The Fence Post

☆ June 12, 2010

sunset fence
I built a fence.  I needed a fence to keep Daisy and her disciples out of my gardens and my home ~ Daisy has broken deck boards and patio stones and even tried to waltz right in my open door (Exhibit A).

I wanted to build this fence myself.  Mike showed me the steps, he sharpened my ax, and then he reluctantly left me to my own devices.  And I discovered I have some pretty kick-a** devices.  I built this fence!!  A post and rail fence.  Posts are vertical.  Rails are horizontal.  And I do believe you can build one, too, if ever you should want.  Here’s how:

First, become a PhD.  The useful kind: a Post-hole Digger!  OOH! No offense, other-kind-of-PhDs!!!  {I don’t know what got into me.}  Dig a hole at least 18″ deep.  Eighteen inches to two feet will do the trick.

Rural wisdom: the key to setting a sturdy post is to pack all the dirt that came out of the hole back into the hole with the fence post.  Shovel in some dirt, tamp it down, shovel in some more, tamp it down some more.  Do this and the post will not budge.

I am a PhD
Hole dug.  Post set in the background.  I scavenged posts from my neighbor ~ these are treated posts and so, while the visible part is weathered, the part in the ground still looks totally new.  Treated posts keep the wood from rotting ~ if you don’t use treated wood, your posts will rot and your fence will fall down and you’ll have to start all over again!

An exception: Cedar posts need not be treated.  Cedar does not rot and will last for generations ~ longer than treated posts, even.  But there weren’t any of those laying around in my neighbor’s “the-more-you-take-the-less-I-have-to-clean-up” pile.

For the rails, I used pine trees that Mike and I got from the mountain, from a special spot we call the Pole Patch.  These are tall tall skinny skinny trees that died long before we arrived to gather them.  If you use green wood you will have issues as the wood dries.  These poles are about 12 feet long, so I set my posts 10 feet apart.

start with poles
One could nail these up as is, and many people do just that.  BUT.  If you nail a round pole to a round post, the point of connection is just that: a point.  It’s weak, and the roundness of the pole allows the pole itself to roll, ever-so-slightly, via gravity or whenever someone climbs over the fence, etc.  Over time it will work its way loose, eventually pulling the nail out of the post, and your rail will fall off.

axing the ends
The remedy is simple and fun.  With a trusty ax, I flattened a section on both ends of each rail.  I anchored the pole against the ground with my foot and shaved off flakes of wood to create the flat area.  To help visualize: the movement of the ax is similar to a golf swing.  The resulting flat area goes up against the post, creating a wide, flat, secure area of connection.

axed poles
Poles with ends amended.
Once you have your poles ready, you get to nail ’em up!
With really big nails:

I should note that I do not wear giant rings while I’m working.  I wear leather gloves.  But I also don’t take pictures when I’m working; these photos were all taken on breaks, whilst adorned.

A nail, gleaming ever-so-slightly in the shadows, pounded halfway in.

A big iron mallet, to do the pounding.

A post and rail fence can be customized to fit your needs, materials, and desires. A two rail fence would have kept Daisy out, but I wanted something more substantial. I built an eight rail fence (though these pictures only show the beginning stages and up to six rails), because to me, an eight rail fence is more unique and more beautiful, and it creates an airy sort of wall around the oasis I am creating around my home.

Putting up the first row of poles is key, of course, for everything else grows from there. The poles should not touch the ground and should be level. Nail one pole between two posts. Move to the next section and nail up another pole.  This rail will rest on top of the first rail.   Then move again and nail up another pole.  This rail will rest under the second rail.  Diagrams are easier here:
can't explain in words #1
can't explain in words #2
The poles are stacked directly on top of one another at the posts.  When the fence is completed, the ends of the rails can be trimmed with a chainsaw so they line up with eachother.  This isn’t necessary for the integrity of the fence, it just looks nice.  The two bottom rails will be trimmed to match the the rails above, after the fence is done:
stacking up

The Final Specs ~
Cost: Half a tank of gas to get poles on the mountain + a few bucks for nails.
Length: This fence is 80 feet. I’m already planning another one.
Time: I worked on and off for about a week, when I could find pockets of time between rainstorms and all my other work.

bow to the fence
This fence project started as a challenge to myself and from the simple standpoint of functionality but it grew into something so profoundly wonderful. Build a fence like this, and you can build corrals; with a few additional techniques, you can build a cabin.

And now, not only are my veggies safe from Daisy’s unforgiving hooves, I have an elegant structure that I truly love, and which reminds me, with but a glance, of my own strength and ability ~ and what a smile that brings!


81 Responses to “The Fence Post”

  1. Sarah
    June 12th, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

    This is really quite amazing, Shreve. I appreciate the diagram; it’ll help me should I ever decide to do this myself!

  2. jansfunnyfarm
    June 12th, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    Good job. We like your fence. Of course we dogs and cats could waltz right through that type but you didn’t build yours to contain dogs and it works well for what you need it for.

  3. Beth
    June 12th, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

    you are my hero! I will endevor to put a fence such as this…… now what does the tat say on your left wrist say? ;0)

  4. shreve
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    Thanks Beth! The skinny on my tat is at the end of this post:

  5. darrell
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    Great fence. Beth, ya beat me to it, was curious about the tat myself.

  6. darrell
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

    Cool story about the tat. Thanks.

  7. Sandy
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

    Timely read for me—the story about the tat. Good food for thought. Love the fence, you are quite the talented one!

  8. Barbara
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Damn, you are competent!!

  9. Laura
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    That is a fine fence Shreve. Congrats!

  10. Len Johnson
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    Great job! After seeing yours, I may build a post/rail rather than a split rail.

  11. Brandi
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

    Congratulations on a job well done! It is surely something to be proud of.

  12. Claudia
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    Wow, that fence is stunning!!
    In a few years, when I have my own land, I will be following your instructions. Hopefully mine will turn out just as beautiful. :)

  13. Karen
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    Looks like you’re adorned with a lovely jewelry piece from Ms. Plume! Your fence is loverly, too-

  14. Tony Cramblit
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

    My hard drive crashed a year ago. I lost you. I just found you again today and am elated!!!

  15. Denise
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

    That’s a fabulous fence!

    Heck all I’ve done are hawg-wire and t-post fences topped with barbed-wire…

    Fab ring too!

  16. Wendy
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

    <3 the fence post – and <3 even more your self-sufficiency and willingness to try damned near anything! Shreve, whether you ever intended to be or not, you are inspiring.

  17. Lynda
    June 12th, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    Incredible!! A substantial amount of work done very quickly. You are amazing.

  18. Assana
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Wow! That’s an amazing fence! Love that everything you do, you do perfectly.

    Now for noseyness, what kind of veggies are you growing?

  19. sybann
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:10 pm

    I WAS feeling damn proud of installing a koi pond with a solar waterfall…

    You go! Awesome.

  20. Lesley
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    You are awesome, Shreve. Your fence is a thing of beauty.

  21. Liza Lundell
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    Congratulations on your new fence! Great job.

  22. Carol
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

    Looks great, kiddo! Will check it out someday!

  23. Lea'
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    What do you do to treat the posts?

  24. Rick's Cafe
    June 12th, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

    RE: Daisy
    Seems that even your cow knows that a “sofa” belongs in the living room :))

  25. marianne
    June 12th, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

    Fabulous fence! I do hope Daisy’s feelings were not hurt. :) Looking forward to hearing about what your growing!

  26. dusty
    June 12th, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

    wow – the fence looks great!! congrats, too, on building it yourself! and i appreciate yr directions & pics . . . tho i’d be scared to wield an ax that close to my own foot (now if one of my sons were to step on it for me . . . !)

    back in the 70’s there was a little feminist publication all about living on a homestead & how to farm & hammer & build things etc, for women who had never used tools at all – wonderful read. now, you young ‘uns are just bustin’ out all over with fences ‘n’ such!!

  27. Sheryl
    June 12th, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    Shreve, Dennis and I both agree that you should get an A+ in fence building. And you get extra credit for writing about it.

  28. Renee in Louisiana
    June 12th, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

    Truly a work of art and such a sense of accomplishment. Sigh…

  29. Taylor
    June 12th, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

    Did you build a gate too? That seems like it would be even harder! Great job with the fence!

  30. Stu Armstrong
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

    The day 500lb female pig walked up the front porch stairs and into my grandmothers kitchen is one of my favorite memories, almost as funny as the day a couple of our chickens tried the same stunt. The pig, a gentle natured sow, inspected the kitchen thoroughly and then wandered back outside, my grandma was speechless for about an hour.

  31. Tony
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    Dang! Beautiful pine and just for the taking, beautiful.

    You should be proud.


  32. Deborah
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

    SHEESH! You must have amazing muscles from all that work. Did someone help to lift the rails? You are an amazing modern-day pioneer woman and I salute you!

  33. TTaylor
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    What a beautiful fence – the scene is so pretty – oh, and functional! Thanks for teaching us things through the blog – I immediately forwarded this to my engineer friend who loves this kind of thing!

    Have a nice weekend and say hi to all the animals!

  34. Deborah
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    p.s. What’s the tattoo say on your wrist?

  35. Genevieve Lesiak
    June 12th, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

    Did you do it alone, as ONE person? As One smallish female person? Seems like those logs would be awkward to handle and carry, and position and hold alone for nailing?
    Do you pre-drill holes for nailing? Any power tools or saws at all? Use ropes to drag logs, or all carry at the site?

    Are there any neighbors who have free time?

    Is talk/ conversation with another person a game changer? For fence building?

    Do you use a radio while working for some great songs?

    About how many hours actually handling logs, axes, shovels, hammers for the fence of 80″, 50 logs 9 posts and a gate !! And Clean-Up and Carry Somewhere.

    Was Charlie or Eli there to watch and keep company? Maybe Daisy?

    So many questions from me…I guess I am afraid to do big heavy long time jobs alone.

  36. shreve
    June 12th, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

    Genevieve, you crack me up!
    Your Q’s:

    (and this one is Deborah’s too): Yes, it’s easier when someone else is holding the rail while you pound it in but I did this solo – it’s not too hard to hold the rail in place with your leg or hip; for the higher rails, I held them in place with my foot (I’m freakishly flexible). This way I could hold the mallet with both hands which gave me more power and better aim, like a two-handed backhand in tennis.

    The logs are not unwieldly. They’re fairly light, and I’m used to carrying around 40′ metal irrigation pipes…

    No predrilled holes. No power tools. I carried and moved the poles and posts around myself.

    Neighbors with free time? Don’t know, didn’t ask :)

    Talk & conversation – it all depends on you! I really liked being in the zone of this with myself, by myself. I listened to the meadowlarks and the breeze in the leaves and the rhythm of the ax and the extremely satisfying sound of mallet on nail, instead of the radio.

    How many actual hours – I have no idea. I worked till my hands got sore and then once they bounced back, I’d go out and work some more. I know it seems daunting and an enormous task, but doing it in steps, and working as you can, it flows, it goes up quickly. It’s really fun. Really!

  37. Carla
    June 12th, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    I’m curious, how much of the nails went into the posts? Did you sink them a bit? Looks great!

  38. Farmer Lady
    June 12th, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

    I’m inspired, thanks!

  39. Steph in Oregon
    June 13th, 2010 @ 12:14 am

    Beutiful creation, Shreve! Did you ever in you dreams think you’d be building a fence to keep the cow out of your house and garden?
    What’s next?

  40. SuzieQ
    June 13th, 2010 @ 12:42 am

    The feeling you get when you have managed to complete such a project is wonderful. The physical labor frees the soul. I used to cut and split all the wood for my woodstove and really miss it now that I’m 70+. Still can swing a mean hammer and run my chainsaw though.

  41. Jen
    June 13th, 2010 @ 2:27 am

    Very handsome fence! I’m always inspired by hard, muscle aching work. When my little unit banded together to build a patio for my mother, it was amazing. Then she went even further, alone, and built herself a deck.

    This makes me wonder about your property though, as previously you’ve mentioned how people just show up out of the blue expecting a warm welcome.. Thinking of building some kind of privacy fence?

  42. matt
    June 13th, 2010 @ 6:13 am

    I never built a fence; built a deck though, only 4 post holes :-) I thought they had to be dug 3 ft deep to get below the frost line? IDK.

  43. Holly Shepherd
    June 13th, 2010 @ 7:16 am

    WOW Shreve,
    Looooooooooove your fence. Rustic, proportioned perfectly, and beauuuuuuuuutiful to look at. I can understand your pride!!!
    Did you dig the holes yourself?
    Makes me want to rebuild mine, but I think it’s there for a long time.But if it comes down, I want one like yours. Won’t keep critters out, but it sure would look good.Coon cats can climb anything.
    You are such an inspiration to all women!!

  44. Alicia
    June 13th, 2010 @ 9:12 am

    Awesome!! So proud of you. :D I love the dirt under your nails too. hah

  45. Jenny C
    June 13th, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    I’m immersed in the treat to the senses of the creation of this Fence Sculpture of Joy and Delight:

    *The sound of silence punctuated with meadowlark trills, the crack of the ax creating the notch, the logs singing as they bump together in the pile then thump into their place in the sculpture (key of E-flat?) and, finally, the pinging of the mallet driving the nail home.
    *The SMELL of the wood, especially when the ax releases the scent that makes your eyes close for a moment as you breathe it in.
    *The warmth of the sun on sore muscles becoming ever more capable of whatever you ask of them.
    *The joy of greeting each member of the farmily after a day of work well done.

    Of course, there IS all that work, splinters and a whole lot of sweat, but still…

  46. Kate in Houston
    June 13th, 2010 @ 11:46 am

    Great job, Shreve! And nice, clear instructions.

    My question: How do your nails stay so long with all the physical-type labor you do?

  47. Jackie /Montana
    June 13th, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

    That fence is just the best!! I can’t even fine the words to decribe how much admiration. I have for you and your life. Great ring!!!!!!

  48. carolyn
    June 13th, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    You inspire me to no end. Thank you.

  49. Gabi
    June 13th, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    That is a serious kick ass accomplishment. How does Miss Daisy like her new digs? I think its very sweet that she comes looking for you in the house, she loves you and wants to be with you :o)

    Here is a family with Giraffes at the breakfast table, the pic of Daisy at the door reminded me of this.

  50. Birdcage
    June 13th, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Wow. Just wow. I love this blog so much. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thank you for sharing.

  51. shreve
    June 13th, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    carla – not sunk, the nails are long and go through the pole and deep into the post.

    matt – nope, not for a fence, don’t know about decks!

    holly – well, yeah! I’m quite the phd.

    kate – there’s no trick, just vanity. they break and I mourn them and I grow them again. and, as alicia noticed (ha!) there’s always dirt under them!

    thanks for all the kind words, y’all!

  52. VentureSister
    June 13th, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    Long time reader, first time poster (I think?) Anyways, reading about you building the fence reminded me of a person I’ve always been fascinated by and I just realized your stories are similar to me. Are you at all familiar with Dick Proenneke?

    When he was in his 50’s he moved to the Alaskan wilderness, built a cabin by himself and lived there alone for 30 years. He recorded his time in journals and with a video camera. They made a documentary from his footage and a book from the journal of his first year. If you have the time, you can watch the movie here. Both it and the book are enchanting.

  53. Ktbug Ladydid
    June 13th, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

    Shreve, this fence is beautiful. It makes me wish I was in a location where this was a viable option. It also makes me wish I had more land to put such a beautiful fence around…

  54. Elly
    June 13th, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

    Yay for fences! It looks brilliant, and isn’t it so much more satisfying when you can say that YOU did that?

  55. Carla
    June 13th, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

    Where do your other animals live, in Mike’s pastures? Also, didn’t you build a teepee? Ever thought about a sauna? :o)

  56. catherine
    June 13th, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

    Venture Sister, that was a treat. What a movie !
    Wood Cabin is next for Shreve, I hope she documents it the same way. That would be fun.

  57. shreve
    June 13th, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

    Yes – and by hand – thanks for that link, so awesome and gorgeous and inspiring!

  58. Jillian Lukiwski
    June 13th, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

    Swanky fence, sister!
    And that ring put the badddddd in baddddddassness……:)

  59. A friend in central Illinois
    June 14th, 2010 @ 7:59 am

    Shreve, GREAT fence and it was fun to read how you did it. Now, you need some kind of decorations on top of your posts: birdhouses? lanterns or some kind of lights? Maybe not on every post, but I thing it would add to your beautiful work. Just a thought. You are so amazing!!

  60. Bruce
    June 14th, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    “She who builds her own fence is twice as proud”

  61. Deborah
    June 14th, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    What does the tat on your wrist say?

  62. Roxanne
    June 14th, 2010 @ 9:37 am

    *sigh*…Just…beautiful and I can SMELL it!

  63. mlaiuppa
    June 14th, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    So the gardens and the house are inside and Daisy is outside.

    Well done.

    I’ve built a fence around my yard but it’s more decorative and expensive; materials from Home Depot. But I designed it. I’m even building my own lattice as I don’t like the premade stuff.

    There is a certain satisfaction that comes from the successful completion of a project that involves physical labor. I took out a tree stump this weekend. I’ve gone back several times to survey the flat earth where the stump used to be. I sit and look at the garden and dream of what it will be next.

  64. Loretta
    June 14th, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    That’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing the how-to.

    A caveat for cedar users: if you live in an area that has carpenter bees, like New Jersey, carpenter bees LOVE cedar. They bore into it to make their nests, and over time will weaken it. With a security item like a fence, that will eventually cause problems, as once you get one carpenter bee, you will get more.

    So, find out if your area gets carpenter bees before you decide on what kind of wood you will use, if you have that option.

  65. Sarah
    June 14th, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    I gather you don’t have much time for tv or the reception for that matter. But if there’s a chance you watched true blood last night you would have seen the bull at the end.
    Check him out! and

    Is this what Frisco is going to look like?

  66. sherry
    June 14th, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    OOO! I wanted to thank you for posting a link in your twitter a while ago to a ring by the etsy seller Sunnyrisingmetal – I didn’t buy THAT ring, but she made me THIS one.

    and I’m SURE the ring in your picture is by her, too, isn’t it? Isn’t she amazing??!?

    Your fence is absolutely beautiful. Absolutely. Even though it might SEEM nice to have Daisy in your house, in reality, it probably wasn’t.

  67. Dani
    June 14th, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    Beautiful fence, and as many of the others have said in their posts, you truly are inspiring!!

  68. Sweetpea
    June 14th, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    That is a totally ROCK’IN GREAT fence…good on’ya for having the gumption to take that on yourself, wooooo hooooo!!!!

  69. Tony
    June 14th, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

    btw, Sleater-Kinney? who listens to Sleater-Kinney any more? I thought I was the only one.

  70. Liz
    June 15th, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    What a kickass job!!! and what a kickass ring!!! I want one! Where did you get it??

  71. Shannon
    June 15th, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

    Shreve, looks like a boat load of work! I would recommend for your next fence project going at minimum 3′ deep with your posts, we sink ours 36-40″ and that’s in a climate with no frost heave. Also if you pre-tap (drill out) pilot holes a little smaller than the diameter of your nails, your rails will be less likely to split over time. Wish I had a Pole Patch in our woods!

  72. moof
    June 15th, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    the fence post… bahaahaa that’s good. that could be your next blog project name. i’m telling you what..that’s a nice fence. come to find out.. shreve made it! exhibit A looks like a very bad cow. bad cow, bad!

    that fence will make some nice snow drifts next winter. and the little grains of sand in the wind will smooth it over time. when you become old you can remember this day and lean on your fence. in the meantime Daisy can scratch herself on it.

  73. kerin rose
    June 16th, 2010 @ 5:29 am

    Shreve!….the story of the fence drew me in this morning, the shot of you a’ buildin’ a fence and modeling my friend Jillian’s ring made me smile, and the story of your tat and your philosophy regarding stopping the buck of other folks negative junk blew my mind…..THAT is a beautiful story….

    your philosophy rocks….sing on, sister!

  74. The Equestrian Vagabond
    June 17th, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

    That is a Nice. Fence.

  75. Barbara
    June 18th, 2010 @ 1:50 am

    Very nice. You must have a lot of muscle!! Just curious: in our area, you need to go down below frost line or stuff heaves up. Do you know what your frost line is?

  76. Adrienne
    June 19th, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    Oh I love this! What a testament to the elegant strength of a woman.

  77. shreve
    June 20th, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

    Barbara ~ the frost line in the high desert is only about a foot down ~ it’s so dry! Water lines and such are buried deeper but for a fence, the integrity and strength of the structure is more of a concern than heaving.

  78. Bethany
    June 21st, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Beautiful! Love the fence, now I’m just going to have to make one!! I’m so happy to see a woman doing such a job on her own! We can do anything our hearts desire!

  79. Jenny
    December 4th, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

    New-ish follower, first time commenting. I know this is an old post, but I felt so inspired after reading it and seeing the awesome outcome of the fence. Rustic, simple, beautiful, strong. Much more than logs nailed together. And I’ve been doubting whether or not I can build a birdhouse! Your will and motivation are a great inspiration!

  80. Dee
    May 14th, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

    I love this! It’s exactly what I hope to do with my my property of too many trees and too little fencing. You are definitely an inspiration! Well done. I’m still giggling about the “giant ring”. :)

  81. Caroline
    October 7th, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

    I’m happy to see your fence. This is the closest image i have found to what we are contemplating. A rancher close by had to clear cut a large section, said the posts are ours if we will haul them off. I’d be happy to post a picture next year of the finished product. we will not get started until the snow melt.

Leave a Reply

  • More, Elsewhere

    • tdcbuttonb
    • 2020calbuttonHRD
    • newshopbutton16s
    • IGflicka
  • Tweets

  • Follow Honey Rock Dawn

    Enter your email address to receive new posts via email.

  • My Books

    • tdccoverbutton
    • ten
    • egfcoverbutton
  • On My Bookshelf

  • Categories

  • RSS