Parts of a Fence: (Detailed Anatomy)

A typical wooden fence may seem like a simple structure, but there are ten parts that make up this type of fence. Each part works to support the rest to create a sturdy, long-lasting fence.

Fence Parts

What follows is a breakdown of the different parts that make up a wooden fence.

10 Parts of a Fence

1. Posts

The post is the weight-bearing part of the fence. It holds up the rest of the parts and secures the fence in place. Each post is installed by boring holes into the ground, adding some concrete, and then placing the post in the wet concrete. Once the concrete dries, it creates a strong foundation for the post for the rest of the parts to be attached.

The space of the posts will be determined by the style of a wooden fence and the topography of the area.

While the majority of wooden fence posts typically measure 4 x 4 inches in cross-section, sizes can vary based on the fence’s design and load requirements. For instance, larger fences or gates might require stronger, more substantial posts, such as 6 x 6″.

Regardless of cross-sectional dimensions, the height of these posts will fluctuate depending on the desired fence height.

Fence Anatomy with parts marked

2. Rails

The rails run horizontally between the posts and support the pickets. Sometimes called fence stringers or backer rails, there are usually two to three rails that run at different heights along the fence. The number of rails will depend on the desired height of the fence.

For the most part, rails are made from strong, durable wood as they must hold up the pickets. Plus, the wood may be doubled in thickness depending on the length of the fence. The longer the fence, the stronger the rails will need to be, depending on the number of posts that exist for support.

Mostly, the rails are crafted from robust, durable wood types like cedar or pressure-treated lumber, known for their inherent resistance to wood rot and insect damage. This durability is crucial given the rails’ role in supporting the pickets, requiring them to withstand both the elements and the weight they bear.

3. Pickets (Boards)

The most well-known item associated with wooden fences is the picket. Sometimes called boards or slats, the picket is secured the rails and provides the basic style of the wooden fence. You can find pickets in various styles, widths, and thicknesses. Most pickets range from 48″ to 72″ tall and be ½ ″, 5/8″, or ¾″ in thickness.

Depending on the style you have chosen, the pickets can be placed next to each other to create complete privacy. Or the pickets can be spaced out to create areas where those from the outside can see inside. The advantage of the latter is that it takes fewer pickets to make up the wooden fence.

An important consideration when spacing the pickets is the potential impact of wind.

A fence with tightly spaced pickets may form a “sail effect“, presenting a large surface area that wind can push against. To mitigate this risk and increase the fence’s resistance to strong winds, it may be beneficial to space the pickets slightly apart.

4. Panels

Instead of individual pickets, some fences use panels, which are larger sections of material, such as wood, vinyl, or metal. These panels are designed to span the distance between the fence posts.

Using panels can often simplify the installation process and provide a different aesthetic compared to traditional picket fences.

Panels are sometimes added to the pickets to create greater privacy. The panels are more decorative in nature as they are lightweight and easy to place. The panels can be wide or narrow and come in different heights and thicknesses.

Panels are often used to augment the appearance of the fence, but they can also be used to fill in the gaps and provide more privacy. The use of panels depends in large part on the purpose and style of the fence, but they are a common choice, especially for those who want more privacy.

If wind is a significant concern, use perforated or semi-private panels that allow wind to pass through, reducing the sail effect.

5. Caps

A cap or cap board is a small piece of wood that caps the top of the posts or pickets. The cap is designed to prevent rain and precipitation from penetrating the most vulnerable areas of the post or picket, which is the top. Once a cap has been damaged or compromised by moisture, it can be replaced as the post or picket remains intact.

One advantage of caps is that they can be used decoratively as well, with a wide variety of designs and materials available – such as wood, metal, or vinyl – providing an aesthetically pleasing appearance to the wooden fence. But for the most part, the picket is a practical solution to the most dangerous enemy of wooden fences, moisture, and the subsequent issues that it brings.

6. Kickboards

Sometimes, additional elements are added to the bottom of the fence for protection. These components, known as kickboards or mudboards, run along the bottom of the fence like a horizontal rail. They provide a barrier against moisture and debris from the ground, helping to prolong the fence’s lifespan.

7. Fasteners & Hinges

The fasteners, such as screws or nails hold the fence together. Fasteners are used to secure the rails to the post, the picket to the rails, and the cap to the picket or post.

Because the wooden fence is exposed to outdoor elements, the screws, and nails are normally made from materials such as stainless steel that do not oxidize. Or the fasteners are covered with another material after they are put in place.

If you are building a long fence that requires a lot of nailing, I recommend renting a power nailer for the fence.

The hinges are used for the gate. The hinges will hold up one or two gates that are attached to the fence. This means that the gate may be of one or two pieces depending on the design.

8. Gates

The gate allows you to enter or exit the property without having to climb over the fence itself. The gate offers a secure, convenient point of entry for wooden fences designed to provide protection to the property itself. Low or decorative fences that are often seen used with gardens, for example, generally do not have gates.

Gates can be decorative themselves and stand apart from the fence, or they can blend into the fence where it can be difficult to see them. The gate comes with hinges and a latch which allows the gate to open like a typical door. The hinges allow the gate to swing freely while the latch locks the gate in place along the fence.

In addition to fasteners and hinges, other gate hardware, such as latches and locks, also play a crucial role in fence construction. Latches secure the gate when closed, while locks can be added for an extra layer of security, ensuring that the fenced area remains inaccessible when needed

9. Concrete Footing

The footing is what holds the post in place. Concrete is the most often used material for several reasons. Concrete is highly resistant to moisture, is easy to apply, and is readily available.

Typically, the hole’s depth should be one-third to one-half the above-ground height of the post, with a width approximately three times the post’s diameter, ensuring a stable foundation resistant to both frost heave and wind forces.

Once the hole has been dug to place the post, concrete is then poured into the hole. The post is placed in the concrete, and once it hardens, the post stays firmly in place.

The downside is that once the concrete hardens, the post is not going anywhere. This makes removing the fence completely a difficult task as the concrete must be dug up to be fully removed.

10. Lattice

Lattice is a decorative part of a wooden fence, often added atop the fence, enhancing its aesthetic appeal with its distinct, crisscross pattern.

Lightweight yet sturdy, lattice is usually affixed to the top of the pickets or panels once the fence construction is completed. This addition not only contributes to the fence’s visual interest, but it can also provide additional support for climbing plants, adding a touch of nature to the man-made structure.