Project Spotlight: Horizontal Wood Fence

A horizontal wood fence is a popular option for those who love straight lines and a modern look.  There are variations in design, such as spacing of the boards and differing widths of boards, that allow one to create a horizontal wood fence that is unique to the individual space.  Today I’ll walk you through a horizontal wood fence project build and point out some details that elevated the workmanship of this build.

A Good Horizontal Wood Fence Starts With A Strong Foundation 

I’ve written elsewhere about the need for a strong foundation when it comes to building a wood fence.  Horizontal wood fences are no exception and have one other consideration to keep in mind: how to deal with the space between posts.  Traditional post spacing is eight feet, but for a horizontal wood fence this won’t work.  There needs to be some kind of support to add to the section to increase the strength of the section as well as to keep the horizontal boards from bowing.

One option of doing this is to weave a strip of wood between the boards in the center of the section.  This does firm things up, but not as much as shortening the span.  I like to place each of the posts on a horizontal wood fence four feet apart.  This will double the amount of posts and concrete needed for the project as well a increase the labor to do this, but it makes it much stronger.  Perhaps it’s overbuilding, but I would rather be accused of overbuilding than underbuilding.

Appealing Horizontal Lines Requires Careful Attention To Layout

Once the posts have been placed the next most important step is the layout of the fence “flow”. Flow references what the top of the fence will look like.  This applies to any fence, not just to horizontal wood fences. Arguably it is more important in the horizontal style because part of the appeal of this design is it’s straight lines.  This is where careful consideration of your lot becomes important.  Horizontal wood fencing is best suited for reasonably flat lots.  If you have a lot that slopes considerably, the horizontal style might not be the best option.

The lot for this project was near perfect for a horizontal wood fence.  It was relatively flat and although the lot was narrow it had long lines on each side which only enhance the horizontal lines of the fence.  It’s always tempting to choose a style of fence that appeals to you visually, but considering your lot and homes architectural elements are what tie a fence into a space.

Now that we have considered lot type let’s return to the actual layout.  This entails placing a string at the height of the fence and adjusting it to as straight a line as possible.  I like to place a line level on the string and see where my ideal placement is and make adjustments accordingly.  If there is an art to building a wood fence this is where it comes in. When I’m laying out a project I like to take my time and look at the line from all angles.  From the vantage point of several positions.  I’ll take several measurements and refer back to my line level eventually settling on what looks pleasing to the eye.  It takes time and patience but it’s well worth it when it shows up in the final product.

Details In The Build Of A Horizontal Wood Fence That Matter

This project called for one inch thick cedar boards that were five and half inches wide.  They were also kiln dried which means there is a little less shrinkage across the width of the board as it dries compared to wood with a higher moisture content.  The cedar boards are attached with screws with pilot holes drilled on the ends that are attached to the post.  With the screws being so close to the end grain at these attachment points drilling the pilot holes help reduce the likelihood of the cedar splitting.


Another important detail in the installation of this horizontal wood fence was the sealing of all of the end grain. All. As in the end of every piece of wood on this project.  The benefits are numerous for this practice, but the main thing to remember is that the wood now has a protective coating at its weakest point.  

One final detail in the installation process.  I like to consistently place the crown and the bow of the wood in the same plane each time with the straightest board always going on top.  This just makes the fence look good as it ages and you don’t see haphazard board placement. Everything ties together and has a sense of continuity.

Once the horizontal boards are installed it’s time to attach the cap board and the face board.  The cap board lies on top of the fence and the face board goes over each post in a vertical orientation. Think of both of these components of the horizontal wood fence as being trim work for the project, but they also add a little protection.

The cap board offers protection to the end grain of the posts and the face boards not only cover the seams and screw heads where the horizontal boards are attached to the posts, but protect the end grain at the attachment points from the elements. 


The Final Detail Of A Horizontal Wood Fence: A Horizontal Wood Gate

The gate really adds the final touch to this project.  The gate was built using a form of traditional mortise and tenon joinery.  Wood connections hold the frame together.  There are no screws or nails in the gate itself, only in the hinges that connect the gate to the post. This style of joinery really opens up design options and gives a very modern look from both sides.  It compliments the overall project rather nicely. 

Considering a horizontal wood fence or gate for your space?  Click that little email icon button in the top right corner and let’s start the conversation.

All the best,