for my posts. Using these ever-helpful Lowe’s videos that I keep finding on youtube, I knew placing my posts accurately would be extremely important (they’ve gotta be exactly 8 feet apart, or else my pre-made panels wouldn’t line up right). So first I roughly marked all of my holes with wood stakes, so that before I dug each of the holes I could triple-check my measurements (and then check them again before placing my post).

Next was the sucky part: digging. I had myself a hole digger and all, but it still made my already-sore body even more miserable. And you better believe I let Sherry know it. I’m that kind of hubby when she gets her way. Anyway, I had heard from a few folks that I should set my post 24 inches deep. But as I approached about 20 inches, the thick clay earth officially had me beat (and had me thinking weird things like “how do all of those sorority girls in horror movies manage to dig graves to hide bodies?”). So I cheated a smidge and just power-sawed my posts a few inches shorter so they’d stick no more than 6 feet out of the ground. Post-hole-depth purists, feel free to wag your fingers at me (thankfully in the end everything is still extremely solid and those last few inches of depth didn’t seem to compromise a thing thanks to our dense clay soil and my next step which involves concrete).

My post holes got an inch or two of gravel on the bottom (supposedly for drainage), followed by my post which was then surrounded by a couple of bags of Quikrete (the no-mix stuff that sets when you just-add-water). Oh and here’s a tip about that stuff. Obviously you don’t want it to get rained on in the bags before you use it (or it’ll set into giant rectangles of useless concrete). So I kept it in the trunk since I worried that our carport was still too moist/clammy for it and I knew it would be rain-free in there. It actually stormed in the 24 hours between getting it home and using it so I was definitely glad that I did the trunk thing.

But back to my fence posts. I rigged up some makeshift supports out of scrap wood to keep the post from shifting, though I think the concrete (both dry and eventually wet) did most of the work.

The true hero of the day was my post level, which is pretty much the only way I could ensure that each post wasn’t leaning too far forward, backward, or slanting to the side. So I highly recommend grabbing one of these babies if you’re ever tackling a fence project.

Second to the level were these couple of strings that I tied up – one to mark the front edge of my fence (to be sure that I’d set my posts in a straight line) and another to represent the top of my posts (to make sure everything was set at the same depth).

I won’t pretend it wasn’t a hard Wednesday afternoon, but eventually I did get all four posts placed (and realized that I didn’t need the fifth, thanks to one leftover from the old fence). And once all of my Quikrete was watered, dried, set, and covered with dirt, I decided to call it a day – just to be sure things were solid before putting any weight on them.

Thursday wasn’t all that complicated by comparison. Sure, the panels were a bit unwieldy but one by one I carried them into place and drove a few wood screws into them to keep them from going anywhere. I had to do a bit of digging and leveling to counteract the slight slope of the land, but – as you can see – I managed to keep a smile on my face. This is the point where Sherry stopped feeling as bad for me and starting saying things like “See how much of a difference it makes?!” and “Aren’t you glad we’re getting this done?!” and I had to admit I agreed with her. I hate when that happens. But some projects just feel pretty darn good in the home stretch and immediately make a dramatic difference – and this was definitely one of them.

The stars must’ve aligned for me that day because, more importantly, my fence panels aligned PERFECTLY – including the one that I had to cut down to fit (the space was 27 feet long, so I needed three full 8-foot panels and about 3-feet of the fourth). Cutting them involved taking a handsaw to the three horizontal rails, which drained the last few ounces of energy I had left in me. This is my tired face:

But here’s what I was left with – a virtually seamless, twenty seven foot stretch of privacy-rich fencing… done just in time for me to focus on Clara’s party on Saturday (which was about 48 hours away at that point).

We’ll stain the fence eventually – along with the existing panel in front of it – so it looks a bit more finished. As you probably guessed, we chose this new fence style to match that existing panel that was behind our recycling bin (but wanted the full 6′ height to gain as much privacy as possible from nextdoor (since their land slants up so we needed all the height we could get). Someday we might upgrade the shorter existing panel in the front to match the height of the side panels, but for now it doesn’t look too noticeable since there are a ton of plantings right in front of that shorter panel that make it really hard to see from the street anyway.

Oh and do you see that tiny sliver of space where the fences meet? A small 1 x 1 x 6″ piece of wood should conceal it perfectly whenever we have a chance to grab it (did I mention time was tight thanks to the impending party?).

I’m notoriously bad at keeping receipts, so this is my best guess at a budget breakdown based on my credit card statement:

* Our actual total was really more like $213 because we purchased all of the above at Lowe’s and used our Lowe’s card which gives you 5% off every purchase (just like a Target credit card). Woot.

** This post isn’t an ad for Lowe’s, we just happened to find their youtube video helpful and then bought our stuff there – but we’re not in cahoots with them or anything.

I know we may have been able to tackle this project for less if I built the fence slat by slat, but in light of the tight wife-imposed timeline (and my tired arse) those prebuilt panels were a lifesaver. And they weren’t even that costly, considering all the time and effort they saved ($39 for each 8 ft long by 6 ft tall panel). As for Clara’s party this weekend, the freshly installed fence did its job: no big blue car playing camera hog in the background.

Ah, what a difference a fence can make:

As for me, my body has finally recovered from my two manual-labor-filled weeks. But that doesn’t mean I’m looking to take on any heavy lifting anytime soon. Sherry, I hope you’re reading this.






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