How to install a picket fence

Updated February 21, 2017

Picket fences have been around for a long time, yet they have not diminished in garden decor at all. Having a cute white picket fence along the front of the property next to the sidewalk adds character to the property. Even the small fence around a garden to the side of the house or in the backyard adds a personal touch to the property.

Measure the distance of the fence line. Divide that measurement into as many equal parts as you desire. Then drive a stake in the ground at the starting point of the fence. Tie the string around it and stretch it the length of the fence. Mark the string where each of the fence posts will go.

Dig the post-holes with the post-hole diggers. If the pickets are shorter than 4-feet, the hole only needs to 12-inches deep.

Place the first post in the hole and fill in around the post with the Quikrete. Tamp it down hard while making certain the post is plumb on all sides. Repeat this for all the posts.

Next, be certain that the height of the posts is as close to the same as possible. They may look different if the ground in not level. Install the 1-by-4-inch cross members. You may have to cut these to accommodate the measurement in Step 1. Secure them to the posts with the deck screws the same distance from the top of the post as up from the bottom of the post.

Start securing the pickets to the cross members leaving a small gap between each picket. This will allow for expansion and contraction caused by the weather and adds a longer life to the pickets. You may have to rip the picket at the end of a run to avoid undue overhang on the end of the fence-row. Some overhang is OK, but it can take away from the look of the fence if more than half the width of the picket is hanging over the cross member.

Measure the distance between the posts where the gate will be installed. Subtract 1-inch from it and cut two cross members that length from the 1-by-4-inch lumber.

Place the two cross members parallel to each other at a distance to allow the pickets the come above the top one just as the fence does. Do the same for the bottom cross member.

Divide the measurement from Step 1 by the width of the pickets to determine how many pickets it will take to build the gate. Rip any that need to be ripped for the gate to look uniform. The pickets cannot hang over the ends of the cross members of the gate.

Place the pickets on the cross members carefully. Do not allow the cross members to move while securing them with the deck screws.

Turn the gate over and measure from the inside corner of the top cross member to the inside corner of the bottom cross member. Cut a 1-by-4-inch piece of lumber 5-inches longer than that measurement.

Place the 1-by-4-inch lumber on the cross members so the three of them form a "Z". Draw a line across the 1-by-4-inch lumber where it meets the cross members. This will give you the angle needed for the piece to fit between the top and bottom cross member. Cut it and secure it in place with the deck crews.

Install the gate hardware on the gate with supplied screws. Next, secure the gate to the appropriate fence post.


Always wear safety glasses when cutting wood. Place something under the gate while installing it to help hold it up. Be certain to countersink the deck screws on the pickets and the cross members.


Do not leave power tools unattended. Do not handle rough lumber or pretreated lumber without gloves.

Things You'll Need

  • Pickets
  • Wood stakes
  • Hammer
  • String
  • Posts
  • Posthole diggers
  • Quikrete
  • Tamper
  • Carpenter's level
  • Circular saw
  • 1-by-4-inch lumber
  • Variable speed drill
  • 1¼-inch deck screws
  • Gate hardware
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About the Author

Michael Straessle has written professionally about the construction industry since 1988. He authored “What a Strange Little Man,” among other books, and his work has appeared in various online publications. Straessle earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in professional/technical writing.