Appealing Pickets

Not every picket fence is an endless parade of pointy 1x3s (see photo 2). The classic design of this formal picket is based on Federal-style architecture, popular in America during the late 1700s. Along with fluted posts, it features pickets at different heights that create two fences in one design. The shorter, 16-inch-tall pickets mimic the low border fence commonly used around flower beds and gardens. The taller, 32-inch pickets form a traditional boundary fence typically found along property lines.

The 5-inch-square posts are made of pressure-treated 4x4s sheathed in 1-by trim boards. The 2x2 pickets are sandwiched between three pairs of 1x3 horizontal rails—a construction detail that allows water to drain through so the fence is far less likely to rot.

Construction. Begin by digging the postholes with a shovel or posthole digger. (If the fence is long and you have to create lots of holes, consider renting a power auger or hiring a landscape contractor who has one.) Space holes 7 feet on center and— as for all the fences covered here—dig them 24- to 30-inches-deep. Line the holes with 4 inches of gravel, set in the 4x4 posts and then tamp down dirt around them. For posts that support a gate or are freestanding at the end of the fence, you'll need to pour a concrete footing: Dig the hole below the frost line, add 4 inches of gravel, set in the post, brace it and fill the hole with concrete.

Once the posts are in, cut trim boards to fit on all four sides of each one. Rout the decorative flutes and cove detailing shown in the drawing, then nail the boards to the posts. Next, preassemble the pickets and rails into panels. Space the pickets 4 inches on center (check with your building department to be sure this spacing meets code). Cut short sections of 2x2s and screw them to the inside of the posts to serve as mounting blocks. Then slip the panels down between the posts and over the blocks, and secure them with nails or screws driven through the ends of the 1x3 rails and into the blocks. Finally, attach the caps and cove molding to the tops of the posts.

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