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How to Build a Wood Lattice Fence

A cedar fence featuring square lattice and chunky posts creates a decorative yard accent that'll stand up to any climate—and plenty of neighborly ogling

Any old fence will cordon off a space. But a handsome design built from cedar parts also boosts curb appeal, which can't be said of even the finest chain link. And though cedar is pricey, sleeving pressure-treated 4×4 posts in 1× cedar instead of paying for solid 6×6 cedar posts cuts costs. Save even more by reserving clear cedar for prominent areas and using common cedar in places where its imperfections won't show.

"Just be sure to call 811 to have utility lines marked before you dig," says This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers. Read on to see how he put this beauty together.

Download the cut list to build a wood lattice fence.

How to Build a Wood Fence Overview

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Day-to-Day Timeline

Prep Day Determine the fence line and set the first post (Steps 2 and 3).

  • SATURDAY Build the sleeves and panels (Steps 4–6).
  • SUNDAY Install the panels and trim, and set the remaining posts (Steps 7 and 8).

For cut list, see below or download the cut list here.

Cut List

Panel

This cut list is for one 36-by-51-inch panel. Repeat for each panel, and customize the size of your panels as necessary to avoid partial panels in your run of fence. For the lattice panel stops, you can safely rip up to three from each 1x6 common cedar board. However, if you rip only two strips out of a 1x6, you'll have enough width left over for the narrow sleeve parts. For our panels, we left 43 inches of post exposed above ground.

  • 2x4 frame top and bottom: 2 @ 51 inches
  • 2x4 frame side: 2 @ 33 inches
  • ¾-inch stops: 4 @ 31½ inches (1x material ripped to ¾ inches wide to create a ¾-by-¾-inch square dowel)
  • ¾-inch stops: 4 @ 48 inches (1x material ripped to ¾ inches wide to create a ¾-by-¾-inch square dowel)
  • Lattice: 1 @ 32⅞ by 47⅞ inches (to fit comfortably in a frame with internal dimensions of 33 by 48 inches)
  • Cap rail: 1 @ 49½ inches (Ripped to 5⅛ inches wide)
  • Post and sleeve

Make the visible front and back full-length sleeve pieces from clear cedar and the stops and blocks from less-expensive common cedar. To determine the number of sleeve pieces needed for each post configuration, refer to the list below.

  • Full-length sleeve pieces: 43 inches (Ripped to 5⅛ inches wide)
  • Bottom block sleeve pieces: 4 inches (ripped to 3⅝ inches wide)
  • Top block sleeve pieces: 3 inches (ripped to 3⅝ inches wide)

Middle post

  • 1 full-length front piece 5⅛ inches wide
  • 1 full-length back piece 5⅛ inches wide
  • 2 top block 3⅝ inches wide
  • 2 bottom block 3⅝ inches wide

End post

  • 1 full-length front piece 5⅛ inches wide
  • 1 full-length back piece 5⅛ inches wide
  • 1 full-length side piece 3⅝ inches wide
  • 1 top block 3⅝ inches wide
  • 1 bottom block 3⅝ inches wide

Cornerpost

  • 1 full-length front piece 5⅛ inches wide
  • 1 full-length side piece 4⅜ inches wide
  • 1 top block 4⅜ inches wide
  • 1 bottom block 4⅜ inches wide
  • 1 top block 3⅝ inches wide
  • 1 bottom block 3⅝ inches wide

Step 1: Position the Line

Photo by Kolin Smith

To square the fence line to the house, you'll mark off a right triangle extending from the foundation. Sink one stake for the triangle's corner where the first post will go, and a second one 3 feet away along the foundation. Tie a mason line to the first stake, stretch it taut roughly perpendicular to the house, and mark it 4 feet from the stake. Find the 5-foot mark on a measuring tape and angle it from the second stake toward the line. Now cross the taut line and the tape until you get the 4-foot and 5-foot marks to meet. When they do, according to the Pythagorean theorem, you have a 90-degree angle at the triangle's corner—and thus a perpendicular line intersecting the house. A bigger triangle (say 9, 12, and 15 feet) works even better.

Step 2: Dig the first posthole

Photo by Kolin Smith

Typically, digging beyond the frost line and setting at least one-third of the post in tamped crushed stone and soil works fine. But anyone with very sandy soil should sink the post in concrete, like we did. Mark your hole depth on the handle of a posthole digger in painter's tape, and dig 6 inches below the frost line and to a diameter three times the size of the post

Step 3: Wrap the Post

Photo by Kolin Smith

If you're using concrete, you'll want to keep water from seeping between it and the wood. In that case, wrap a section of the post with self-adhesive flashing, starting near the bottom and extending above the concrete line but below ground level.

Step 4: Set the Post

Photo by Kolin Smith

Pour 6 inches of drainage stone into the hole and tamp it with the post. Add or subtract stone to get your post height. Clamp two furring strips to adjacent sides to prop up the post in the hole, as shown. Tack a 1x scrap to the post's front face to stand in for the sleeve, and make sure it touches the mason line. Using a level on two adjacent sides, adjust the supports to make the post plumb. Add a few inches of drainage stone around the post. Pour dry concrete mix into the hole up to a few inches below grade. Add water until the mix is saturated, and stir it with a piece of scrap. Check for plumb, top off the hole with soil, and allow the post to stand undisturbed while the concrete cures.

Step 5: Cut the Post Sleeve Pieces

Photo by Kolin Smith

To construct the sleeves, you'll sandwich narrow blocks on sides where fence panels connect between wider full-length pieces. Use a circular saw to rip the blocks to 3⅝ inches and the full-length pieces to 5⅛ inches. For end posts, substitute a 3⅝-inch full-length piece for the narrow blocks on the side with no connecting panel. Once ripped, cut the pieces to length using a miter saw.

Step 6: Assemble the Sleeves

Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply polyurethane glue to the edges of the lower sleeve blocks, sandwich them between the front and back pieces, and use a nail gun and 1¼-inch nails to secure the assembly. Set aside the top blocks until after the panels are installed.

Tip: If the glue foams out of the seams, don't smear it with a cloth, or it will never come off. Just wait until it dries and shave it off with a chisel or scraper.

Step 7: Install the First Sleeve

Photo by Kolin Smith

Slide the sleeve over the post with the front face parallel to the fence line, as shown. Make it flush at the top, shim it, and screw it in place.

Step 8: Cut the Frame Pieces

Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a miter saw to cut the 2×4 frame pieces to length. Fit a circular saw with a fence and rip ¾-inch strips from a 1x board, as shown. You'll use these strips as stops to hold the lattice in place. Cut the stops to length: 1½ inches shorter than the frame's side pieces and 3 inches shorter than the top and bottom pieces.

Step 9: Attach the Front Stops

Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay the frame pieces of one panel on the work surface. Place a corresponding strip on each board, centered end-to-end for the front stop. Now use a scrap piece of the strip material to recess the stops 3⁄4 inch from the front edge of each board. Tack them in place using a nail gun and 1¼-inch nails, and screw them to the board using a drill/driver and 1⅝-inch screws.

Step 10: Drill Weep Holes

Photo by Kolin Smith

Using a drill/driver fitted with a ⅜-inch paddle bit, drill four weep holes along the centerline of the bottom frame piece to drain water. Repeat to create the pieces for the remaining frames.

Step 11: Cut the Lattice

Photo by Kolin Smith

Lattice shows staples on the back, so first decide how you want to orient the outward-facing strips—horizontally or vertically. Then, mark the panel width and height on the lattice. Making panels 48 inches or less will allow you to get two out of each 4-by-8-foot sheet. Cut the lattice to size with a circular saw.

Step 12: Assemble the Frame

Photo by Kolin Smith

Position the frame pieces front-edge down on the work surface, and butt the side boards between the top and bottom boards. The ends of the stops attached to the top and bottom boards should create a tight joint with the stops attached to the side boards, as shown.

Step 13: Install the Lattice

Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay the lattice into the frame against the front stops, finish face down. Screw back stops to the top and bottom frame pieces to lock in the lattice; save the side stops for Step 17.

Step 14: Set the Post Spacing

Photo by Kolin Smith

Butt a panel against the first post, resting it on the lower sleeve block at one end and scrap blocks at the other. Using the posthole digger, mark the location of the next post slightly underneath the end of the panel. Remove the panel and dig the hole.

Step 15: Position the Second Post

Photo by Kolin Smith

Create your stone drainage bed and set the post height. Slide the sleeve onto the post, shim it, and tack it in place. Sandwich the panel between the posts, and position the loose post so that the panel sits level when resting on the lower sleeve blocks. Keep the scrap blocks in place to steady the panel as you make adjustments. Add drainage stone around the post.

Step 16: Attach the Panel

Photo by Kolin Smith

Drive 3-inch screws through the back side of the frame and into the posts (top, center, bottom) to secure the parts, as shown. Then install your side stops. Clamp furring strips to adjacent sides of the unset post, as in Step 6, and position it plumb and with the sleeve face touching the mason line. Fill the hole with concrete, mix in the water, and let it set, usually about 45 minutes. Repeat Steps 14-16 to set the remaining posts and attach the remaining panels. Go back and secure the upper sleeve blocks above the panels.

Step 17: Attach the Cap Rail

Photo by Kolin Smith

Rip the boards to 5⅛ inches wide. Hold each board beside the posts and scribe it to length. Cut the boards to length and place them on top of the panel, edges flush with the sleeves. If the board is cupped, be sure to put that side down. Secure the boards with polyurethane construction adhesive.

Step 18: Secure the Post Caps

Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply the same construction adhesive to the post tops, and set the caps in place. Or you can nail through the caps and into the posts.

Tip: Make your own post caps from two square blocks, one smaller than the other, glued and nailed atop the post.


Tools: