Split-Rail Fence

How to Build a Split-Rail Fence

There may be numerous reasons to build a split rail fence which can range from being simply decorative to wanting to have a closed front yard for their pets to run around freely in.   Furthermore, many communities in the United States may not allow for privacy fences to be built in the front yard, hence many people have picket fences or other types of decorative fences.

Other reasons for having a fence in the front yard is to give an extra look to the property.   For those of you who would like to have a more rustic look to your property, you might think about building a split-rail fence in your front yard.   Split-rail fences can also be used as dividers to divide parts of your property.   Split-rail fences are also relatively easy to build and many home improvement stores have all the materials you need to build one, including the precut fence posts with the notches already chiseled in and the rails with the fitting tabs precut.

What types of wood are split-rail fences made from?

Typically, split rail fences are made from hard woods, such as cedar, redwood, oak, or pressure-treated yellow pine or cyprus.   Furthermore, the whole idea of having a split rail fence is to have a rustic look to your front yard, so very rarely are split rail fences neatly cut and plained.   More often, the rails of split rail fences are coarsely cut and may even have splintered off edges.  Typically split-rail fences do not have gates and are usually ended with the rails going diagonally into the ground.   See the pictures shown.

Typically split-rail fences do not have gates and are usually ended with the rails going diagonally into the ground

Typically split-rail fences do not have gates and are usually ended with the rails going diagonally into the ground

Adding wire-mesh to split rail fence

Do keep in mind that split-rail fences are primarily built for decorative purposes, but for those of you who have small children or small dogs. You can modify a split-rail fence with adding wire mesh or chicken wire to it and allowing a pen for your small children or small dogs to run around in. As far as a gate is concerned, split-rail fences do not have matching gates, but you can add a pergola or arbor with a gate incorporated in it. When done right, this can be very beautiful.

What is needed to assemble a split-rail fence?

Unless you are a master at wood working, you should go to your local home improvement store and see if you can find a kit with all the posts and rails needed to build your fence.  A typical split-rail fence is usually two to three feet high and usually has two rails.  A typical split-rail fence comes with the following:

A. Fence posts, which are typically precut sections of old telephone poles which are four to five feet long. At the top of the post you will see notches in which the split rails tabs will fit into. The tabs of the split rails will rest on top of each other from section to section. Two feet of the post should be in the ground and anchored with ready-mixed concrete.

B. Split rails, which are typically coarsely cut to give that rustic look. The split rails are typically six to seven feet long and usually fit into the notches. Simply fit the split rails into the notches in the fence posts.

Split-rail fences and local ordinances

Typically most communities in the United States do not really have ordinances for split-rail fences, because their purpose is strictly decorative, but there maybe some stipulations about how far you can build your split-rail fence from the curb.  Many communities dictate so many feet away from the street you can have your split-rail fence.   Other communities may also require you to have red reflectors nailed to the posts if your front yard is on a high traffic street.   Like with the construction of any fence, you should check with your local community offices before you start building your split-rail fence to make sure no permits may be required to start building and to know how far from the curb you can build your fence.

Tools needed to build a split-rail fence are not really that many.   The basic tools are as follows:

A. Post hole diggers to dig an even hole for the fence posts.

B. A shovel to place the dirt removed in digging the holes for the posts. Keep in mind that it is recommended to anchor the posts with concrete. Once the concrete is hard, cover the anchors with dirt.

C. A wheel barrow to cart away the excess dirt and sand from the site.

D. A rubber mallet to hammer the split rails into the notches in the fence posts.

You need to keep in mind that the split rails need to be placed snugly into the notches of the fence posts.  For this reason, you should first see how far the posts should be placed from each other before placing them into the ground.   The idea is to gently tap the split rails into the notches without breaking the tabs of the split rails off.   The split rails should be easily tapped into the notches, yet difficult to take out.  This will ensure the fence will last for a long time.


You can also get special corner posts at your local home improvement store which has split-rail fence kits that will allow you to make 90-degree corners, such as having a split rail fence go around your front yard.  To have other types of corners, you might have to have posts custom made, unless you are good at wood working.

Using corner posts for split rail fence

Using corner posts for split rail fence

Basically, that’s all there is to it.   A split-rail fence is one of the easiest fences to build and because they are quite popular, you can find them at practically any home improvement store throughout the country.

Split-rail fences add that rustic beauty to your front yard and added with landscape boulders and some wild flowers, you can have that rustic look that you have been dreaming about for a long time.  Typically, building a split-rail fence can take a weekend with several people working together with you or a week when doing it by yourself.

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