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:

  • Quikrete concrete mix (8 bags): $30
  • Lowe’s truck rental: $19
  • Fence panels (4) and posts (4): $171
  • Post level: $5
  • Hole digger: borrowed from my sister
  • Screws, stakes, line level, rope and screws: already owned
  • TOTAL: $225 (for a 27-foot long, 6-foot tall fence)*

* 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.


  1. says

    “How do all of those sorority girls in horror movies manage to dig graves to hide bodies?” cracked me up!

    The fence looks great, John! I don’t know how you managed to get this done AFTER building the patio and BEFORE Clara’s party. It’s amazing!

  2. Andi says

    I have to be honest, it is comforting to know that I am not the only mom who likes to cover all the details before a party… My husband has had to power wash the house, clean windows, hang pictures, and install things because I was concerned about photos and such. Good job John!

  3. says

    Completely impressed with your fence building skills…I could use a fence as well, but it would be easiest if you guys could just swing on over and put it up for me…I will make cookies for you as payment.

  4. Erica M says

    John, you ROCK! It is nice to hear you are can get into crabby husband mode when the heavy manual labor falls to you, (you know, just so we remember you two are not perfect!) but my husband would never be convinced to take on something so big!
    So impressed with your attention to detail – care to measure everything so well, both with the fence and patio, great job!

  5. says

    It looks great John!! Ha, a little boost of confidence for ya, my Dad calls his post hole digger his PHD. lol. He’s always like, “today when I was using my PHD (get it, like degree).” Makes him sound so sophiscated.

  6. Mandy says

    John, you are a rockstar!!! I’m hoping that our fence building adventure here shortly will be just as easy…

  7. says

    great! now you guys can sunbathe naked. haha.

    seriously though, i could use some husband-wrangling tips from sherry. there’s no way i could’ve gotten my husband to do that!

    • says

      Hah, Sherry that reminds me, I was wondering if you were planning to wean Clara now that she is a year old. I hope I’m not being too nosy. My baby’s almost 10 months and is quickly losing interest – can’t wait to wean!

      Oh yeah – the fence looks great too. Haha. Way to go, John!

    • says

      She might never wean! The girl wants it every three hours on the hour. Literally she’ll come up to me and nuzzle in for some. I figure it’s still something she likes and I don’t mind it and it’s good for her so I’m not going to try to wean her. I’m just gonna follow her cues and see how long she’s interested. We are starting milk now that she’s one as well, so perhaps she’ll slowly phase me out that way?


    • Kana says

      When I was a baby apparently I did not want to give up breast milk for the longest time and I actually started nibbling which really hurt my mom… In the end, she duct taped her boobs so that when I nuzzled, there was nothing there. But I still didn’t give up!! so she duct taped and drew a scary face on it and I finally cried and never wanted breast milk ever again. Sad, but true story.

    • says

      Oh my gosh that’s quite the story! I’m hoping Clara will never nibble and eventually outgrow nursing! I do love it though, so I’m not in a huge rush. It’s nice slow-the-heck-down-and-snuggle time. Haha.


    • says

      Good for you Sherry! I nursed my older son until he was two, and then when I finally replaced his bedtime nursing sessions with bedtime stories, he never complained.

    • Marci says

      I breastfed my first until she was 2-1/2…. didn’t think she would ever give it up but I was soooo done by that point so finally I offered her a trip to DD for munchkins in place of the milk since she only nursed in the morning and she agreed. Then after a couple days we moved to play-doh since this didn’t seem like the healthiest of options. I’m still nursing my 2nd who is almost 2. No weaning in sight for her either although its just in the evening and in the mornings although I admit that now that I have an iphone, I appreciate the “down time” to surf the internet or play angry birds while she’s perfectly content nursing :-)

    • Nadia says

      I breastfed my daughter until she was about 18 months old and she was the same way…she loved it! She wasn’t super happy about weaning, but I was ready and our pediatrician said it was pretty much time since she was needing it to fall asleep and with teeth and all, it could have become an issue. I still sometimes miss that closeness. Weird though that now to fall asleep she needs to literally put her hand in my shirt…weird? Tmi??

    • says

      Haha that’s so funny! Ironically Clara never falls asleep on me (sometimes John but usually on no one and only when she’s in her crib). I’m sort of sad that I don’t get to hold a sleeping bean but I guess it’s a good sign that she falls asleep on her own in her room every night. Who knows what’ll happen when we wean her someday though!


  8. Amy L. says

    Wow! Well done. You’ve set yourself up to do the pre-party impossible though. Just wait until Sherry tells you she needs 4 child sized picnic tables next year the week of the party. (Yes, I did ask, and yes, my fabulous husband delivered!)

    • says

      I think it’s called “composite” – it’s basically concrete with small polished pebbles stuck into it before it dried (so they’re fixed in place). Not amazing, but not too terrible either.


    • Monica says

      OMG… I’ve been dying to ask the same thing!! I saw it in a few picuters while you guys were putting in the stone patio and thought, oh I bet they’ll sweep and clean everything so nicely for the party..

      and then I say it in all the party pictures! That’s when I had to find out what it was, it’s been driving me crazy to know what it was!

      I have issues! :)

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