Replacing a garden fence

My garden fence was in a pretty poor state when I bought the house, and has deteriorated further since then. In the winter of 2006 yet another post snapped in the wind and I decided it was time to do something about it.

The original fence was of typical 1930s construction: concrete posts with timbers bolted to them supporting 10′ arris rails to which were nailed feather edge boards. Over the years various repairs and replacements had been done, but I decided that it was now beyond repair and should be completely replaced. I took three weeks off work in April 2007 and this is what I did.

The first day was spent clearing brambles and saplings to give easy access to the whole length of the fence. On day two I installed the first post and panel.

As you can see from the picture, I did reuse one post from the original fence. This modern concrete slotted post was installed a year or two before I bought my house, and my next door neighbour tells me it is very firmly concreted in. As it is a slotted post, the fence panel rests on the gravel board, so this had to be installed first.

There is one unusual feature of the original 1930s fence — between each pair of posts runs a 4″ wide, 10″ deep slab of concrete. You can see the top of this just below the gravel board. As the original post spacing is about 10′, and the ready made panels I’m using are 6′ long, I had to either break up this concrete to make new post holes, or find a way to work around it.

The solution was to install my new posts in two parts: a concrete “repair spur” bolted to a 4″ timber post. This allows the timber post to be positioned over the concrete slab with the repair spur butted up against it. I hope that this will ensure the concrete spur remains fixed for many years, whilst it should be fairly easy to replace the timber post when necessary.

I dug the first post hole the hard way, using a garden fork, spade and trowel. I had ordered a post hole borer (or auger) from a company advertising on eBay, and it arrived soon after I’d finished the hole. The pictures show the post hole borer and the first hole I made with it. The colour is a bit strange on this photo, but I hope you can see that below my topsoil is solid clay. This picture also shows the concrete slab described above.

The post hole borer proved invaluable. It cuts through the clay easily, and lifts it out as well. You just need to remember not to try cutting too deep in one go, as it gets too heavy to lift.

The next problem I encountered was that the post for the third panel should have been positioned where one of the original posts had been. I hadn’t been able to remove the old post in one piece – it snapped at ground level – and I didn’t fancy digging out its foundations. The way round this was to cut the panel in half and so shift its post by three feet. This had the benefit of adding one extra post width to the length of the fence, which meant I wouldn’t have to fill a 3″ gap at the end.

After this I decided to do a bit more measuring and planning of post positions in future. (Although I don’t think I’d have done anything differently up to this point.) It appeared that the next panel in this run should also be a half panel, so I started working from the far end to ensure that this half panel would be the last to be fitted and so could be cut exactly to size.

The picture shows the furthest panel in place, and the next repair spur ready to have a timber post bolted to it.

Just beyond the end of my garden is a large plum tree. One of its branches had been pushing against the old fence, and was in line with where the new fence should be. After getting permission from the tree’s owner, I got a chainsaw-owning friend to come and chop off the offending branch. The picture shows the tree just after I’d treated the wound with “Arbrex”.

I had planned to position a fence post very close to this tree, but digging a post hole was just impossible because of the tree’s roots. I decided to change my plans once again, and start from the opposite end. This left another “half panel” to join to the corner fence post, as shown in the picture below.

One problem with using repair spurs to construct the fence is what to do at the corner. I wasn’t able to put a post right in the corner, so I had to join the last half panel to the side of the post in a rather unorthodox fashion. I think the result is not too bad though.

A few years ago my next door neighbour chopped down a large tree that was too close to his house. I’d forgotten about the tree until I removed my old fence and saw the two foot wide stump. This tree’s roots had actually broken the concrete slab under my fence and raised a section of it. Rather than try to level this off I chose to cut out a section of my gravel board to fit around it. I had expected to find a lot of tree roots when digging the post holes near this old tree stump, but was surprised to find none at all.

This last picture shows the completed fence. The photo is actually a composite of three pictures, but I don’t think you can see the joins.