Over the course of the previous winter it was becoming increasingly apparent that we had a problem with some of the fence panels down the side of the house. At one point late in 2017 one of the posts had rotted through sufficiently that the next decent storm snapped it. I fixed that one by replacing the broken post, but it was never going to be a permanent solution.
Fast forward a few months, to what we’ll euphemistically refer to as “late spring”, and one evening I decided that if I didn’t start working on the fence soon I never would. I had sort of decided that the best approach would be to completely replace the entire run of fence from the back of the garage to the back corner of the garden, a distance of about 25 metres in total. That’s quite a lot of fencing for someone who hasn’t ever built a fence before.
A couple of things needed to be done to get the job underway :
- Figure out how to build a fence;
- Go and buy some materials;
- Get the next door neighbour to agree to me going on his land while I was working on it;
- Acquire a quantity of new power tools, but evidently not the correct ones for doing the job.
As for building techniques, I decided the best approach was to repeat the style of the other fences, which meant learning a whole new language and figuring out what tools were needed to cut and shape arras rails, how to cut holes in fence posts, and how to mark and attach featherboards to arras rails.
Before that, though, there was the small matter of demolishing some of the old fence and removing the stumps of the old posts. After a little look at it I’d concluded that it wasn’t necessary to dig out all of the old posts though. The old fence had posts spaced at 3m intervals but the rails I’d bought only stretched for 2.4m, which meant very few of them were going to end up in the same place. The previous year’s experience showed that attempting to get old fence posts out was an activity that generally resulted in lots of swearing and a number of broken tools.
I started at the back of the garage, partly because I figured if anything ended up a bit unsightly while I was learning the game then behind the garage would be the best place, but mainly because the back of the garage afforded the opportunity to fasten a bit of fence to something other than a hole in the ground. To get this first little bit in place I had to hack may way through a bunch of old concrete that I’d used to fill up the space between my patio and the old fence many moons ago. That required the purchase of the first new tool that I hadn’t expected – a hand-held concrete breaker. Seriously, I tried the sledgehammer and the lump hammer with big chisel, but it was slow and painful. The concrete breaker started making inroads pretty immediately, and its acquisition turned a bad start to a day into a good finish.
The other thing I’d decided to do was to run the fence at the back of the garage parallel to the garage wall rather than maintaining the previous narrowing profile. This meant losing a bit of land at one end and gaining a bit at the other end. The next door neighbour was OK with it, as well as with my decision to increase the height by 30cm or so.
This was the point in the process where I began to take a lot of confidence in my own abilities. Fastening the first post to the back of the garage was remarkably easy, and getting the crucial corner post in place was similarly easy. I’d discovered the delights of “post-fix” concrete, where you basically chuck a bucket of water into the hole and then tip a bag of concrete on the top. The stuff sets well enough to let go of the post in about 10 minutes, allowing you then to continue with filling the rest of the hole up with “proper” hand-made concrete before moving onto the next step.
I got myself into a nice cyclic routine of :
- Measure up and dig a hole;
- Prepare a post by cutting to length and drilling holes for the rails;
- Cut the ends of the arras rails to make the pointy ends;
- Plant the post and rails and concrete it in place;
- Cut and fasten on the featherboards;
- At the end of each day, stand back for a long “admiration break” and take a few photos.
In between all those steps, I’d apply a coat of fence paint to the surfaces that were going to be covered up by some other part of the fence.
I figured that on a very keen day I could run through the cycle of placing posts and rails two times over, and I had about 10-12 of those to do.
Progress was fairly swift because the weather was consistently good (maybe too good at some points) and by the time we were ready to start our holiday in Italy ( see The Italian Job ) I’d got two “posts” past the end of the garage. That meant there’d be a gap between our garden and next door for the period we were away, but it was barely visible from either street and the neighbour was both aware and supportive.
When we got back from holiday I still had just over half of the total length to do. So far it had been going fairly easily and I was hoping it would continue that way.
Half a day was lost by needing to put in a short length so that one of the posts would coincide with the location of the neighbour’s gate post, and when I started to run alongside his house I started having some fun with digging holes for the posts. It was very wet in some places but I just touched the edge of a soakaway in another, which meant I had to to put the concrete powder in before the water.
When I got to going alongside the garden, the ground turned from “sloppy” to “rock hard”, and it was taking ages to dig holes. It seemed as if the fence was fighting back. I remember one day at the August Bank Holiday where the weather broke and it kept raining whilst I felt like I was attempting to dig a well into granite with a wet sausage. I was very glad when that day finished.
At the end of it all though, I think I did a pretty good job of it. Once I got into the swing of how to do it I was refining the technique quite rapidly and making a much neater job rather more quickly. I quite enjoyed the experience of doing it, although I’m hoping the new fence will last the same 19 years that the old one did.