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A Final Word on Wood Fence and Gate Repairs
My intention in writing this blog was to go over what is involved in repairing a wood fence or gate and explain the process to those who may be unaware. If after reading this you feel that repairing your own fence or gate is within your skill set then I wish you the best in doing so! I would recommend doing further research on the topics discussed here to figure out what works best for you. There is a lot of great information out there that goes far deeper in detail than I have about the topics discussed here.
Most importantly I would say be careful. While it may seem like a basic task to repair a fence or gate, it can result in some pretty serious injuries. If you don’t do a lot of digging, wear gloves. You’ll save yourself from some pretty serious blisters! If you aren’t used to pulling 50 lb chunks of concrete out of a 2’ hole, brush up on your lifting technique. I’ve blown my back out doing it and I do this for a living.
If you don’t have experience using power tools, a jackhammer or a fence post auger you should definitely hire a professional to do the job. Losing a finger to a table saw, putting a screw though your hand, breaking your wrist with a jackhammer or dislocating your shoulder with a fence post auger isn’t worth the money you’d save repairing your own fence! If you are digging by utilities, dig carefully and slowly with a shovel making sure not to hit them. While I do wish you a successful fence or gate repair project, I do not take any responsibility for injury or property damage that is a result of your actions!
If after reading this you feel it would be best to hire a professional to repair your wood fence or gate and you live in Calgary, consider hiring us. We have years of experience doing this and do top quality work. We can repair your wood fence or gate or even build you a new one from scratch. When you hire FT Property Services you’ll save yourself from the hard work and danger of doing it yourself. You will also have peace of mind knowing we are fully insured. If anything were to go wrong when we are working on your property, you are covered!
Leaning Wood Fence Post Repair:
While a wood fence is great for privacy, they can also act like a sail on a boat in high winds. A wood fence won’t cause your yard to blow away but if your fence posts aren’t anchored into the ground with concrete, your fence can start to lean over. If you have a wooden gate attached to a fence post that is not anchored in concrete you can expect to have issues with your gate opening and closing as well.
Many people assume that their fence posts are anchored in concrete and in a perfect world, they would be right. The sad reality is that many fence installers (and DIYers) cut corners and just bury the posts in the ground without concrete. Personally, I don’t understand the mentality of someone who does this. Concrete is not expensive or hard to mix and it is definitely cheaper and easier than reinstalling fence posts properly after the fact.
Rotted Wood Fence Post Repair:
One of the worst things that can happen to a wood fence is a rotted post. You’ll know you have a rotted fence post if your once vertical fence is now leaning over and the post appears to be snapped off at the ground. Wood fence posts usually rot out inside the ground, as this is where they are constantly exposed to moisture. All wood fence posts will eventually rot out, even ones made out of Pressure Treated lumber. How long a wood fence post takes to rot out will depend on a number of factors but they will usually last at least 10 years.
While there are a few ways to repair a rotted wood fence post, these repairs are band-aid solutions at best and a complete waste of time and money at worst. If you want your rotted fence post fixed properly, the only way to do this is by replacing the post with a new one. The good news is that even if you have a few rotted fence posts, they can be replaced without having to replace the whole fence.
Replacing a rotted fence post can be a lot of work. These posts are typically buried 2 feet in the ground and are usually encased in around 2 bags of concrete. If you have access to a Bobcat or tractor, these blocks of concrete and rotted wood can easily be pulled out of the ground. The down side to this is the damage one of these heavy machines will do to your lawn and the expense involved in renting one. On top of this, you need to know how to use one of these machines and you might not even be able to fit it into your yard!
You may have heard of the technique of using a high lift jack (car jack) to pull out fence posts. This method actually works great on a fence post that isn’t rotted. Unfortunately it is next to useless with a rotted fence post as there is nothing to attach the jack to. Rotted wood will not hold screws, especially with the amount of force you have to put on them to tear about 100 lbs of concrete out of the ground!
This leaves most people with the option of digging the rotted post out with a shovel. The problem with this method is that in order to dig out the concrete, you will have to remove a substantial amount of dirt around the concrete block. Not only is this hard work, when you go to install a new fence post the dirt around the post will be soft. Unless the dirt around the post is tamped down to it’s original state, the fence post may lean over after a while.
The best way to deal with a rotted wood fence post (aside from bringing in heavy machinery) is to jackhammer out the concrete. This allows you to break the concrete in to manageable chunks and limits the amount of dirt you have to remove around the post. If you are set on doing this job yourself, you can rent a jackhammer from most tool rental places. Just be sure to wear eye and ear protection as well as gloves. Also, make sure you understand how to use one safely. I once witnessed a co-worker fracture his wrist when we were removing a section of concrete floor with a jackhammer!
Once the rotted fence post and concrete is removed, it is time to install the new one. It is a good idea to put a couple of shovels worth of gravel at the bottom of the hole before you start. This will allow water to drain away from the fence post and prolong it’s life. If you are planning to reuse your existing fence panels, it is important to make sure the new post goes exactly where the old one was. You will also have to make sure the new post is perfectly plumb. To make sure the post doesn’t move before the concrete is cured, you should brace it in place with some scrap wood. It’s also a good idea to use a concrete form around the post, this will limit the amount of concrete you need and keep your end product looking tidy. Once you have poured your concrete, trowel the concrete on a slight angle away from the post to direct water way from it. Replace any missing dirt around the concrete form and tamp it down. Once the concrete has had time to cure, reattach your fence panels.
Written By Steve Hyde | February 21, 2021 | Calgary, Alberta
Another common problem we face in Calgary is when the ground freezes in the winter. Since fence posts are typically buried above the frost line, when the ground freezes it can cause the fence posts to shift. This can put the latch arm on your gate and the latch receiver on the fence post out of alignment. This will cause your gate to either not latch at all or be really hard to operate. Fortunately, this problem can be remedied by installing an adjustable gate latch. Most of these latches auto adjust so you won’t have to worry about messing around with it when the ground freezes!
If your wooden gate is rotted, you may be able to repair it. If only the fence boards or pickets on it are rotted, they can be replaced. If the structure of the gate is rotted, it is best to replace the whole gate. Trying to repair the rotted structure will only buy you a bit of time and you’ll be out there repairing it again soon enough. Rotted wood will not hold screws so any repairs will be short lived.
If you are comfortable using power tools, making a wooden gate can be a good weekend project that will really spruce up your yard. If you don’t feel like doing it yourself or don’t have the time, a professional wooden gate installer (like us) can build and install a beautiful custom gate in a few hours!
Replacing Fence Pickets
Sometimes you just need to replace a few pickets on your fence. They may have rotted, split or become damaged in some other way. You may also want to fix warped fence boards. Unfortunately there is no good way to do this. Even if you were to straighten them, they would eventually go back to their warped state. This is because of the unchangeable grain structure of the wood and the best solution for a warped fence board or picket is to replace it.
Replacing fence pickets on some fences is very easy and on others requires disassembly of most of the fence panel. If it is as easy as taking out a couple of screws to remove the picket or fence board and you are comfortable using power tools, you may want to do this yourself. Likewise, if you are comfortable taking apart a fence panel you may choose to do this yourself as well.
That said, sometimes taking apart a fence panel is like opening Pandora’s Box. Often the screws are rusted or their heads are full of paint, making them very difficult to remove. Years of paint can also act like glue making disassembly a nightmare. Other times you will discover that your fence rails or trim pieces are rotted and need to be replaced as well. This can turn a quick job into something that takes the better part of a day to fix!
If you are planning to make your own fence panel, be aware that you need to use wood that is suitable for outdoor use. In Calgary, fences are typically made of Pressure Treated lumber or Cedar. It may be tempting to use untreated or natural lumber (typically Pine, Fir or Spruce) as it costs less than Pressure Treated or Cedar but it is far more susceptible to rot, weather and insect damage.
It’s worth noting that Pressure Treated lumber is treated with harmful chemicals that are easily absorbed into your skin, so extra care should be taken when handling it. You should also treat any cuts you make to it with end cut sealer to prevent premature damage to the wood. Cedar is naturally rot resistant but many people have allergies to it so care should be used when working with it.
Whether you use Pressure Treated lumber or Cedar, you will have to use coated screws. Failing to do so will result in the screws rusting and leaving unsightly rust stains on your new fence. It is also said that the chemicals in Pressure Treated lumber will seriously corrode uncoated screws to the point that they will fail. I haven’t seen this but I have heard it said many, many times.
You will need to buy at least 2 lengths of screws to build a fence panel properly. To attach the rails to the posts you’ll need 3” or 3 1/2” screws and depending on the pickets you use you’ll need something around 1 1/2” or 2” screws. It is important to use screws that are not too long to attach the pickets. If the screws are too long and poke out the other side they can seriously injure someone. Last summer I was mowing a lawn and brushed up against a too long screw on my client’s fence and it cut me down to the muscle. I’m no stranger to getting cut from time to time so I was glad it was me who got it and not one of their children! Needless to say, the offending screws were filed down for their safety.
Finally, if you are planning to paint, stain or seal your new Pressure Treated fence panel you should wait for the following year to do so. Many times Pressure Treated lumber comes from the store wet to the touch with chemicals. Even if it isn’t wet to the touch, it is still far too saturated with chemicals for paint, stain or sealer to properly adhere to it. Some people also think that you don’t need to paint, stain or seal Pressure Treated lumber at all, this is false. While it will look good for a few years left how it was from the store, eventually the chemicals will be washed away and it will begin to rot just like untreated lumber. Most people don’t paint or stain Cedar as it is a beautiful (and expensive) wood but it should be sealed. Failing to seal Cedar will result in it turning an ugly silver-gray color in a couple of years.
A huge part of having an enjoyable yard is privacy and you definitely need a fence for that! There are lots of different fence designs on the market today but nothing beats the classic look of a wooden fence. A wooden fence not only looks good, it provides a solid partition between your yard and your neighbor’s. They also cut down on noise from the street and keep thieves from knowing what you have in your yard. A properly built and maintained wood fence will provide you with years of service and will add value to your home.
That said, there are a few common issues that wood fences and gates are susceptible to. Whether your fence is made of Pressure Treated lumber or Cedar, the good news is many of these issues can be resolved for fraction of the cost of replacing the whole fence. Repairing a fence can be hard work and If you aren’t looking for a good workout or proficient using power tools, it’s best to have the work done by a company that specializes in wood fence and gate repair (like us!).
In this blog I will go into detail about some of the most common repairs we do to keep people’s fences standing and their gates working. So if you want to fix your leaning wood fence or sagging wooden gate, keep reading!
To fix a leaning fence post, first you have to remove the adjacent fence panels. After the fence panels are out of the way, the fence post must be removed from the ground. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to pull the fence post out with your hands (use proper lifting techniques of course). If you can’t pull the fence post out like this, you can attach a piece of sacrificial wood to the post and use a high lift jack to lift it out of the hole.
Now that the fence post is out of the hole you’ll need to make the hole large enough to accommodate a cylindrical concrete form. These forms are available at most hardware stores and are in the same isle as the concrete. These inexpensive forms are made of cardboard and will pay for themselves in the amount of concrete you will save using them. You can either expand the hole with a shovel or if you have a lot of posts to repair, you can use a fence post auger.
If you decide to use a fence post auger, they are available at most tool rental services. Just be careful when using one. They are gas powered machines and if you get tangled up in one you will be seriously injured! Also, if you have not used one of these machines before it is advisable to have someone help you. They put out a lot of torque and this alone can injure you. I would recommend having a look at some videos online before deciding to go this route.
If after looking into a fence post auger you decide to go that route, you will have to know exactly where any buried utilities on your property are located. If you accidentally hit a buried power line or gas line, the results could be deadly! There is also the chance of hitting buried cable or phone lines. While this would not be deadly, it would be very inconvenient and likely costly.
To have your underground utilities located (in Alberta) contact Alberta One Call. Just be aware they only locate utilities a utility company has installed, such as the gas or power line leading to your house. They do not locate things like a gas or power line from your house to your garage or your lawn irrigation system.
After you have expanded the hole large enough to accept the concrete form, add a couple of shovels worth of gravel to the bottom of the hole. Now you can install the concrete form, then place the post inside the concrete form. Make sure the fence post is exactly where it used to be if you plan on reusing your fence panels. Also make sure the post is perfectly plumb. Once your post is where you want it, securely brace it with some scrap wood so it doesn't move when you pour in the concrete.
You’ll need about 2 bags of concrete for each fence post. Follow the instructions on the bag to mix the concrete then pour it into the concrete form. Before the concrete starts to set make sure to trowel the top of the concrete on a slight angle away from the post. Replace any dirt missing around the outside of the concrete form and tamp it down good. Once the concrete has cured you can remove your scrap wood braces and reinstall your fence panels.
Wooden Gate Repair:
Having a wooden gate that doesn’t work properly can be a real drag, especially if it is literally dragging on the ground! Most wooden gates are pretty heavy and over time this can cause a number of problems. These problems are typically the result of worn or missing hardware, the gate itself sagging and leaning fence posts.
If you have a hardware problem with your gate, the good news is this is relatively easy to fix. It could be as easy as replacing the screws that attach the hinges or latch with some longer ones. At worst, you may need new hinges or a new latch but in the greater scheme of things, this isn't a big deal.
If you have a sagging wooden gate, you will know it as it will have gone from a rectangular shape to a rhomboid shape. The truth is that if your gate is sagging, it was not designed or constructed properly. There are a few ways to fix a sagging wooden gate including adding wooden braces, gate cable supports and metal brackets. While these gate repairs often do the trick, sometimes it is best to just replace your wooden gate with a new one that was designed and constructed properly.
If your wooden gate isn’t working properly because of leaning fence posts it will either drag on the ground, become wedged against the latch side fence post or not latch at all and just swing in the breeze. Unfortunately if this is what you are dealing with the only way to properly fix this would be to either reset or replace the offending fence posts. You can repair a gate like this temporarily but eventually the problem will return and it will need a proper repair.
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Wood Fence Panel Replacement:
Much like a wood fence post, over time wood fence panels will succumb to rot or physical damage. Replacing wood fence panels with pre-made panels from a hardware store may seem like an easy solution. The truth is, finding one that matches your current fence and that is the exact right dimensions is very hard, if not impossible. The reason for this is that most professional fence installers choose to build fence panels on site and do not adhere to hardware store fence panel specifications when building them.
The good news is that the dimensional lumber professional fence installers use to build fences is readily available. Buying the wood used to make a fence panel is also cheaper than buying a pre-made fence panel. All you need to build your own fence panels is the same lumber that was used on the rest of your fence, a couple of saws, a drill, some fasteners and some experience using power tools.
If you want to build your own fence panel it is usually easiest build it in place vs building it on the ground and then installing it. First you’ll have to install the horizontal supports (rails). Make sure these fit snugly as they are part of the structure of the fence. You can use metal fence rail brackets to help with this process but they are not necessary. While these brackets do make it easier to build a sturdy fence, they detract form the appearance of the fence and offer no additional strength to a fence built properly without them.
The next step in building your own fence panel is to install the pickets. Depending on the design of your fence, this may be the last step for you. Make sure to space the pickets evenly at the same spacing as your existing fence panels. You may end up having to trim one of the pickets narrower than the rest, if this is the case, it is best to use a table saw to make the cut.
Once the pickets are installed you may have additional trim pieces to install. These typically sandwich the pickets between themselves and the rails. You may also have a trim piece that goes on top or a section of lattice that goes on top. Don’t try to make your own lattice, it is available for a reasonable price at the hardware store.