Would you like a nice, new, sturdy and modern fence for your yard? Is your current wooden fence is failing but you don't want to pay someone to haul it away? How would you like to solve both problems at the same time and save money and the environment?
If you have answered yes to these questions then the Half Recycled Fence Strategy might be for you! We were in your same shoes but we came up with this method because we wanted something clean and modern, but recycled and frugal.
We did this by salvaging most of our old fence by trimming off the rotten ends of the wood and rebuilding it into a new fence. Since we only had to purchase half the wood for our new fence it was quite a bit cheaper than if we had purchased new AND it saved us a lot in what would have been dump fees if we had simply thrown the old fence away.
The internet is littered with great guides and tutorials for fence building so I'm going to try to keep this one focused on fence recycling and how that is different than building new.
Step 1: Tools
The tools you will need for this project are much the same as you would need for any fencing project.
A circular saw with a carpenters square for cutting OR a compound miter saw
string for aligning posts
shovel and wheelbarrow for mixing cement
Drill with various bits for attaching new boards and drilling as necessary
Post hole digger for digging new fence posts
You will also need a few tools for taking down your old fence which may include a sawzall and pry-bars depending on your old fence and its condition.
Step 2: Supplies
Much of the supplies you will need will depend on the length of your fence and how much wood you can salvage from your old fence. You may not want to buy anything until you have taken down your old fence and salvaged as much wood as you can and calculate what you will need after that.
We are going to give examples on our particular situation and hopefully you will be able to work with what we ran into.
Pressure treated 4x4 fence posts
Cedar our other outdoor quality wood for fence slats
Cement for setting posts
exterior grade screws and hardware for assembling fence
Step 3: Before You Begin
The most important thing to remember when using recycled building materials is to be safe. Much older lumber is painted with lead based paint and can be toxic and pressure treated wood also has some nasty stuff in it. Recycled fencing can have sharp edges and recycled wood can have hidden nails so its always important to be super diligent when using reclaimed materials, especially when cutting.
The second most important step is the be flexible with your design, be creative with what you have at hand and learn to work with what materials you are able to salvage from your old fence. If you are buying lumber off the shelf than it comes in standard lengths and your fence designs become predictable. With salvaged materials you will be working with random sizes and you need to do your best to use your materials wisely and creatively.
Our third great tip is to be your own best recycler. We didn't just tear down our old crappy wood fence and throw it away, we were able to recycle 90% of our old wood and rethink it into the new design and this helped give our fence a kind of beautiful aged patina that only comes from the passage of time.
As the old saying goes 'good fences make good neighbors', so make sure that your neighbor knows what you are up to before you begin. Be especially conscious of the location of the property line assuming this will be built between you and your neighbor and make sure that your neighbor also agrees with the property line location. Hopefully if you are replacing an old fence this will be obvious but you may also want to check with your local building dept to make sure what you are about to do is within code and if you need any special permits.
Step 4: Let's Take Down the Old Fence
Much of my advice here may be specific to my climate. We live in the rainy Pacific Northwest so our old fences tend to fail because of excess moisture. I'm assuming this is normally what happens to old fences but you will have to tell me. Only you will be able to determine if the wood in your old fence is worth saving but I would encourage you to take a close look at your old boards and evaluate them for reuse before throwing them out. If you can reuse half your lumber that means your new fence will only cost half the price!
We don't have many 'before' photos of our fence and back yard because it was pretty depressing when we first got our house. The grass and weeds were waist high and the half fallen down fence had probably not had any maintenance or cleaning in the past 30 years.
However fences tend to fail along the tops and bottoms and wherever they are most exposed to moisture. Since our old fence was a six foot fence we were able to salvage about 5 1/2 feet from each 4x4 post and 5 feet from each fence board which we would later be able to integrate into our new design.
We were not able to salvage everything, but we salvaged enough that we were able to greatly reduce our waste and costs from what was going to have to go to the dump.
Step 5: Starting the New Fence
Our old fence had been built with eight feet between the posts. Since our new fence was going to utilize a horizontal design our new fence posts were going to have to be 5 feet apart so we were going to have to get some new posts. We also shortened the height of our new fence since we had shorter 4x4 posts that we were working with salvaged from our old fence.
We used a string at this point tied between the two extreme ends of our property to line up all of our fence posts and used scrap lumber to build bracing to keep the new posts nice and level while the cement sets.
We like to place our fence posts around 18" into the ground, but we live in a mild and wet climate so you may have different requirements in your area. We also like to build up the cement a little towards the bottom and slope it away from the posts. This is all about shedding moisture away from our posts since this is one of the main challenges in our area.
Fence posts never seem to go in perfectly level so you may have to trim off the tops of some of these using a circular saw and a carpenters square. We used a 4' level and a board to mark the tops and then just went down the line and chopped them shorter as necessary to get them all level.
We also like placing small bits of ceramics, coins, small toys in our cement because that is how we roll.
Step 6: Attaching Fence Boards
Since we were able to salvage five feet from each of our old fence boards, we then purchased some new smaller sized cedar fence boards and simply alternated them as we installed. Obviously this takes a lot of work with a level to get them all straight and since you will be attaching the ends of these to your 4x4 posts I would recommend pre-drilling every hole to make sure you don't split any wood. This is a time consuming step but it is especially important with the recycled wood as it tends to get brittle over time. We also added a cedar top rail at this time just to give it a finished look and to give it some more protection from the weather.
You may want to power wash the old boards and stain the whole fence at this time to get a much more unified look, but we actually liked the stripes and thought that it gave the fence some instant character. We had several styles of fences going at this time but I think that they blend well together and over time they will look more and more alike as they age and patina.
Step 7: Many Years Later
The earlier photos are from when the fence was new. I'm happy to report that six years later the fence has held up well and aged nicely. The distinction between the newer and older fence parts have become less noticeable for better or worse. Obviously you can alter this look at any time using stain, but we like the natural wood look and appreciate the changes over time.
We hope that this tutorial has inspired you to try your own fence recycling and you might also want to check out our tutorial on built in fence lighting if you want to add a little more interest to your design.