Once the blustery, windy weather of late autumn, winter and early spring is out of the way, it’s a good time to have a look at your garden fences. If it’s been a particularly bad winter or your fences are ageing, there’s a good chance you’ll need to repair or even replace some of your fences.
Panel fencing is a very common and cheap way of separating your own property from your neighbours’ gardens. It’s also easy to install, as all the parts are ready-made and usually pre-treated too. You can get them in a range of sizes, though they tend to be a standard width of 1800mm (6 feet, as near as dammit) – the commonest heights are 900mm (3 feet), 1200mm (4 feet), 1500mm (5 feet) and 1800mm (6 feet). Different designs of panelling are available too, ranging from very simple horizontally overlapping laths (cheap, but not particularly strong) to more complex interweaving (sturdier, but more expensive). Screwfix have a good range:
Speaking from bitter experience, it’s much easier to fit panel fencing if there are two of you doing it! It’s also best if you can work on both sides of the fence, so ask your neighbour. Unless you’re on bad terms with them for any reason, they’re almost certain to say yes – after all, it’s in their interest to have a neat, well maintained fence bordering their property too.
If you’re putting up panel fencing for the first time, or replacing a run of fencing including posts as well as panels, then you’ll need to put up posts and panels alternately.
There are two main ways of fixing posts: either by concreting them into position, or by using hollow spikes. Either way, it’s a good idea to treat the posts first by soaking the ends in wood preserver for at least a quarter of an hour, or preferably longer.
Using fixing spikes is straightforward, if you’ve got the brute strength required – and a sledgehammer!
Take a spike of suitable size (600mm for anything up to 1200mm high, 750mm for anything higher than that) and put a short scrap piece of post into the socket – that’s what you’ll be hammering against. Then drive the spike part of the way into the ground.
Check that the spike’s vertical (using a spirit level or plumb line) then hammer the spike the rest of the way into the ground so that only the socket is sticking out.
Put the post into the socket and secure it by either screwing it through the holes in the side of the socket or tightening the clamping bolts, if there are any.
This is a bit more complicated, but does give a good stable way of securing your fence.
Dig a hole to a depth of about a third of the height of your fence – you’ll need to bury about a quarter of the post to ensure that it stays firmly fixed in place. A post-hole auger is a good way of digging the hole, if you can lay your hands on one – otherwise, you’ll just have to dig it with whatever you’ve got to hand.
The next step is to put a layer of hardcore at the bottom of the hole to support the post and allow for drainage. You should ram it down well to minimise movement through settlement.
Then put your post into the hole, making sure it’s upright. Carry on adding hardcore to the hole and ramming it down until the hole is about 300mm/1ft deep.
You’ll need to ensure the post remains upright while you’re building the fence, and you do this using struts wedged against the post on either side. Adding the concrete comes at the end, when all the panels and posts are in position.
This is where the second person comes in! Support the panel above ground level (to prevent the panel from coming into contact with the wet ground and rotting), then have your helper hold the end of the panel firmly against the post while you skewnail through the panel frame into the post at the top, middle and bottom – on each side, if you can. (If you’d rather, you can use screws and metal angle brackets instead of nails.)
Panels generally come provided with capping strips at the top of each panel to stop the rain soaking into the grain of the wood and causing rotting. If yours haven’t, then you’ll need to buy some and nail them along the top of the panels.
Cut the posts to the correct length – a little above the top of each panel – and nail caps to the top of each post.
If you’re concreting in your posts, now’s the time to do it! Mix your concrete to the proportions 1 part of cement to 2 parts of sand to 3 parts of aggregate. Add the concrete a bit at a time and keep tamping it down to eliminate any pockets of air. Build it up to just over the level of the soil, and slope it away from the post to allow water to run off and help stop rotting. You can remove the struts after about a week, when the concrete’s fully set.