Creators Syndicate

Dear James: I am thinking of putting up a fence around my yard. I don’t need it to keep an animal in, but I would like to keep children from wandering in. I am worried about blocking my neighbor’s view and would like to install something attractive. What type do you suggest? — Doug W.

Dear Doug: A simple, yet attractive rail fence is probably your best choice. This kind of fence has a different look than an ordinary picket fence so it stands out. A rail fence is also fairly easy to build and will not block any views while still keeping unwanted foot traffic off your lawn.

Different styles of rail fences depend on how the horizontal rails are joined to the vertical posts and whether the parts are round, squared or split. The rails can be joined to the posts in six ways and each has various advantages.

The easiest attachment method is called lap joint. A lap joint is a joint where the ends or edges are overlapped and fastened together with nails or screws. This method produces a clean-looking flush or continuous surface.

The basic parts you are going to work with are the rails, posts, footing, and gate. The footing is the material that supports and surrounds the post. The strongest footing is concrete, but you can set the post directly into the ground and surround it with just dirt or gravel. If you live in a cold climate it is best to use concrete.

Once you have the formula you are going to use you need to stake out where the fence will go. Stretching string between the stakes can serve as your guideline for installing the posts. Mark the spots as level as you can and at about one foot off the ground.

If the fence starts at another fence or house, you will want to come off of it at a right angle for the best appearance. When a fence runs down a hill, you can use one of two methods. One method is to have the top of the sections follow the slope of the hill. Another method is to keep the fence level and step the fence down at each section.

Using a clamshell-type digger is the easiest way to dig the post holes. If you have a lot of holes to dig, consider using a power auger or hiring a professional.  Make sure the posts are below the frost line. Check with any building supply outlet or home center for the depth of the frost line in your area. The diameter of the holes should be between 10 and 12 inches.

Place the posts in the holes and fill them with the dirt, gravel or concrete (it should be mixed fairly dry). Next attach the rails to the post, again using your chosen method. Brackets or nails should be hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel.

Not all rail fences need gates because they are low and very open. If you decide you would like to add some character to your fence, building a gate or adding specialty metal tops or paint are easy ways to do this. By doing any of these things you can make the fence look as if it was built to match your house.

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit