Solid Timber Paling Fence

In many ways, building a Wooden Fence is very similar when starting to a Retaining wall, in the sense that you will be setting a row of post’s. working off a string line, Most of the time, you will be building your wooden fence on boundary line to your property, so of course at the start, you first have to establish exactly where the boundary is.

Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this isn’t important because you get on so well with your neighbours that a couple of inches here or there won’t hurt anyone….well nothing could be further from the truth. The problem with that is that you or your neighbour might be forced to sell and the new owners are not so obliging and may want the fence to be moved to the exact location.

How to start building your Paling Fence.

In this section we are going to look at the building this type of wooden fence. There are of course many different styles and even variations of these styles too, but building a wooden fence is nearly always the same process. The Picket Fence is very similar to the Paling, but what ever style fence you choose you will need to follow certain procedures, these are outlined below.

You need to first establish which side the palings will be going on (usually referred to as the face of the wooden fence).

So once the boundary is established and the line is cleared of the debris that is often in the way, a stringline can be stretched out along the line where the post’s will be set.

This string line is to set the post’s to, so an adjustment has to be made from the boundary where the fence or the front edge of the rails will be. Especially if you are using the mortised posts, they are the posts with the rectangle hole cut out of the middle for the rails. So in this case you will set the line approx. 30mm (1½”) in from the boundary.

I generally use a solid timber post and have a housing joint cut in for the rails which I do on site, this way I can control the rails a lot better and the post remains stronger.

Once the string line is positioned and fixed tightly end to end the line can be measured for the post positions.

Now 2.4m or 8’ should be the maximum distance between posts, there is a fair amount of weight to these fences and it needs the support, so don’t be tempted to stretch them to 2.7 or even 3.0m (10”) just to save you having to put it a couple of extra posts, you will regret this later!!!

I usually run the tape along the string line from the end I am starting and use duct tape and stick it to the string line at multiple measurements of 2.4m. (8′)

If you end up with a smaller gap at the end then share the measurement over the two posts rather than having just the last panel short, make the last two panels slightly shorter, this will look better.

Mortise and Housing joints

Then comes the digging….

Holes for a paling fence should be around 600mm (2’) deep and wide enough to have at least 50kg of concrete in them, that’s a hole approx. 300mm (1’) diameter.

TIP !!    It’s important to remember that the hole size is relevant to how solid the surrounding ground is. If it’s solid rock then you will not need as big, if it’s loose soil then you will need it bigger !

I generally set the posts with a dry mix concrete and I compact the mix into the hole as I’m filling it, usually half fill and after compaction I add some water and let that soak in, then finish filling the hole with concrete and repeat the process.

As far as post size goes, generally the end posts for a paling fence are 100 x 100mm (4” x 4”) and the intermediate posts are 125 x 75mm (5” x 3”) if we are using treated posts and 125 x 50mm (5″ x 2″) if hardwood, but you can really use what you want providing the posts are strong enough to support the fence. Sometimes we have even used square dura gal posts and I use the 65 x 65mm with a 2mm thick wall.

TIP !!    Try to leave the top of the Concrete Mix around the post sloping away from the post so it doesn’t hold water next to the post, this will prevent the post rotting.

Fixing the rails for the paling fenceThe next stage is fixing the rails. Now like I said earlier I house these into the face of the post. it takes a little longer than buying the mortised posts, but it is a stronger job. It’s really up to you how you want to fix them, I have seen fences where the rails are just screwed onto the face of the post, so there is no set way you have to do it.

Important note… If you are building a paling fence with treated pine palings and your fence is higher than 1.2m (4’) then you will need to use three rails, this will help prevent the palings from twisting and bowing…as pine does !! This fence in particular is what we call a heritage paling fence and it’s slightly larger than normal. the posts are 125 x 125mm (5″ x 5″) with four rails, kiln dried laser cut rough header 90 x 45mm treated pine, the rails are set in the back not the front and the palings are fixed in between the posts. See the image below how it looks from the front.

Your rails are usually 75 x 50mm (3” x 2”) but then again there is NO set size providing they are strong enough to support the palings. Hard wood or Treated Pine doesn’t really matter, sometimes I have mixed it up and had treated Pine posts and rails and hardwood palings. (Hardwood palings will only need two rails as they don’t twist like pine) either one we have found that screwing the rails into the posts (two per rail per post) with 75mm or 3″ gal screws are the best way to fix them.

Palings fence as seen from the front.Once your rails are in place it is just a matter of fixing on the palings. Remember it is better to use Gal nails and fixings and especially if you are using the treated pine.

TIP !!  You should use two Galvanised Nails per paling / per rail, this will also help stop any twisting or the paling working loose.

If you have used the mortised posts than you will be fixing the palings in between the post, so start from one of the posts butting the paling up to the post and fix it off to the rail, but as you approach the next post you may have to span out your palings to fit or cut the last paling. This is a lap and cap paling fence so we have a back board which is 150 x 12mm (6″ x 1/2″) fixed on the rails first with a 50mm (2″) gap. then the 100mm (4″) paling covers over that gap evenly spaced so there is a 100mm (4″) gap between them, making it look very even.

Remember always work with a spirit level and check every 4 – 5 palings to see for vertical, this way you can make slight adjustments to the palings before they get out too much. It’s best for you to work with a string line set at the top for the height, this way it keeps all the palings nice and straight.

If you are working with the housing joint on the posts then you will just be paling all the face,
no fitting in between the posts, still work with a spirit level to check vertical and make slight adjustments as needed.

If there is no cap then the palings will often have their top corners cut off, I would do this on a drop saw prior to fixing them to the rails.

It probably goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway….Try and choose a fence style that will suite your landscaping, it is such an important backdrop to all of your property so the fence has to fit in.