Like most outdoor DIY tasks, getting fence post spacing right is easy enough if you follow a few simple rules. It’s time that’s worth taking, both for the function and the look of your fencing project.
There are two categories when it comes to fences and getting the spacing of your posts right: panel fencing and non-panel fencing.
Panel fencing vs non-panel fencing
Post spacing in fencing made from panels and post and rail fencing with pre-cut slots in the posts is entirely dictated by the size of those panels or the length of the rails. There’s no room for manoeuvre here, and the safest way to put up the fencing is panel by panel (or rail by rail), erecting the posts in pairs and fitting the panels or rails as you go. If you’ve got a friend to help you, this job is a lot easier for two.
Some fencing styles, including some sorts of vertical board fencing, post and rail fencing with nailed rails, and most types of wire fencing have a little more leeway on spacing. With these you can put all the posts up first before returning to add the barrier.
Whichever style you use though, and all have their place in different settings, regularly spaced posts will look better.
As far as you can, before you start you should ensure that you can safely dig to the depth required for your posts. Timber spiked fence posts are robust and can go through a lot of difficult ground, but if there are serious underground obstacles, rocks are the main problem, then you might want to shift the line of your fence or alter your post spacings a little. There is nothing worse than coming to the final panel of a fence to find that you cannot break the ground to get your post in.
Here’s a general spacing rule for the major styles of fencing that don’t have the distances dictated by board or rail length or panel size:
- Close-boarded fencing with vertical boards (sometimes called feather-edge boards) generally shouldn’t have posts further than 8 feet apart.
- Post and rail fencing should have the posts around 6 feet apart.
- Chainlink fencing shouldn’t have posts more than 10 feet apart.
- There is the most freedom with wire fencing, and posts can be as far as 50 feet apart in agricultural settings.
Panel fencing fence post spacing guide
Let’s look at spacing for panel-style fencing first. As well as classic panels, this style includes picket fencing, supplied in pre-made sections, and post-and-rail fencing with pre-cut slots in the posts. Close-boarded fencing made with horizontal boards also has the spacing of posts almost entirely determined by the length of the boards you’re using.
- If you’re replacing an existing fence with one of the same dimensions, you may have to remove the stumps of old posts, which is a difficult and time consuming job. Shift the locations out of phase by adding an extra half-panel at each end of your fence if this is impossible.
- Use a string to mark out the full length of your fence and to ensure that it is straight. Use chalk marks on solid surfaces.
- Affix your first post to a wall or into the ground where you want your fence to start. Then use the fence panel itself – it may take two of you to hold it in position – to measure the distance to your next post.
- Fix the panel (using clamps if you don’t have a friend) to the first post and align it to your straight line before pushing the next post hard up against it and securing that post in position. Fence panels can be fixed to posts with nails, screws or clips, or into slotted posts.
- If you’re using concrete slotted posts then use timber supports to keep the fence vertical while you find the exact fit for the second post.
General fence-post spacing guide
Nailed post-and-rail fences, vertical close-boarded fences and wire fences allow slightly more leeway as you cut rails to size, adjust the overlap of boards, and adjust to the landscape and function of your fence – wire fences are commonly used as livestock barriers.
You can put up all your posts before fitting the fence barrier. Regular spacing looks better in most settings and situations.
- Use pegged string to mark out the line of your fence. A length of timber cut to the length of your rails or the post spacing you’ve picked is the best way to get a regular gap.
- Remember that you are measuring to the edge of the standing post, not the edge of the hole you have to dig, which might be quite a bit wider.
- Always go back to check your measurements and always use a spirit level to make sure the posts are fixed into a perfectly vertical position. A board laid across the top of neighbouring posts should be checked with a spirit level to check that the posts are level at their tops.
Well-designed and installed fencing can add aesthetic value as well as security or privacy to your garden or land. Take the time to get it right and your new fencing will repay the effort for years to come.