Repairing a Wood Fence

By: Alicia Schnell

At least once a year, you should do a thorough inspection of your wood fence. Shake the posts to affirm their stability and check the boards and rails for rot. Rails are 2x4’s attached horizontally along the top and bottom of your fence. If the boards and rails are flush to the ground or covered in vegetation, keep an extra close eye on them. They are likely to rot faster under these conditions. Depending on the level of damage your fence has sustained, replacing sections or the entire fence may be inevitable. In the meantime, there are a few small fixes you can do to lengthen its life.

The posts are an area you want to pay special attention to. One weak post could bring down an entire section. To fix a wobbly post, the remedy may be as simple as adding concrete to the hole. If the post is rotted or broken at the base, you can brace the failing wood with a galvanized off-set lag post (see picture right). The bottom of the steel post will go in the ground set in concrete while the top is lag screwed to the wood. This will lengthen the wooden post’s life about 5 to 10 years. If the damage warrants removing a post entirely, carefully remove the panels on both sides and concrete. The best material to replace your posts with is pressure treated Douglas Fir. Be sure to set the new post in domed concrete and then reattach the panels and rails. Try to keep as much vegetation away from the fence as possible and avoid putting Beauty Bark around your fence.

If only a handful of boards are damaged or rotten, remove them. Then cut new Cedar boards the same length as the existing, space each slat to match the rest of your fence, and nail them in place. These will shrink a little after installation as they dry out. So make sure you don’t space your boards any farther apart than the others to prevent gaps. If you have to replace an entire section, you’ll need new 2x4 rails to fit the section. Use a level to ensure that your rails are straight. Something to keep in mind is, when you replace only one or two boards in a section, the new ones are going to stand out. This is due to coloration and thickness difference. Staining your fence will help minimize noticeable color contrast though.

The bottom rails can rot from soaking up moisture usually referred to as wicking, especially when they are placed too close to the ground. If they are salvageable, the best way to brace them is to use a “piggy-back” method. The “piggy-back” method leaves the old rail in place and screws in a new 2x4 either on top or bottom of the existing rail. To secure, screw the bracing rail to the posts and nail the boards to the rail. Some websites will tell you to brace the damaged rails with scraps of 2x4 or metal L-brackets under the corners where they connect to the posts. This method is not as effective as “piggy-backing” and also looks a little tacky. But if the rail is too far gone, all you have to do is remove the damaged rail, cut a 2x4 to fit the section, and nail or screw the new rail into place. Pressure-treated 2x4’s are a viable option for replacing rails, but they are not a necessity unless they are in actual contact with the ground.

These suggestions are not permanent fixes and only meant as ideas to gimp your fences along until you are ready to professionally repair or completely replace the fence. Generally speaking, if your posts, boards, and/or rails are beginning to rot, you have about a year to save up for a new fence. For more ideas or to set up for an estimator to quote your fence, feel free to call our office at 253-531-5452.