Picket Fences – Part One

The image above is one of my favorite pictures of Maggie. She loves the picket fence in the front yard because it gives her more room to run and watch the world go by. Insects and the weather have taken a toll on the fence since it was built 20 years ago. A few weeks ago Maggie, Izzy, and Hanna were jumping on the fence to greet a neighbor and it was apparent that at least two of the posts were completely rotted at the base. This was not new information but it showed that I needed to repair the fence or risk it falling over. As I started the process to replace the two posts, it quickly became clear that this was going to be a bigger project. Termites and dry rot had not only destroyed the posts but also made their way into the rails. The multiple coats of white stain were also peeling. Fortunately the pickets are in good condition with just a few needing to be repaired or replaced.

This was really good news because just under half of the pickets are a custom design that matches the rafter tails on the house. When I started to plan and build this picket fence, I looked at existing old fence designs to learn how they were constructed. I also discovered that the picket fence became a type of business card for a carpenter to display their skills. The picket fence design was also tied to the architecture of the house. This is where the idea to duplicate the rafter tail design into a picket originated.

This required cutting 143 pickets to match the detail on the sofit. Straight pickets were needed since they alternated every other picket and are also used on the gates. The total number of pickets worked out to 314. When I mentioned the project to my dad, he volunteered to help. He took over the custom picket production in his garage as well as painting all of the pickets with a white oil based stain (now banned in California).

My dad also spent a day helping dig the original 20 post holes to build the fence. To make this labor intensive part of the job easier we utilize a one person hole augur (which at the end of the day my dad wished he had when he was growing up on the ranch). Starting the process to repair this fence was a reminder that my dad has passed away and he is no longer around to help. Restoring the fence not only keeps the dogs safe, but will keep the memory of my dad alive as a part of the Red Dog Estate.

So far all but five of the pickets that were removed have been sanded and the holes filled. After a final sanding, primer and paint will be applied before being reinstalled.

So far 6 post and 18 rails have been replaced. Five of the Redwood posts were originally set with 3/4″ base rock so digging a post hole in the same location was fairly easy. Several posts were still good below grade but termites had damaged the exposed wood. The corner post above, which was a pressure treated 4×4, was set with concrete and took longer to remove. It was also the wettest of the six posts. During my original fence research I learned that native soil or base rock was found to be better for fence post longevity than concrete. The theory is that the soil or base rock will allow water to drain while concrete tends to retain the moisture. My own experience supports this theory. All posts will be reset with 3/4″ base rock simply because it is easier to replace a post.

The section of fence pictured above has now been primed and painted with Kelly Moore Artic White. The paint has also been an experiment over the past twenty years. Kelly Moore paint has performed far better than Olympic Stain, oil or water based, or Valspar exterior paint.

The next steps will be more sanding, priming, and painting. By then the order for 350 stainless steel wood screw should arrive to allow attaching the pickets back on the rails.

This project has also allowed me to meet several new neighbors and visit with many of the neighbors that I know. Everyone is curious about the work. Sometimes it is not about the project, but taking the time to visit with those passing by.

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