How to Build a Wire Fence
Time Required: Over 1 day
When you need a garden fence that’s sturdy and installs quickly, building a wire fence is the best solution. For gardeners, welded-wire mesh fencing will keep out rabbits and dogs, while PVC-coated galvanized wire buried below the ground will keep out woodchucks and moles. A gate at one end or both allows easy access for a wheelbarrow.
Installing wire fencing is usually quick and inexpensive work. Wire fence installation is easiest and fastest when using metal fence posts that are driven into the ground. A sturdier version uses regular wood posts set in holes. This guide walks you through how to build a wire fence with wood posts.
Before you learn how to build a wire fence, carefully plan and mark the location of the fence posts and gate. When planning, use a string like mason’s line. Mason’s line is a good choice because it is strong and flexible enough to be pulled tightly. Run the string line to represent either the outside or inside perimeter of the fence.
- Lay out the fence perimeter using batter boards and mason’s line, extending the lines several feet at each end so they cross at the corners.
- Square the corners using the Pythagorean theorem (3, 4, 5 method). Measure 3-feet from where the lines intersect and make a mark on the string line. Measure 4-feet along the line that runs perpendicular to that line and make a mark. Measure between the 3-feet and 4-feet marks and adjust the line until the marks are exactly 5-feet apart.
- Repeat this process to square the remaining corners.
- Square can be checked by measuring diagonal lines from opposing corners. If both diagonals have the same measurement, the corners are square.
- Use spray paint to mark the location of each corner post.
- Measure off the string lines to determine the locations of the field posts 8-feet away from the corner posts and mark the locations just inside the strings.
- If installing a gate, mark locations for the gateposts 36-inches apart, allowing for a gate wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow.
Call 811 before you dig. Your local utility company will mark the location of any water, gas and power lines in your yard. Avoid digging near any marked lines.
- Dig holes using a post hole digger or two-person auger. You can rent an auger and make quick work of digging the post holes. If using an auger, avoid any areas marked by the utility company. To be safe, dig by hand if a hole needs to be located within 18- to 24-inches of a marked utility.
- Dig 8-inch diameter holes approximately 1/3 as deep as the posts' height, plus about 6-inches for gravel.
- In colder climates, dig below the frost line to avoid heaving. You can look up the frost line in your area online or contact your local building office. Not digging sufficiently below the frost line will cause the posts to heave out of the ground as the temperature changes.
This fence will use two kinds of wire mesh. The PVC-coated wire at the bottom will be installed below grade to keep critters from burrowing under the fence. Dig a trench to bury the bottom wire mesh.
- Depending on the size of your project, use a trencher or trenching shovel to dig the trench.
- The trench should be about a foot deep just outside the perimeter of the fence.
The posts and rails will connect a notch system. Create notches on your posts for the top and bottom rails to fit into.
- Use the height of your wire fencing to mark the top and bottom rail. The bottom rail should be 6- to 10-inches up from the ground.
- Use a 2 x 4 as a guide to mark the space needed for both the top and bottom rails.
- Cut out the notches on each post using a circular saw and a chisel. Make several cuts inside your notch guidelines that are about as deep as your top rail boards are thick. Use the chisel to remove the wood in pieces to make the notch.
- Repeat this process for the top and bottom of each of your posts.
- Pour 6-inches of drainage stone into the bottom of each hole and tamp the stone down using the end of a post.
- Use drainage stone mixed with soil for backfill.
- Add fast-setting concrete to the gate posts. Mix and allow to cure per manufacturer’s instructions.
- Use a post level to ensure all the posts are plum before the concrete sets and before tamping down the backfill.
- Use supports to hold the gate posts straight while the concrete cures.
- Hold the rails in the notches and mark where you’ll attach them with screws.
- Drill pilot holes at the locations you marked.
- Set the rail in the post notches. Ensure that the rail is level, then attach it using 3-inch deck screws.
- Repeat this process around the perimeter of the fence for top and bottom rails.
Tip: If possible, get a helper for this step. Securing the fence rails is easier when another person supports the rail as you drill.
With the top and bottom rails secured to the posts, you can begin installing wire fencing mesh.
- With a helper, unroll enough mesh to reach from end post to end post. When you reach the post, pull the mesh taut.
- A stretcher bar and “come-along” winch will be helpful to pull the fence mesh tight. You can purchase a bar or improvise one with two 2 x 4’s cut to the height of the fence and a bolt every 12- to 18-inches. Sandwich the end of the wire between the boards and bolt them together to distribute the pulling force.
- Align the end of the mesh with the edge of the post. Align the top of the mesh so that it lands in the middle of the rail.
- Hammer 1 3/4-inch galvanized fence staples every 3-inches to secure the mesh to the top rail.
- Work your way across the rail to the next post.
- When you reach the next post, pull the mesh taught and staple the mesh vertically to the post every 6-inches.
- If you need more than one roll of fencing, cut the first roll even with the edge of the post as described in the previous step.
- Begin the new roll on the same post, positioning it so at least one row of rectangles overlaps those already on the post.
- When you reach the bottom of the post, staple the mesh across the bottom rail every 3-inches.
- Work your way along the fence, attaching mesh in the same order as before: along the top rail, down the post, then back along the bottom rail.
- When you reach the end of the roll, use fencing pliers to trim any mesh that extends beyond the post.
- Staple the PVC-coated mesh to the bottom rail every 3-inches in the same method.
- Fold the PVC-coated mesh down into the trench.
- Backfill the trench with a mix of soil and drainage stone.
- Once you have attached the mesh to the posts and rails, center a 1 × 6 cap rail on the 2 × 4 top rail. Position the 1 × 6 so the seams between boards never fall above those in the 2 × 4’s.
- Nail the cap rail in place with 10d (3-inch) nails.
- Alternatively, finish the posts by installing fence post caps.
- To finish your wire fence installation, install your choice of gate per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Alternatively, you could build your own fence gate. Build the frame of the gate and staple mesh across the front of it. Use shims to keep it level and plumb, then attach it to your gate posts with hinges and a latch.
Building a wire fence is a project you can complete in a day or two, especially when you have a helper. Knowing how to build a wire fence with wood posts will ensure you have a sturdy fence to protect your garden and yard from potential pests. If you need a different type of fence or prefer to have a professional do the work for you, consider our fence installation services. We’ll refer you to an expert in your area.