Whether you’re moving into a new house with a turfed lawn but no boundaries or improving the privacy of an existing garden’s open fencing, there are plenty of reasons for learning how to build a close board fence.
A fully boarded fence gives you complete privacy at ground level, preventing your pets from seeing neighbouring animals and ensuring you can enjoy your outside space without being seen through gaps in the fencing.
You don’t need a tool shed full of materials and a head full of prior DIY experience to know how to build a close board fence. This guide will discuss the various steps required to install solid fencing.
Note: We’re focusing on installing individual boards for a neat finish that follows any undulations in the ground. You can buy ready-made 1.8-metre panels and bolt them into place, but they rarely look attractive or fit snugly.
Tools & Materials
Once you know how to build a close board fence, you’ll need a friend or relative to help lift posts and keep rails level. We’d also recommend the following tools & materials, though you can skip the items marked with an asterisk if you’re expanding on an existing fence:
- A post hole digger*
- A tape measure
- A wide paintbrush – we review the best paintbrushes here
- A plumb line and spirit level
- An electric screwdriver or a drill with a cross-head screwdriver attachment
- A nail gun or hammer.
- String to demarcate the path of the fence if one isn’t already in situ, with pegs to hold the string in place*
- Marker paint to spray over the string once it follows the desired path*
- Post mix concrete*
- Enough of each type of timber to fully cover the required area – read on to see the three main types required
- Creosote or equivalent
- Cross-head screws and nails. Ideally, 100mm and 40mm long, respectively.
Pro Tip: If you’re not using a nail gun, read our complete guide to nails. This guide will help you pick the correct type of nail for any job.
How to Build a Close Board Fence – Step-by-Step Instructions
There are two main approaches to this job, and your choice of how to build a close board fence will depend on whether or not there’s any existing fencing in situ.
If you’re expanding on an existing fence (perhaps open-boarded or in poor condition), your task is much easier, and you can skip the first two stages of this guide.
Decorative flourishes notwithstanding, there are three core components to a close board fence:
- Pre-treated vertical fence posts, which are sunken into the ground
- Horizontal rails, attached at the top and bottom of each post, as well as midway up a fence that’s more than 1.2 metres tall
- Attach vertical boards in neat rows to the rails.
You must first calculate how many of each item you need – or simply how many vertical boards are required if you’ve already got posts and rails.
You typically position posts 1.8 metres apart, and the rails must be equally as long to attach midway across each vertical post.
At the time of writing (September 2021), there are significant shortages of building materials across the UK. You may need to order your timber well in advance, especially if the quantities required are substantial.
Step One: Prepare the Ground
Mow lawns surrounding your new fence post location and strim around any fence posts or adjacent fencing already in situ.
Pull up weeds, clear away detritus like small stones, and ensure the ground is workably level (or at least slopes consistently). You may need to reposition plants and flowers.
Use string and marker paint to establish a line along the boundary or location of the fence. Tie the string to existing posts or pegs inserted into the ground before neatly painting it. This line gives you a visual reference point for installing the fence posts, ensuring they follow a neat line and don’t creep into anyone else’s land.
Pro Tip: Close boarding a fence generates noise and disruption and changes other people’s outlook on your property. Unless your neighbours are the reason for close boarding in the first place, inform them about your plans before construction begins.
Step Two: Install Your Fence Posts
To support a conventional 1.8-metre fence, you’ll need around 600mm of post buried underground in concrete. Post mix concrete is ideal since it’s specifically designed for setting posts in the ground and is excellent for beginners.
Dig a suitably sized hole (post hole diggers are a valuable labour-saving aid here) and insert the first fence post. Prop it up so it stands vertical, using a plumb line for accuracy.
Half-fill the hole with water, and then add dry concrete until it’s slightly above the waterline. Stir it and leave it. Once the concrete sets (it shouldn’t take more than half an hour), measure 1.8 metres from the centre of the first fence post to the centre of the second. Repeat this process for however many posts you need to install, ensuring the height remains consistent as you progress.
Pro Tip: Some people recommend positioning the first and last fence posts and then attaching a string between them to establish the height of other intermediate posts. However, this doesn’t consider undulations in the ground, so we’d recommend working methodically in one direction.
Step Three: Fit the Rails
This step requires a glamorous assistant to hold the heavy horizontal rails while you attach them, though, in extremis, you can do it yourself.
Start at the top, so the posts can’t splay out, and either screw or nail them on using L-shaped metal brackets for support and 10cm screws for strength. Aim to have the top rail just below the angled slope of the post, with the bottom rail just above ground level – this prevents grass and weeds from creeping through from neighbouring gardens.
Rails can either be flush with the front of the posts (which means the subsequent boards flow across the posts as well) or recessed (which is more straightforward since you don’t have to be quite as exact with your positioning). It’s a matter of personal choice.
Pro Tip: If you want the fence to look good, last well and offer maximum deterrence to neighbouring plants, gravel boards are a worthwhile addition. They sit in front of the bottom of each board, typically made of timber or concrete. They might have holes pre-drilled or attached by small pieces of wood known as gravel board cleats.
Step Four: Choose Your Boards
There are two main types of timber board used for close boarding fences:
- Solid wooden boards, pushed snugly against each other
- Feather edge fence boards. These are wedge-shaped pieces of wood that overlap slightly.
Professionals prefer feather edge fence boards because overlapping them ensures complete privacy. Wood tends to expand and contract at different temperatures, so solid boarding results in gaps in summer and swelling in winter.
If your feather edge boards are 100mm wide, you’ll need thirteen boards per metre. If they’re 125mm wide, allow ten per metre. For solid wooden boards, you’ll be looking at ten per metre, and you might have to trim the tenth to ensure it fits snugly.
Pro Tip: Improve your fence’s durability by creosoting/creocoting the various elements before installing them. You’ll be able to cover every section of each board, rail and post in a way that’ll be impossible once they’re in situ. It’s common for untreated timber to rot in inaccessible spots as water and ice ingress, shortening the lifespan of your fence.
Step Five: Attach the Boards
Having pre-loaded your nail gun with galvanised nails of at least 40mm depth, begin using at least two nails to secure each board to each of the three rails.
On feather boarding, overlap the thick and thin ends of consecutive planks by around 40mm, maintaining this overlap on every subsequent board. You can use a spacer block pressed against the most recently-fitted board to determine where the next one’s edge must go.
If your garden is flat, use a spirit level to ensure the posts and rails are horizontal. If the garden slopes, there are two ways of dealing with this:
- A tiered effect. Each board sits slightly higher/lower than the previous board, mirroring the ground slope. It might be helpful to use a small chock at the bottom, forming a consistent gap between the bottom of each board and the ground.
- A stepped effect. Each 1.8-metre section has its own distinct height. Be aware that some fence panels will be higher than the legally permitted 1.8 metres, which might give an aggrieved neighbour reason to contact the council. However, it will optimise privacy levels.
Pro Tip: Stand back every few boards, and ensure you’re happy with your work. It’s far better to correct errors as you go than to plough on and discover you’ve made a mistake further down the line.
Step Six [optional]: Add Decorative Flourishes
If your only intention is to improve privacy, you now have a close-boarded fence, and it’s time to put the kettle on for a well-deserved brew. However, you can take the opportunity to add some additional features:
- Capping rails sit over feather edge boards, providing a neat finish and deflecting rainwater away from the joins.
- Fence post caps lend a more stylish flourish to chunky posts
- Painting exposed surfaces in a pale grey or green add character and helps tie a fence into its surroundings (if other boundaries have hedging or sheds along with them, for instance).
A Close Shave
If you’ve shaved your boards accurately and stepped any slopes consistently, you should now know how to build a close board fence and install it effectively.
How to Build a Close Board Fence – Final Thoughts
Close board fence building is labour-intensive, but if you do it right, you shouldn’t need to do it again for many years.
A close boarded fence is a worthwhile addition to any outside space for keeping pets in, prying eyes out, and privacy levels up. It’ll also improve your home’s desirability if you plan to sell it.
Pro Tip: If you want to visualise each stage of the process above, watch this YouTube tutorial on how to build a close board fence