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Fences are one of the most important features of a garden but rarely earn much attention. These vital structures provide both a visual and physical barrier to our properties boundary.
It is important therefore that a fence is strong and durable to withstand outdoor conditions. Durability will rely on the fences quality but more importantly correct installation. It is essential that panels are fixed securely and posts excavated to the correct depth.
Obtaining the best tools for building a fence will give you the best chance of success. Using the correct tool for the correct job will complete the project quickly and efficiently.
Spades are a multifunctional tool for fence building but also one of the most vital. Post holes are initially excavated with a spade before holes becomes too deep to collect loose material. Spades can also be used to prize apart old panels from posts which need to be replaced. They are also used for chopping out roots and mixing concrete.
2. Trenching spade
Trenching spades are similar to traditional spades but with a longer and slender digging blade. This reduced surface area allowing you to penetrate tough ground deeply and with relative ease. These can be thrust with force to cut a need and consistent post hole and especially in heavy clay.
Grafts are a long pole like tool with a small, streamlined spade at the end. They are invaluable amongst professional fencing companies and especially useful for deep excavations. Grafts are thrust deeply like a spear into challenging ground dislodging buried rubble and chopping through roots. They are perfect for shaping the sides of post holes as you dig down lower.
4. Digging bar
Digging bars are similar in form to grafts and used very much in the same way. However these are made from solid steel and much narrower and heavier. These come in handy when the ground is particularly hard and full of obstructions. Digging bars weight and flexibility can be very effective for levering panels and posts into position.
5. Post diggers
Post digger spades are one of the most essential tools for building a fence. These enable you to excavate soil from the post hole as you dig deeper. Once post holes reach a depth of 300mm it becomes impossible to extract loose soil with a spade.
Hence the remaining 300mm is typically excavated with grafts, bars and post diggers. Grafts and digging bars are driven deeply into the ground loosening the soil. This allows the post diggers to reach down and clear out the loose with ease.
Augers are the ultimate way to excavate out post holes quickly and efficiently. These powerful hole borers can drill down deeply into the soil creating perfectly neat excavations. However their effectiveness will depend on your soil type. Augers work best in ground with less solid obstructions like rocks and builders rubble.
7. Tape measure
When building a fence it is important that the length of post above ground is consistent along the boundary length. Therefore each hole needs to be excavated to a consistent depth each time. This means having a tape measure to hand can allow you to check hole depths as you excavate. Tapes are also very useful for marking and cutting down fence panels to fit around obstructions or boundary ends.
8. String line
Most original boundaries are built on straight trajectories or at least in straight sections. It is amazing just how possessive some are over every centimetre of their land. Therefore it is vital to keep the peace by building to a high tension string line. The most common are brick laying lines with staking pins like the ones below.
9. Claw hammer
Claw hammers are a staple when hammering nails into fence work. Claw hammers are more commonly used when erecting close board panels from scratch. These enable you to fix down feather edge boards and lever out any which are not straight. Claw hammers also allow you to tap panels into position and tightly between posts.
10. Spirit level
As well as ensuring your fence is built as straight as possible, being plumb and level is also vital. This is where the horizontal and vertical lines of the structure are square to the earths line of gravitational pull. This can be checked by making sure the spirit level bubble falls neatly against the two lines when held flush against the structure. Hence a spirit level is an essential tool for building fences correctly.
11. Power drill
Power drills are always good power tools to have to hand when building a fence. Normally fences will end flush with a buildings boundary. This can mean fixing a wall plate to the building for the fence to fix to. This will require a power drill with hammer function to drill fixing holes into masonry. Power drills can also generally come in handy as a back up to cordless drills.
12. Cordless drill
Cordless drills provide an off grid solution away from mains power when in rural locations. They also provide a lightweight and nimble way to fix screws when holding panels flush. These are perfect for screwing panels and brackets into place quickly.
13. Drill bits
When erecting a fence with any kind of drill it is important to have all the drill bits to hand. Drill bits can break after excessive use and especially during heavy duty landscaping tasks. This drill bit set provides you all the attachments you need, ready to hand.
14. Pointing trowel
Point trowels can be very effective at smoothing down mortar haunches and mixes around posts. This is especially the case if posts are set through paving or other hard standing surfaces. Trowels can also be used to create domed fillets of mortar around the base of timber posts to prevent them from rotting.
15. Nail gun
When erecting expansive lengths of fencing it is sometimes necessary to find a fast method of fixing. Nail guns can provide a very fast and effective way to fix panels to posts and featheredge boards. This is especially so with fixing close board fences.
16. Sledge hammer
Far from being an essential tool for building fences sledge hammers do provide some great benefits. Firstly they can be stood on their handle at an angle to wedge posts level before concreting into position. Secondly they can be used to gently persuade posts and panels to fit into position.
Buckets are always handy to have around when erecting a new fence. Most importantly buckets are used to transport water to holes for setting in posts. Buckets of water can also be added to dry, compacted ground for easier hole digging. They can also be used to collect loose materials from the base of post holes.
18. Cement mixer
Traditionally cement mixers have been used to mix up concrete for post holes. Mixers can be used to mix up both dry and wet concrete mixes for setting in fence posts. However these are not essential as readymade dry postcrete mixes can be used instead.
When building a fence it is surprising just how many materials you need to cart about. Concrete mixes require moving to site and excess spoil from post excavations need to be skipped. As with most landscaping operations wheelbarrows are essential for general loading and carting.
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Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.