A fence can be not only a functional element in your landscaping, providing privacy and keeping pets inside your yard and other animals out, but can also be a decorative addition that nicely frames your garden or yard landscaping.
Traditional wood fencing is one of the most popular and decorative fencing materials; available in a variety of forms, types of wood, fencing styles and gating options.
Thanks to more ecologically-minded lumber industry practices, in the United States we are now planting far more trees each year than we harvest, helping to make wood a more sustainable resource for the future!
And with today’s wood fence finishing options, a wood fence can be treated to prevent it from rotting or warping, significantly extending its useful life. It’s no wonder that many homeowners continue to choose wood fencing over other alternatives.
And installing your own fence is a project most do-it-yourself homeowners will feel comfortable doing. And of course, if you can build your own wood fence instead of hiring it out, you can save some substantial costs. But if you cannot or prefer not to build a fence yourself, you will need to factor in the labor costs of building your new or replacement wood fence.
Whether you are installing a new wood fence or replacing an old fence that has finally given way to the wind and rain, you have a lot of options to consider in terms of the style, materials and finish of your wood fencing.
The traditional wood fencing of the past remains a popular choice with consumers today, thanks in part to modern technology and the wide range of options available. New developments help decrease problems such as warping and rotting wood, making the many styles of wood fencing practical and attractive.
The primary benefits of wood fencing are aesthetics, privacy and longevity; wood is a versatile material and can be milled to adapt to a wide range of forms and styles of wood fencing. Whether you use a pressure treated pine, redwood or one of several species of cedar, your wood fence will look natural and, if installed, treated and maintained properly, should last for many years to come.
Choosing a Type of Wood Fencing
The first step in building your new wood fence will be to select the best type to meet your functional needs and aesthetic preference. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of wood fencing options, you can begin to whittle down the options if you first consider a few factors around the function (what purposes the fence is intended to serve) and form (style, design height, etc.) of wood fences.
In some areas, you will find a general norm in the height, style and material used to build wood fences. The style of fence that predominates in your neighborhood can be based on locally available fencing materials, the architectural style in your community or possibly even determined by your homeowners’ association covenants, city or county building codes. Be sure and check to see if any regulations or building codes restrict the type and height of fencing you can install before starting your project!
From a functional perspective, if you need your wood fence to provide privacy, then you probably won’t consider something like a picket fence! And if you have a dog you need to keep inside your yard, then something like a board-on-board fence that is at least five feet tall may be the best option.
On the other hand, if you are building a fence primarily to enhance the beauty of your garden and frame your landscape design, then a rustic split-rail fence or white picket fence may be more in line.
Wood Fencing Styles and Types
Board on Board Fence – Typically six feet high (sometimes four, five or eight feet), the board-on-board wood fence is one of the most popular styles found. Vertically oriented fence boards are nailed or screwed to top and bottom rails that span between posts. It provides a great balance between form and function, spaced to let a little light pass between the boards without compromising privacy or security. Styles and options include lattice top, dip, oval, dog-ear, and cap board.
Close Board Fence – Close board fencing uses posts and rails, with feather edge boards fixed vertically to the rails. Treated timber 4×4 posts are typically set into 2 foot deep holes and secured with concrete. Vertically oriented fence boards are set into place between the bottom and top rails, overlapping each other to provide excellent privacy and security.
Board and Estate Fence – Popular on farms and country properties, the board and estate style of wood fencing generally uses 3 or 4 horizontally oriented boards, with spacing between each to span between the wood posts. Variations may include having the boards cross diagonally or welded wire added for strength and style. A lattice top may be added to increase fence height and add a decorative touch.
Wood Dip Fence – An attractive variation on plain board on board fencing, a concave or convex dip is used to add a more decorative touch. Decorative post caps or finials may be used to accent the wood dip fence design.
Picket Fence – Typically about 4 feet in height, the classic picket fence is a popular decorative wood fence that provides limited privacy and security but is one of the most attractive styles of wood fencing. Gates add a decorative touch and blend well into the look of a picket fence.
Split Rail Fence – The rustic look of a split rail fence is well suited to large fencing runs and often used to enclose pastures on country properties.
Wood Fencing Types Focused On Form
The style of your home’s architecture and landscaping are primary considerations in selecting the best type of fence when form is the main goal.
Split-rail wood fences characterized by the rustic look of rough hewn posts and rails work well with:
- Ranch style home architecture
- A mountain home with natural landscaping
- A Southwest US style landscape design
Picket fences are a classic style that remains one of the most popular types of wood fencing and look best with:
- Cottage style home architecture and English cottage gardens
- Colonial revival and Federal home architecture
Wood Fencing Types Focused On Function
If the primary considerations are more related to the function of your wood fence, then a board on board or close board fence may be better suited to your needs. These fences are typically taller (4 to 8 feet in height) and provide little or no spacing between fence boards that would allow a dog to easily escape your yard.
You can still achieve a nice balance between form and function by using a tall picket fence or a board on board fence with lattice top to enhance the look of your wood fence without sacrificing security, safety or privacy. Decorative touches such as dips, finials and caps can also help dress up your solid wood fence.
The various types of post and rail fences outlined above will work well to provide seclusion and security and cover a large perimeter cost effectively.
Common Types of Wood Fencing Materials
A wide range of woods can be used to build your wood fence, each offering different characteristics to suit the climate conditions, function and form of various types of wood fences.
Pine, Spruce and Fir – Many species of whitewoods (pine, spruce and fir) are used to build wood fences. The species used depends partly on where you live, but in the Midwest and southeast, Southern yellow pine is a popular wood fencing material since is grows quickly and is therefore cost effective. Southern yellow pine should be pressure-treated to resist insects and decay.
Cedar – Western red cedar remains one of the most popular species of wood used in fencing because of its natural beauty and longevity. Cedar is naturally resistant to insect damage and decay and is also less likely to warp than pine. On the west coast, Western red cedar is most common and in the northern states white cedar is sometime used as a fencing material. If using cedar fence posts, they should be set directly in the ground rather than using concrete to improve drainage around the posts. Cedar fence boards should have at least 2 inches clearance from the ground to prevent them from rotting.
Redwood – Redwood is a popular wood fencing material along the Pacific coast, although it has become increasingly expensive due to the limited supply. Redwood offers great longevity is properly maintained.
Metal Fence Posts – For added longevity and durability, steel fence posts are sometimes used instead of wood. Special brackets help conceal the metal posts. Since fence posts must be set into the earth or set in concrete (again, not recommended with cedar posts), they are most susceptible to rotting. By using metal or pressure-treated pine fence posts set into concrete, your fence will have a longer service life. By maintaining and replacing fence boards as needed, your wood fence should last many years.
Wood Fencing Maintenance Tips
- Whether you decide to apply a water-repellant finish, stain or paint or let your wood fence age and weather naturally is a personal choice. However, an unfinished wood fence will require repair and replacement boards more often due to warping and decay.
- Your wood fence may soon lose its appeal if you don’t keep it up with regular care and maintenance. Wooden fences benefit most from routine scraping, painting, and sealing. Factor these maintenance expenses when you budget the cost for new wooden fencing.
- In addition, you need to factor in the cost of supplies, including the paint or sealant products, along with equipment needed to do the work.
- Check your wood fence every couple of months to spot signs of splintering, peeling, mold, rot or broken fence boards. Look for evidence of insect or bird nests in knots. If you find a bird nest, wait until the birds have left it before removing it and sealing the hole.
- If you find evidence of termite damage, arrange for an exterminator as soon as possible to nip it in the bud, before the termites have a chance to infiltrate any other structures on your property … including your home potentially!
- If your fence has splinters or rough edges, you might want to remove rough edges and sand the boards to keep them from hurting kids or pets.