How to build a fence

Last updated 09:33 03/02/2013
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ

In the last round of acquiring essential Kiwi skills, reporter Steve Kilgallon learns how to build a proper fence.

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In the last of his series on the skills needed to be a real New Zealander, Steve Kilgallon gets stuck into DIY.


There's that DIY advert with the bloke who will have a crack at building anything and the little weaselly guy who probably can't even dress himself unaided.

Yes, they are trying to flog you timber and saws and hammers, but my kids see that advert and say "that's you". To prove them wrong, our final challenge in this series could only be, in this nation of DIY enthusiasts, building your own fence. For the home enthusiast, it's a good project because it doesn't need many tools (hammer, spirit level, string line, builder's square and a good handsaw) and the timber is cheap.

I've tilted the balance in my favour by recruiting Stan Scott, a builder with 27 years' experience and the frontman of shows like DIY Rescue and The Fence, to show me how. He reckons building a fence is about a 5 out of 10 in difficulty for the home handyman. And he knows about novices: Stan fronts a series of how-to videos for Mitre 10 called "Easy As". Stan and his mate Robbo, who builds sets for shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, sensibly keep me at arm's length with some of the technical stuff as we begin our 11m fence.

First, we find the boundary peg to ensure the fence is built on our site, not the neighbours; you should also check with authorities that you're not going to dig up any underground services. A stringline goes up to ensure an accurate measurement of the fenceline and we mark out our fenceposts (no more than 2.4m apart) and begin to dig. This is the hardest part: a post-hole borer makes little impact on the hardened clay and tree roots, so we're back to spades to get down the required 450mm.

Put a piece of brick or concrete in the bottom so the post has an even footing, and brace it carefully so it doesn't move when you pour the concrete. Use a stringline, top and bottom, to ensure it is plumb. The concrete is easy enough: six parts easy-mix concrete to one part water, mixed in a barrow until it's the consistency of porridge, pour gently and let it set overnight.

Robbo says the mistake people make here is rushing. "Measure twice, cut once: you'll have heard it lots but it's still golden," he says. Stan reckons people panic trying to get it done in one weekend.

Day two is easier. The rails - crossbeams that hold it steady - can go between the posts or nailed across. Then come the palings. Use the stringline as a measure and don't go more than 150mm above and below the top and bottom rails to keep it steady. The timber shrinks, so it's important to nail them close. I'm entrusted with the palings, which is great fun.

Stan says his buzz comes from showing people how to build. "I love teaching people how to do it . . . when they get that confidence to learn how and think 'yeah, I could do that'."

There's a bit of fencing to do at my place. Stan and Robbo may just have given me that confidence. Would I be all right? "Bloody oath," Stan says. "You built half that yourself. Piece of cake."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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