Build a Wooden Fence and Gate




About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

This instructable covers how I built a simple wooden fence with locking gate.

Thanks for checking it out!

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Step 1: The Motivation

This is Darla.

Darla is an incredibly sweet basset hound that needs a closed yard to keep her safe from her olfactory wanderlust. This fence was made specifically with her in mind, but is part of a much larger full makeover of my yard.

Please ignore the nasty dead grass in some of the photos - the plan is to tear it out put in a paver walkway surrounded by gravel, which I may or may not get to this decade.

Step 2: Preparations

The first thing to do is decide where you want your fence.

As this fence was to be built across a narrow side-yard (rather than along a property line), I actually had several choices of where exactly to build it. The worst thing to do would be to not think through the location and weigh all possible considerations, and then build a fence in a place where you end up not liking it!

If you have buried utilities where you live, you need to call the buried utility authority and have them come out and mark any buried lines, and then follow any guidelines they provide regarding excavation.

Step 3: Dig Holes, Plumb Posts

After utilities were marked, I carefully laid out where I wanted my fence posts, and spray painted their locations on the ground.

In general, posts for wooden fences should not be more than 8 feet apart, both to prevent sagging and to take advantage of common-length lumber. For mine, the distances between posts were dependent on how wide I wanted my gate, which was 36 inches.

I dug the holes for my end posts first, and then used scrap 2x4 boards to temporarily anchor them in perfectly plumb position. This was done with stakes and screws, as shown in the photos.

The posts are 4x4 pressure treated beams, and the slats added later are cedar fence slats.

Step 4: Concrete

I mixed and added concrete to the post holes. After a few days I removed the 2x4 supports.

Step 5: A Little Trick

I took advantage of the short length of this fence to aid in getting all of the posts perfectly inline.

With the two end posts in place, I screwed a 10-foot board across the span and used this to position the interior posts and mark their precise locations.

Holes for the interior posts were dug, and then the posts were plumbed and anchored in position with supports. Concrete was then added to these holes.

Step 6: Cross Pieces

With the posts cemented in position, I removed the supports and trimmed the post tops so they were all level with each other.

Cross pieces were added with exterior grade screws.

Step 7: The Gate

The following steps show how I built and installed the sturdy little gate.

Step 8: Build the Gate

The gate was made by first creating an external frame of 2x4s that were screwed together with exterior screws installed through pre-drilled and countersunk holes.

A diagonal cross brace was then added. This will keep the gate square and prevent sagging. Diagonal cross-braces like this should always angle downward to the lower hinge. See notes in photos for more details.

My gate ended up with a slight warp, so a second brace was added to counteract the warp. This 2nd brace was installed with a little pressure in the opposite direction as the warp, which pulled everything nice and flat (see photo notes).

Step 9: Mount the Gate

Some additional boards were added to the gate and fence posts as needed to hold the hinges I was using.

The gate was propped into position and clamped in place with a few paint stirrers acting as temporary shims to provide a little stand-off on the hinge side.

Due to the natural movement of wood and to help the gate always close all the way without binding, it's good to leave a little gap on the hinge side rather than install the hinges with the gate and post mashed up against each other.

With the gate in position I was ready to start adding fence slats over which I'll install the hinges and other hardware later on.

Step 10: Add Fence Slats

This is where building a fence gets exciting. All the hard work is mostly done!

I tied a string across the top of the fence to indicate where I wanted the tops of the slats to be. Some fences follow the terrain while others are created with level tops - it's just up to what you need and want.

The slats were cut individually as needed and installed with exterior grade deck screws.

Step 11: Add Hinges

The hinges were added at this point. These are just basic Home Depot gate hinges which come with lag screws for installation.

The hinges were carefully positioned as desired and the locations for the screws were marked and pre-drilled. The screws were installed with a socket wrench.

Step 12: Check and Adjust Clearance

Now's a good time to check the gate's swing clearance. Mine opened, but it was a tight fit and bound up just a little.

I used a belt sander to remove just enough material from the gate frame to allow for proper clearance. This can reasonably be checked and adjusted before you actually install the gate, but I knew it was going to be really close so I just waited till after it was fastened in place.

Step 13: Install Latch Hardware

This step depends a lot on what type of latch system you're using. Again, this is just a common style I picked up from Home Depot.

Some additional support boards had to be added and a lot of boring out holes with spade bits and careful routing were required. After a bit of fine tuning I had a handle and latch in place and working properly.

Step 14: Continue Adding Slats; Call It Good

The remaining slats were added to complete the side sections, and the fence was done.

I used cedar fence slats and do not plan to finish them in any way. I live in a fairly dry climate so wood fences like this turn gray in a few years, and then just last until they're deemed too ugly and someone tears them down.

At that point, they call the wood "barn wood" and sell it for 3x what it initially cost.

Thanks for looking!

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39 Discussions


3 years ago

Looks solid enough, but setting wooden posts in concrete is a bad idea. First major wet period will cause the posts to swell, and your concrete will crack. After more alternating wet and dry periods, the posts will rot at the ground line. Galvanized posts like you show in the photo would have been much better, and equal work. Checking for buried utilities like you point out is a MUST, given the proximity to your electric meter, but I would add that you should also mark your lawn any sprinkler lines you might have - I speak from personal experience! Depending on where you live, you may also need a building permit.

2 replies

Reply 5 weeks ago

Home supply stores now sell a quickcrete brand set foam, for ~$12.50. it is near the quickcrete, but on a shelf in a gallon size square pouch. You simply break the inner catalyst, squish it around for a few minutes then pour it around the post base in your post hole. It foams up sturdy and becomes a firm solid, turning a dark brown color in about 15 mins. It is what our PA utility poles are now installed with. It allows for wood changes, and makes post removal a heck of a lot easier (lighter) should that become a necessity.
Better living thru technology!


Reply 3 years ago

Lots of great points and things people need to consider; thank you for adding to the conversation.

In my case, I knew where the sprinkler lines were and avoided them. And I filled out forms for a permit, but had the fee waived which was great.

I live in a desert region, and 4x4 PT posts in concrete seem to be pretty common without any trouble. But metal posts are definitely a good long-term choice, especially in a climate as you describe.

Thanks for reading and commenting!


3 years ago

I build ramps for homes with wheelchair users (as a volunteer) and we found, to our surprise, we're better off dumping and tamping dry concrete mix in the holes around the 4x4s than mixing it with water. Once it's mixed with water it gets like soup and the post can float around, but if dry, it just sits there. We don't have the luxury of time: we finish the same day we start. Anyway, the needed moisture comes from the surrounding soil and gets superstrong. Your use of the supports is needed mainly on the uprights that surround the gate. Nice job.

2 replies

Reply 3 months ago

How do you know how strong it gets? I would think that the dry mix would get wet and harden unevenly, creating pockets of dry mix that never harden, thus a weaker structure.


Reply 3 months ago

I know it doesn't harden unevenly, capillary action /osmosis distributes the water. Cement powder is hydrophilic. I know we use it reliably building wheelchair ramps etc. It may have small air pockets, but they don't hurt anything. Go dig out some old fenceposts.


Question 7 months ago on Step 14

You didn’t specify what wood you used... I’m guessing 4x4 for uprights and what for the horizontal slats

1 answer

Answer 7 months ago

The posts are 4x4 pressure treated beams, and the slats are cedar fence slats. Good question, sorry I didn't mention it in the project itself. I'll update it! : )


3 years ago

I'm not going to build a new fence, but wanted to see if I could learn something. I did.

"Diagonal cross-braces like this should always angle downward to the lower hinge."

You got me wondering why, so I went to other websites and saw the same thing. I finally saw that this puts the compression load from the brace into the gate hinge, rather than into thin air--like on the sagging gate into my back yard.


2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

The word is the gate (and other parts of the fence) I'm going to repair were built by a "professional." I'm forced to conclude that "professional" means he was from [nearby large town], and (2) he has a nailgun.


3 years ago

Basic & sturdy, I like!

Wel - I would have prefered non-planed slates and pointed tops, but maybe your neighbourhood isn't exactly the right place for that kind of neo-apocalytic design...


3 years ago

The gate information will help me on a driveway fence/gate that I am building.

Thank you!


3 years ago

wow, nice job! I love your thoughts in the design process.

I only have a few thoughts.

Why not make the gate frame another 1/4 inch smaller than the opening? The slats will cover the difference.

I do not like the industries treatment process of 4x4 posts. I like what my father did to allow untreated posts. anchor 3x3x1/4 angle iron in the concrete and bolting the posts to them keeping them completely above ground. They have lasted many years. I am preparing to replace the fence and posts. A job which will be easier much with the angle iron in pace.


3 years ago

Making the gate frame, you're screwing into end grain. This is okay for positioning lumber but never count on such a joint. If you put a block of 2x4 inside each corner, and screw into that from both directions, your joints will be far stronger.

3 replies

Reply 3 years ago

I drilled pilot holes with a tapered, countersinking bit and used a long, coarse-threaded screws for these corner joints. However, if they show any signs of weakening I will certainly add blocks as you suggest; that's a very good tip, thanks!


Reply 3 years ago

Not to get all know-it-all but I'm telling ALL newbies and a few experienced people, don't design anything with joints where you screw or worse, nail into endgrain. Can also use the galv steel joint reinforcers.


Reply 3 years ago

No worries, I'm always happy to receive experienced advice!

Those face boards I added that are showing in step 9 certainly add some structural support to the joints. Overall, I'm okay with it but will definitely keep your tips in mind on my next go-round with a project like this.


3 years ago

Can't argue with your results but you can see it would be faster to put up your fenceboards, then snap a line and cut them all at once - if you're good with a circular saw. Some want a nice curve on the top line of the gate so you'd use a saber saw.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

You are correct. If I was on the clock, I'd be more concerned with the time :)

I actually have a 25 foot wooden fence dividing the back yard (yay for duplexes..), and I cut the tops of that one as you suggest. Much quicker, especially for a long fence!