How to Build a Strong, Attractive Good-Neighbor Fence

Goals:

  • No gaps between boards
  • Strong, sturdy
  • Inexpensive
  • Looks good on both sides
  • Simple to build
  • Long-lasting

Materials

1. Remove old fence

Use a sawzall, if necessary. 

2. Secure string line

Secure the ends of the string line to each end of the fence. Ensure string is taught and that line is level. 

3. Install posts

Digging Holes

You can rent a gas auger from Home Depot but if your soil is hard clay, it would be easier to rent a medium-duty jackhammer to break the dirt to create a hole. If there are tree stumps, you can rent a stump grinder to grind the stump away.

2-man gas auger
Stump grinder
Demolition / jack hammer
Posts

You can use 4×4 pressure treated wood posts with steel brackets to hold 2x4s or you can use steel fence posts that come with many holes to hold the 2x4s. The steel fence posts are about 3 times more expensive but they should last longer.

Position and Secure Posts

Insert post into hole and 

  • Ensure the same top edge of each post touches the string line to ensure plumb
  • use fence post level to ensure plumb
  • install 2×4 horizontal stringers to bottom and top of posts
  • use level on top of 2x4s to ensure level
  • mix cement with water and pour into hole
  • If, for some reason, some posts are too tall, you can cut the tops off using a sawzall with a metal blade
Steel fence post, pressure-treated 2x4x8 and post level
Before pouring cement, make sure posts are plumb and level top 2x4s

4. Install header and footer fascia boards

On non-good-neighbor fences, the 2x4s are called backer rails as the fence boards (pickets) are  screwed into them. In this good-neighbor fence design, the fence boards will stand between the 2x4s and screwed into fence boards that are screwed into the 2x4s. I’ll call these horizontal fence boards “fascia boards”. Cut off dog ears from some fence boards and screw the boards onto the top and bottom 2x4s on your neighbor’s side. Do this twice so that the header and footer boards are twice as thick for the vertical fence boards to be screwed in deep.

Screw fence boards horizontally on to 2x4s to create backing for fence boards to be screwed in to
Neighbor side of fence gets double header and footer fascia boards

5. Install fence boards

Cut the fence boards to fit between the top and bottom 2x4s. Then screw the fence boards into the top and bottom double fascia boards. Screw in the center of the boards since the sides will be used for screws in the overlapping boards. Since each board is 5.5 inches wide, use a spacer piece of wood 3 inches wide to easily create a gap between each board. These gaps will be covered with fence boards that are 5.5 inches wide which allows 1 inch on each side to screw into the boards behind them.

Bottom section of fence showing double fascia boards on neighbor side and fence boards screwed into them with a gap of 3 inches between each board

Important: Before screwing in any boards, drill a pilot hole first to prevent the wood from splitting. The picture below shows the board splitting because there was no pilot hole. The screw pushed the board apart causing it to split.

6. Mark position of overlapping fence boards

To ensure overlapping boards are centered over the gaps, use scrap fence board wood and draw lines along the left and right.

Scrap wood used to mark left and right edges of where overlapping boards will sit
Lines marking the left and right edges where overlapping fence boards will sit

7. Install overlapping fence boards

Position overlapping fence boards between the lines. Then, screw in the top right corner but leave the top left corner unscrewed until you screw either the bottom left and right corners. This will allow you to tilt the bottom of the board to fit between the pencil marks and fasten the bottom in before it moves out of place.

Top section of fence showing two fence boards overlapping a board behind them. Screws a long to go through two fence boards and into double fascia boards.
Use star / Torx screws to minimize stripping. Don’t even waste your time with Philips screws.
Drill pilot holes before driving in screws to prevent boards from splitting.
After drilling pilot holes, drive in screws.
Tip: wear a magnetic arm strap to easily get screws

8. Install fascia boards on remaining side

On your side of the fence, cut dog ears off some fence boards and screw them into the 2x4s. This will create a frame for the fence and cover up the many screws in the fence boards. Unlike the neighbor side, you don’t need to double up the boards.

9. Cover up the metal posts with fence boards

Cut dog ears off some fence boards and screw them in to cover up the metal posts. 

10. Seal fence

The fence boards are prestained at Home Depot. To protect the color, apply sealer every 2 years using a chemical sprayer or airless paint sprayer.