The Fence Trilogy - Prep and Posts

March was a busy month for me, especially on the weekends. See, my coworker and friend, Roberta, moved into a new house a few months ago and expressed interest in having a fence put in. When she mentioned the estimated cost, several things happened simultaneously:

First, I thought of the fence I put up two years ago at my current house, and how it wasn't so bad... Building a fence is a lot like pregnancy in that it never seems as bad as it really was When you're looking back at it a year or two after the fact.

Second, I thought that since I have all the tools already--or almost all the tools--that I wouldn't even need to buy anything to help her put it up.

Third, I thought that I'd be a good, helpful, well-tooled friend and offer my assistance and equipment to Roberta if she wanted to do this herself.

Now, I know that not everyone would have the time, energy, or desire to build their own fence; however, Roberta seemed like the do-it-yourself-and-save-a-buck-or-two kinda gal, so I piped up. I mentioned that, if she was up for helping me, and if my wife agreed to let me "go play" for a few weeks, that I'd contract with her to put up her fence for a lot less than she'd find commercial bids. Spouses were consulted, schedules were arranged, and we agreed to fence.

The first thing I did was obtain estimates for fence length. Since Roberta lives about 20 minutes from me, it was easier for me to work with estimates than drive down to her house, take measurements, and drive back. Plus, the measurements were to be for planning material purchases and for estimating schedules--they didn't need to be down to the inch.

Next, I got my Excel on. I planned the exact number of posts, bags of cement and gravel, rails, pickets, and nails, according to the estimated fence lengths, and added 10%. (You never want to buy exactly the amount you need on a project of this type or size or you'll kill yourself and your schedule with multiple trips back to your home center to pick up one board here, one box of nails there...) For things like posts, rails, and cement, we ended up with almost exactly 10% left over. Pickets...we ended up with an awful lot of extras. But that just meant that the fence was cheaper to build than anticipated. :) Oh, and while I was estimating quantities, I hopped onto and found part numbers and prices, too. That meant that I wouldn't have to go with Roberta and her husband, Mike, to do the shopping, and that they could go whenever they had time.

Speaking of which, I need to say that both Roberta and Mike were a dream to work with. From Roberta buying fruit popsicles especially for me for break times, to Mike renting a jackhammer to bust up rocks in the post holes (and if you've never had the occasion to use a jackhammer, I must recommend that you FIND an excuse, because they're way fun!), to Roberta being the best--and stronger than her slight frame would convey--dang gofer ever, they were just fantastic.

With the plans made, the materials bought, and the underground utilities marked, the work was ready to begin. On that first workday, I brought my 100' measure and we staked out the fenceline. Every 7' 11" or so, we spraypainted the ground for a post marker, planning in three 4' wide gates. Then, we dug. Fortuntately, we had a two-person, gas-powered auger to use, because hand-digging almost 50 post holes would have taken forever! On the whole the digging went quickly, with the exception of four of the holes, which had to have rock broken up in order to get them to an acceptable depth. We did those with the aforementioned jackhammer. With the holes dug, it was relatively straightforward to set the posts.

Mike bought a corner level, which was a long, L-shaped level with levels on two sides so that you can check a post for level front-and-back at the same time as side-to-side. It's a marvelously handy tool to use, and I recommend it heavily! So Mike leveled the posts while I poured in the dry concrete and Roberta watered it heavily. We let those posts set for a week.

Next up were the rails and gates.


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