Saturday, June 21 was the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. It also happened to be the day we started repairing the fences. The three-board fencing was originally installed in 2004, when we built the farm. Being made of wood, it requires periodic maintenance. After ten years, several boards and a few posts had to be replaced.

Oak fence boards are not cheap, so when Melanie found a good price on some she seized the opportunity. A lumber mill had some 16 foot boards with damaged ends and offered them at a reduced price. Oak is prone to splitting, especially on the end of board. Since our fences were built on 7 foot centers, Melanie arranged to buy these, and have them cut down to 14 feet. A few days later, 100 boards and about 20 posts arrived.

Installing board fence is a big job, requiring the right tools and several pair pof hands. A crew of at least three people would be needed to do the job efficiently, so Melanie recruited Chris to help. We would also need to acquire a heavy-duty nail gun. After doing some research, we purchased a Porter-Cable model that would accept 3.5 inch nails, including the twisted shank nails used for attaching fencing boards. We also established the approach for the project:

  1. Mark the damaged boards & posts
  2. Pull off the damaged boards
  3. Distribute the new boards
  4. Attach the new boards
  5. Handle the Exceptions

Step 1 – Mark Boards for Replacement

Marking the damaged boards simply meant walking along all the fence lines with a can of orange spray paint and marking those with a problem. We only had 100 boards, so we had to be conservative. Marking a circle indicated the board needed to be replaced. Marking a dot meant there was an issue but the board probably didn’t need to be replaced. For example, the board might need another nail, or a sharp splinter might need to be cut off.

Step 2 – Pull the damaged boards

After marking all the boards and posts with problems, Melanie made a quick tally of the number. Only two posts were in need of replacement, but we had marked just over 100 boards. A few of the less damaged ones would have to be replaced later.

Chris performed most of the damaged board removal using a crow bar and a sledge hammer. After removing each board, Chris would lay it to the side of the fence. Often when a board is removed, the nails pull through the board and remain stuck in the post. Doug, Suzie and Emma came by to help, and removed the old nails so the posts were ready to receive new boards.

Step 3 – Distribute new boards

While Chris was still removing the damaged boards, I loaded new boards on the truck. Melanie drove the truck around again, and I placed a new board next to each gap in the fence. I would also pick up the old boards and place them in the back of the truck.

Step 4 – Attach new boards

With the boards distributed, we developed a routine for attaching them: 1) Mark the board, 2) Cut off the excess, and 3) Nail it into place. This is where a coordinated three-person team was helpful.

We loaded a generator, compressor, nail gun, nails and other tools into the back of Clifford – the big red truck. Melanie would drive around the inside of each paddock, stopping at each point where a board needed to be attached. Chris and I, walking or riding in back, would set the saw and nail gun close to the work area. To size each board, Melanie and I would hold the board in position while I marked it for the cut. We would set the board down with the cutting end on a block, and I would cut off the excess with a circular saw.  Melanie and I would then lift the board back into position, while Chris attached each board using the nail gun – three nails on each end and in the middle.

Step 5 – Handle the Exceptions

The fence lines are curved in several places, and the boards are only 7 feet between posts…a full-length board being too long to bend that much. And due to the limited number of new boards, we decided to reused some of the less damaged boards that had been pulled.

Often the damage was on one or the other end, or both ends, and by cutting off the ends we could salvage 7 good feet of board and attach these to the short spans.

Finished

Not really…most of the repair work has been done, but at the end of two very long days there were still a few boards to attach and posts to replace.  And even the longest day of the year, the work continues well after it is too dark to nail fence boards. Horse have to be fed and moved, clean stalls, toss down a bale of hay for tomorrow, feed the barn cats, shut-in the chickens, etc, etc. Keeping a farm, like living in the suburbs or the city, has trade-offs.