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Building a Board on Board Cedar Fence – Part 1 of 3

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The time has come for me to replace this tired old fence around our property. The old 6’ pine privacy fence has been holding up reasonably well since 1979 but has reached the end of its rope. We’ve done our best to nurse it along for a few years but it’s finally time to take it off life support and replace it. To replace it, I’ll be building a board on board cedar fence to give our backyard complete privacy. Fortunately the original owner of this home installed heavy-duty 3-½” steel posts and set a concrete footer around the entire perimeter of the property so I will not have to replace the posts. However, almost all of the other steps in this tutorial can apply directly to someone who is looking for a guide on how to replace their privacy fence and upgrade to a board on board cedar fence.

Things I Used In This Video:

Alright first off, lets talk about choice of material and cost!
I had this job quoted by a couple of companies and all of the bids came in at just over $10,000. Eek, that’s steep. Since I don’t mind the work, I decided to tackle the job myself. I got pricing quotes on material from several companies, including the big box store and after hearing the numbers I purchased our fencing material through a local supplier; the bill was just over 5k for 290’ worth of board on board #2 cedar pickets (that are pre stained), 2×6 top cap, and 1×4 upper trim.

Reasons I didn’t go through the big box store: 

  • The big box store doesn’t sell material that is pre stained. That isn’t so bad in itself but the problem is the stain was going to cost me $500 alone and at least a day in labor, whereas I could buy pre stained material through a local supplier and it come out to $50 cheaper than the big box store quote. (That really made the choice for me there).
  • The big box store doesn’t sell cedar 2x4s. Since I’m going with cedar pickets I wanted to go with cedar 2x4s for the stringers so that it all matched and looked nice but the big box store only sells them in pine. Even stained, they would also look different.
  • They also don’t sell 16′ 2x6s. The top cap of the fence is made by a 2×6 laying on top of the fence, and it’s really nice having the choice of going with a longer joint of material but if you go through the big box store then you will be limited to 8′ joints for the top cap.

I am by no means telling you not to go through the big box stores, I’m just simply explaining my reasoning for going with a local supplier so you can understand my thought process.

When looking at buying cedar pickets there are two tiers of quality, #1 and #2. I considered opting for the more expensive #1 picket for reasons of appearance and fewer knots, but every local fencing contractor I spoke with told me I would not really notice the difference. Consequently, I chose #2 pre-stained pickets. You can save a little money by going with raw material and applying the stain yourself. However when the fence is complete, there will be a small portion of the picket which is not treated because of the board on board arrangement. Additionally, the supplier of my material uses a “dip stain” process where the entire picket is submerged in fluid where it sits for a while to absorb the stain/sealer. This is more effective at protecting the picket than a conventional spray-on stain/sealer.

PILE

Lastly, I chose to use cedar stringers (sometimes called rails or runners) rather than pine. Some builders prefer pine stringers and say that it’s more durable and long lasting than cedar. However, others say the exact opposite about the issue. Ultimately I went with cedar since it will be much closer in color to the fence than the pine ever could be (even after staining them) and we will just make sure we stay on top of keeping the material well treated in this crazy Texas weather.

We got really lucky with the previous owner of the house because he installed 3-1/2” diameter,1/4” wall steel pipe for posts…..he obviously didn’t want it going anywhere. This is awesome because it means we don’t have to replace any of the posts and if we were replacing the fence with a standard picket fence then no changes to the posts would need to happen. However, since we are upgrading to a board on board fence, the poles need to be extended to span the full height of the fence to give it the support it needs.

Now lets talk about the dimensions I went with…

When completed, my fence will measure 74-1/2” tall. This is the measurement from the ground to the top of the top cap. The pickets measure 72″. Since we have a concrete footer, I am going with a 1” gap between the bottom of the picket and the concrete footer, this means I needed to extend all of my posts to 73”. If you do not have a concrete footer then I recommend going with a standard 2” gap to prevent premature decay of the bottom pickets. If you go with a 2″ gap the top of your posts will need to measure 74” from the ground.

Before getting into the nitty gritty details of the new fence, here are a few photos of the old fence – don’t judge me : )

FENCE SIDE

FENCE GATE

OLD FENCE

To start, the first thing I did was remove all of the plastic caps which were on top of the steel posts. For this I simply used an old piece of scrap wood and a hammer and worked the cap from side to side as I drove it upward and off of the post.

CAP

It’s safe to say the posts were originally cut with a cutting torch since the ends of them were kind of crooked and all 38 were cut to different heights. Rather than having to use a tape measure and measure from the concrete footer to the highest point of each post every time, I devised a simple little measuring stick. I cut a piece of scrap material at exactly 73” long and then cut the first three feet off of an old junk tape measure. I then attached the 3’ section of tape measure to the piece of material with small wood screws. This makes it much easier to place the “measuring stick” against the pole and then quickly glance at the portion with the tape to get a dimension on the extension piece.

MEASURE

On average, the poles needed about 8-1/2” of added length. Multiply that over all the posts I have and that put my steel order at about 30’ of extension material. To the Google box I went and found a local supplier who had the material on the shelf in 10’ joints. Note: If you are local to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I went with Discount Steel.

To cut the steel I’m using a portable band saw that Milwaukee recently sent me (aka “port-a-band”) and a mobile base that very quickly turned the port-a-band into a stationary unit. This worked perfectly for making good clean repeatable cuts through this 1/4 “ wall material. When using one of these saws, make sure your material is level and square. Also you don’t have apply pressure to the cut, just let the weight of the tool advance the progress of the cut for you.

PIPE CUT

PIPE PLACE

Note: This portion of the tutorial obviously does not apply to those who are building their fence from scratch. Standard length poles can be bought off the shelf and will not require modifications.

Welding on the Pole Extensions

It was finally time to make some sparks! Have I mentioned that I love welding?? I mean really – I love it! Although the pole extensions were time consuming, it was a lot of fun and really good practice for me. If you’re in the market for a welder, the Lincoln Electric 210 MP is where it’s at….super easy to use.

WELDERJPG

To begin attaching the extensions I first had to go to each posts and cut away a few pickets to give me access to the back of the posts so that I would have room to weld. I did this with my circular saw but when I reached the section of my fence where an extension cord didn’t reach, I switched to using a chainsaw.

To start welding I used 3 right angle welding magnets to hold the extension in place. I would then double check the placement to make sure it was inline with the pole, tack it in three places, and finally weld the entire joint. However I’ll admit that this is a bit easier said than done. I learned quickly this welder pulls more current than my outdoor outlets had to offer. Consequently I made my way to the local big box store where I got my hands on a heavy-duty gas generator through their tool rental program. The generator was a pain to lug around but it worked perfectly. 38 poles later and I was done. I really don’t know how those pipeline welders do it – aside from the 100+ degree Texas heat, wearing all of the protective gear while operating a welder is no easy task! Note! My poles are painted silver and not galvanized. Remember that if your poles are galvanized then it’s toxic to weld and will require a respirator that protects against toxic fumes.

MAGNETS

WELDING - C

WELDINGJPG

After all the extensions were welded on, I went back and gave them all a quick coat of paint to give them a coat of protection. I wasn’t able to match the previous paint that’s on the pole exactly but I wasn’t concerned because I’ll be building boxes around the posts when it’s all said and done.

EXTENSIONJPG

Tearing Down the Old Fence

I could now put my focus on some deconstruction of the old panels, and I must say, this was a fun step.

Now most fences use lag bolts to secure the panels to the post brackets, however my fence was held on with carriage bolts. Eh. This means to remove the old panels I had two choices: Remove each of the nuts from the brackets holding the stringer to the fence post then wrestle the whole 8’ panel loose. Orrrrrr, I could use a chainsaw and cut off the bulk of the panel then just work off a small 1′ section. If you’ve been following my work up to this point I don’t think you need any help guessing which direction I went : )

CHAINSAW

So there I was sawing through my first panel – 15 seconds and the whole thing fell to the ground. Totally the right choice! I cut all of the stringers as close to the brackets as possible and my husband muscled them to the curb in a nice neat pile. I made sure to cut in between pickets, only cutting the 2×4 stringer, so that I could avoid hitting any nails. We repeated this process until the entire section of the fence was removed from the poles.

Note: We are only doing one section of our fence at a time because we and all our neighbors have animals. So instead of demoing all three sides at once we would tear down one section then build it back up, then repeat with the next side. If you don’t have animals to worry about then it would be much easier to do one step completely throughout the entire fence before moving to the next.

The next step was to remove the small amount of material still attached to the pole that was left behind from dropping the panels. This part went pretty smooth. I use an impact and socket to remove all the nuts from the carriage bolts then kicked or hammered the material off. Note: when removing the old hardware I just let it drop to the ground and later came back with a magnet.

IMPACT

Installing the Fence Stringers

At this point I was almost ready to start hanging some material up but since I extended the poles the brackets needed to be shifted around slightly to span the new distance. The bottom bracket did not need to be moved but the top bracket needed to be placed at the very top of the posts so that when the stringer is attached, its top edge is level with the top of the post. The middle bracket simply got secured at the middle point between the top and bottom bracket.

After all the brackets were in their final position, I began attaching the stringers. Since this part is a two person job, I enlisted the help of my husband. The stringers are held to the bracket using 1/4” x 1-1/2” zinc coated lag bolts. These have a 1/2” hex head and drive into the stringer very easily with the help of an impact drill.

STRINGER

Note: My fencing job required about 700 lag bolts. I was able to save 75$ on the cost of bolts by buying from a local supplier instead of the big box store. If you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I used Fort Worth Bolt and Tool.

Hanging the stringers was pretty straightforward. The posts are about 93” apart so each one of the 8′ 2×4 stringers got cut down a little bit. We would then position the bracket on the middle of the stringer, drive in one lag bolt on one side, make sure it was level, then begin driving in the remaining bolts.

STRINGER LEVEL

Note: My impact driver has loads of torque and would strip the hole out quickly if I was not careful. If you’re repeating this project be careful to not turn your threaded hole into mush by over tightening.

Ok and that’s where I have to stop for this week. This is a huge job so I’m having to break up the tutorial over a few posts. If you’re still motivated to learn more check out part 2 of this build where the fence begins to take shape!

PART 2 – PICKETING THE FENCE

If you want to see an overview of the building process then check out the video I put together:

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