The rail fence has been the priority at our Hideaway this summer. The previous owner had cleared a building site in the centre of the property. We were fortunate enough to have inherited a big pile of rails, presumably from the trees that had been cut down. Charlie decided to use them to build a rail fence along the perimeter of the lot.
Charlie has had a couple of hours per weekend about once a month to work on this fence. There are many other things to do when we’re at our Hideaway. Sometimes we have friends or family visit us. Sometimes we go to visit family in the area. After all, for now this is supposed to be our relaxing weekend place! Some of you have asked about the bunkie. We decided to just let it sit this year and focus on the fence.
Traditional rail fences were called split rail fences. They were built of rails from larger logs which had been “split” lengthwise to form rails similar in size to our posts. Typically split rails would have been 10 to 12 feet long. The fences formed a zigzag pattern with the rails resting on each other, and that’s how we built ours.
Charlie peeled the bark off our rails before using them. Most of it was falling off anyway.
How to Build a Rail Fence
To build a rail fence on clear level ground, start by putting up a string to mark one edge of your fence. Otherwise, your fence could very easily wander off course. We determined the edge of our property and put our string there.
Then lay out your first row of rails somewhat like this. These first ones will form your base.
Next, lay out your second row with the ends resting on top of the first ones. Your rails might form a 90-degree angle or slightly greater. Don’t make the angle too large, or your fence will not be stable.
The third row gets easier. Place these rails above the first ones so they rest on the second row. Continue on in this pattern until your fence reaches the desired height.
Once full height was reached, Charlie stabilized the fence with two stakes at each corner. He wired them together at the top and bottom. They weren’t driven into the ground because it is so rocky.
There were several obstacles in the way of our fence, so Charlie had to be creative as he worked around trees, rocks, and hills.
Sometimes, he would choose especially long or short rails as needed to work around an obstacle. To go up or down hills, he might depart from the basic pattern. In some places, he would arrange to have a rock or block of wood under a corner in an attempt to keep the fence level.
Our rails were of random lengths, so he had to be careful not to start off with a bottom one that was too long and be forced to find enough other rails just as long to complete the section above it. Most of our rails were thicker on one end than the other, so he had to work with that, whether alternating thick ends in a level area or placing all thick ends on the downhill side of a section.
I think the fence really enhances our property. If you build a rail fence, I’d love to hear about it!