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Making a post fence

Putting in a livestock fence by hand is hard work and best done while the ground is damp, otherwise it will be VERY hard work indeed. Standard livestock fence posts are half-round, between 5 and 6ft long, and roughly pointed at one end. They’re treated against rot and should last for years.

thumper and post hole digger, image

A 5" thumper and a post-hole digger - essential equipment

They’re hammered in with a post driver or ‘thumper’. This is a metal cylinder with side handles, closed at the top, that fits over a post. You grip the handles, lift, and…thump.  Quite a few thumps later, the post is set. There are two types of thumper available: those with a 5” mouth, and those with a 7” mouth. The 5” model is fine for most people and considerably lighter than the larger version. Remember to be careful choosing fence posts that aren’t too wide, otherwise, well – try getting a post back out of a thumper when you’ve given it a good whack and it gets stuck…tricky. There are also hydraulic post thumpers, so if your fence is very long you might consider hiring one.

Posts should be hammered into the ground 35-40 cms. A couple of cms either way is unlikely to cause a problem. The pointing is all on one side of the post and they have a tendency to lean back into the rounded side as they’re thumped in. Check it’s going in vertically, and if it starts to lean pull towards you as the thumper comes down. It’s best not to get too exuberant about this work – if you lift too high and the thumper catches on the top of the post, it’s going to tip forward and come down on you – probably on your head!

fence posts in place, image

The posts are all in place. Now for the braces...

Once the posts are set it’s time to staple the wire fence. A roll of livestock fencing is tough stuff, and it’s just about impossible to pull it taught by hand. However, the method illustrated below doubles the strength of your ‘pull’ so that your 20 cms movement translates into a 10 cms movement for the piece of wood threaded through the fence – and this will tighten it up in no time. Once it’s tight, staple the fence securely to the post before you untie the rope. Three staples is plenty for the ‘between’ posts (one at the top, one at the bottom, and one in the middle), but use one for each horizontal wire at the ends.

tightening a fence to its post, image

With a length of rope and a piece of wood, you can get a fence really tight

At all corners the fence should be braced using additional posts. These can be set into notches cut in to the upright, or you can cut the brace at an angle and nail it into place. Either method works. To prevent the bottom end digging further in to the ground you can use extra chunks of post, flat rocks or house bricks as a ‘brace for the brace’. Braces are really important because the tighter the fence, the more an unbraced post will just lean into it. Corners are especially vulnerable, but if you’re doing a long straight section it’s a good idea to put in a braced post at least every 5 metres.

post fence braces in place, image

The fence is now braced and the wire mesh stapled into place

The wire ends of the mesh are sharp and not something you or anything else wants to impale itself on. Bend the ends over, then hammer them into the posts. It looks neat, and there are no stray ends to get caught on.

ends of fencing wire hammered into post, image

Bend the ends of the wire over and hammer them into the posts

If you keep horses you should use non-galvanised fencing. Yes, it will rust – but horses chew fences, and a galvanised coating will poison them.

A single wire strand is usually fastened to the posts 10 cms above the top of the fence. Barbed wire is commonly used but it’s a good idea to avoid it unless you are clear that it’s something you need. It’s nasty stuff to work with, whether you’re putting it up or taking it down.

Staples of any size are incredibly sharp, and it’s difficult to spend an afternoon putting up a fence without poinking your fingers several times. Handle them with care! Tempting though it is to grab as many as you need for a single post, try to only take one out of the bag at a time. If you drop it, look for it until you find it! You really don’t want to leave these lying around in the grass.

If you need to add a gate, make sure that the posts are sturdy enough to take the weight. A 3ft metal gate doesn’t need anything huge for support – a full round 6ft post to either side is plenty. The bigger the gate, the bigger the post will need to be. If you’re in any doubt, ask the supplier.

For a 6ft round post, dig a hole roughly 35 cms deep with a post hole digger – an invaluable tool for fence work – and 10 cms wider than the post all the way round, then hammer it 10cms or so into place with the thumper. A concrete mix can be used to fill the rest of the hole to keep everything really firm, or alternatively you can tamp down a fill of rocky earth. Bigger posts will be beyond the abilities of a thumper, and you will need to dig the entire hole, which again should be at least 10 cms wider than the post all the way round, yourself. Support the post upright with braces until the concrete is firm, and leave it to set for at least a day (two is better) before you drill holes for the hinges and hang the gate, or the concrete may crack.

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2 Responses to “Making a post fence”

  1. PHYLLIS says:

    I READ THROUGH YOUR ARTICLE AND HAVE A QUICK QUESTION.

    SINCE I LIVE IN A DESERT, THE GROUND IS VERY COMPACT. ALL I REALLY WANT IS A SMALL FENCE TO KEEP RANGE CATTLE FROM MY PROPERTY.

    WILL THIS EQUIPMENT WORK FOR THAT TYPE OF PROJECT? IN THAT TYPE OF SOIL, BEDROCK OR WOULD YOU SUGGEST SOMETHING DIFFERENT? — I HAVENT BEEN ABLE TO FIND MANY DO-IT-YOURSELF LINKS FOR THIS TYPE OF PROJECT AND IT’S REALLY NOT BIG ENOUGH TO HIRE OUT.

    • Mark Gatter says:

      Whether it’s a small fence or long, once a cow leans on it, it had better be well supported or it’s going to be horizontal pretty fast. My own experience with a post-hole digger is that you can eventually dig a hole even in very dry and extremely compacted earth. I have done this myself during summers in California where the ground can be like concrete, sometimes. Pouring some water into the hole and leaving it to sit for an hour or two helped soften the top couple of inches, and this may help. You’ll then need to tamp the earth back in around the post, again with a little water or it’s going to stay loose. While this should work for earth, a post hole digger can’t dig through solid rock. Usually people string barbed wire along the top to dissuade cattle etc rubbing against it. I’m fortunate enough not to have to do that here, but it may be different for you. Good luck!

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