Lawn + Garden Projects
How to Build a Picket Fence
BLACK+DECKER B+D Contributor 186 Projects
The quintessential symbol of American hominess, the classic picket fence remains a perennial favorite for more than its charm and good looks. It’s also a deceptively effective boundary, creating a clear line of separation while appearing to be nothing more than a familiar decoration. This unique characteristic of a welcoming barrier makes the picket fence a good choice for enclosing an area in front of the house. It’s also a popular option for separating a vegetable or flower garden from the surrounding landscape.
Building a custom picket fence from scratch is a great do-it-yourself project. The small scale and simple structure of the basic fence design make it easy to add your own creative details and personal touches. In this project, you’ll see how to cut custom pickets and build a fence using standard lumber (plus an easy upgrade of adding decorative post caps). As an alternative, you can build your fence using prefab fence panels for the picket infill. You can also buy pre-cut pickets at home centers, lumberyards, and online retailers to save on the work of cutting your own.
Traditionally, a picket fence is about three to four feet tall (if taller than four feet, a picket fence starts to look like a barricade) with 1 × 3 or 1 × 4 pickets. Fence posts can be spaced anywhere up to eight feet apart if you’re using standard lightweight pickets. Depending on your preference, the posts can be visible design elements or they can hide behind a continuous line of pickets. Spacing between the pickets is a question of function and taste: go with whatever spacing looks best and fulfills your functional needs.
A low picket fence adds curb appeal and a cozy sense of enclosure to a front yard or entry area without blocking views to or from the house.
Calculating Picket Spacing
Determine the picket quantity and spacing. Cut a few pickets and experiment with different spacing to find the desired (approximate) gap between pickets. Calculate the precise gap dimension and number of pickets needed for each section using the formula shown in the example here:
Total space between posts: 92.5"
Unit size (picket width + approx. gap size):
3.5" + 1.75" = 5.25"
Number of pickets (post space ÷ unit size):
92.5" ÷ 5.25" = 17. 62 (round down for slightly larger gaps; round up for slightly smaller gaps)
Total picket area (# of pickets × picket width):
17 × 3.5" = 59.5"
Remaining space for gaps (post space -
total picket area): 92.5" - 59.5" = 33"
Individual gap size (total gap space ÷
(# of pickets + 1)): 33" ÷ 18 = 1.83"