Do you need a new perimeter fence and want a simple classic look? With this tutorial we will walk you through the process from sourcing materials through building and staining with an eye towards saving money and resources.
This guide is very similar to our Half Recycled Fence Strategy but with a few key differences. Where our other tutorial assumed that you had an old fence to recycle, this fence is made from half new wood and half found reclaimed fence boards.
While our other fence strategy was focused on privacy with a more modern look this fence is shorter, more open and traditional and would be better placed in a garden or front yard where privacy is less of an issue.
Step 1: 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. 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. Aged wood has a kind of beautiful patina that only comes from the passage of time. See what you can save and salvage from your own projects.
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 2: Get Inspired
There is no law that states that fences need to be plain and boring. Fences serve different needs for different people from privacy to basic aesthetics. Fences don't even need to be made out of wood, there are many materials that do well outdoors that could be integrated into fence design. Take a walk around your neighborhood for inspiration and to see what does well in your climate and what stands up to the test of time both in fashion and structure. Many fences can last for decades with proper design and maintenance.
Step 3: Sourcing Recycled Materials
This is the key step and can be challenging for someone that is not used to salvaging materials. Its easy to head to the store with a list and simply purchase what you need. But as you start searching for recycled materials you will realize that they are all around us and the real key is just to start thinking and seeing differently.
Instead of having a specific design in mind, have a general idea of what you want and be open to working with whatever you might find.
Fence boards are a common thing to be discarded before their time and can often be found for free online. Here in the rainy Pacific Northwest fence boards tend to rot at the tops and bottoms but with a little trimming most of the boards can be salvaged.
4x4 Fence posts also tend to rot right at the bottoms where they make ground contact, but by trimming this off you will be left with a perfectly good exterior grade 4x4. If someone is discarding a 6 foot fence then you can usually salvage 4 or 5 feet of good usable post.
In this guide we were building a 3 foot high fence with about 18" underground encased in a cement footer so we were easily able to source most of our posts from someone that was discarding a taller fence that we found through Craigslist.
Step 4: 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, tape measure, hammer, various levels, string for aligning posts, shovel and wheelbarrow for mixing cement. Drill with various bits for attaching new boards and drilling as necessary and a Post hole digger for digging new fence posts holes.
We also used a table saw to rip the length of some of our lumber but this will vary depending on what you are able to source and your design.
Step 5: Setting Posts
Step 6: Building Horizontals
This is actually where we had to invest in some new materials as it is difficult to find good exterior grade cedar in long enough lengths to span between the fence posts. Since we were able to come up with a two different heights of fence we were going to need three different levels of horizontal fencing to tie it all together. We also wanted the top row to lay flat on top of the fence to make a more finished look. There just wasn't enough material that we could find to make this all happen but we did save a little money even on this by ripping down some of the lengths ourselves to make the smaller detailed pieces. We also used larger exterior grade screws that we pre drilled to hold these to the fences. Your horizontal pieces are what give this fence design structure and stability so it was important to give it a lot of long lasting strength.
Step 7: Adding Verticles
When you start looking in alleys, garage sales and Craigslist for free fence material it is amazing how much you can find. Here in the rainy northwest fences tend to fail along the bottoms where they are in contact with wet plants and along the tops were they are more exposed to sun and direct rain damage. By collecting a bunch of different fence posts and trimming off the tops and bottoms we were able to come up with two different consistent lengths and widths of cedar fence fencing. We decided to make this even more interesting by ripping down the skinnier but taller fencing material to give the fence more interest.
Again it is important to be careful when working with recycled lumber, always assume the worst and wear breathing and eye protection. We would also collect and discard any extra sawdust and dispose of it and always be diligent to make sure you remove all nails and staples before sawing.
We would use a brad nailer with galvanized nails to attach the fencing material to our horizontals but even exterior grade screws or finishing nails would work fine. You can use a spare board to aid you in spacing and check your level frequently to make sure it all ends up straight.
Step 8: Staining
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to staining and many people simply prefer the look of raw wood. However when you are using recycled materials they are often times found in a rainbow of different colors and conditions so staining is often necessary to tie the whole project together and make it look unified. You can often times find wood stains for free online or at garage sales and we have been known to mix various stains together as long as they are the same type to come up with new combinations and save resources. Most paint stores have a collection of miss matched paint and stains on clearance that can be found relatively inexpensively.
Step 9: Enjoy!
Having a small fence like this has not only helped us keep kids and pets corralled, but its a nice visual addition to our yard and has helped define the space. This fence design is short enough that we can still chat with neighbors as they pass and enjoy the sunset from our front porch. We hope you enjoyed this guide and find it useful if you are wanting to build a short fence on a budget.
If you are looking for a more modern fence design, don't forget to check out our other fencing strategy. We also have a guide to integrated LED fence lighting that you might want to check out to add some more lighting and security to your area.