Building a woven wire fence can be a very satisfying and useful project. The basic principles are the same whether you are installing extensive farm fencing or a small enclosure for a garden or pet. There are, however, details related to scale such as the type and size of posts needed, the weight or gauge of woven wire needed, fasteners and bracing required, and how much force will be required to stretch the wire. In either case, digging postholes and setting wood posts plus driving steel posts is hard manual work; so be prepared. Stretching fencing to tighten it must also be done carefully to avoid accidents. This hub will describe the basics of installing a woven wire fence; but the links in the Resources section at the end of this hub provide much additional information. Reading some of this material will be very helpful in answering questions that arise while planning your fencing project and in deepening your understanding of the details.
Tools and Materials Needed:
- Roll(s) of woven wire fencing
- Wood posts for corners and long runs
- Steel fence posts
- Heavy gauge wire
- Long, heavy fencing staples
- Large ball or roll of twine
- 4 to 6 bolts and nuts (close to ½ inch diameter and 5 to 6 inches long)
- Miscellaneous screws, nails and lag bolts as required
- 2 x 4 pieces (length appropriate to fence height)
- Piece of pipe or 2x2 (for dirt tamping)
- Carpenter’s level
- Post hole digger (or Gasoline Powered Auger)
- Steel post driver
- Fencing pliers (or sturdy pliers with wire cutter)
- Box wrenches and a ratchet wrench and sockets
- Strong utility chain
- Come-along (high force lever operated puller)
- Sturdy work gloves
First establish the boundaries for your to-be-fenced area. If you live within a city, check with the building permit department to determine if you need a permit before beginning construction. Establish the locations of all buried utilities on your land (telephone, electricity, natural gas, cable service, water and sewer lines, etc) so you do not hit any of them while building your fence. Drive temporary stakes (long enough to be visible from a distance) at each corner or change of direction point and at gate locations. Pieces of 1x2 or even steel fence posts work fine. Put a flag (piece of white or yellow plastic) at the top of each post to enhance its visibility. Clear any obstructions along the fence lines. Also, if needed, mow along the fence line and widely around corner areas. Be sure you know where your property lines are and stay within them unless you and a neighbor are jointly building a fence along your mutual property line. Brace posts should be 8-10 feet from corner posts. To mark their location, measure out the desired distance roughly in line between two corners and have an assistant hold a marker stake there. Then sight from corner to corner and direct the assistant in moving the marker stake back and forth until it is in line with the two corner posts. Drive in the marker stake and then repeat this process to locate each of the brace posts. Use a similar procedure to locate gate posts along a run between corners.
Review the "tools and materials needed" list above, adapting the list as necessary to the details and scale of your project. More discussion of the listed items appears in the sections below.
Understand Bracing Requirements
With woven wire fencing, wooden posts are usually used at the corners and at gates. One possible method of corner bracing is shown in the picture at the top of this hub. The red diagonal braces can be made of metal or wood of suitable dimension. For a farm fence, sturdy iron pipe works well and can often be obtained from metal salvage yards. The wood posts should be pressure treated or made of a material such as redwood or cedar that resists rot. Posts made of untreated oak, pine, poplar, etc. will rot in just a few years. Be sure that nails, screws and hardware used with treated posts are “hot dipped” galvanized or stainless steel since the currently permitted wood preservatives (non-arsenic containing) are very corrosive to steel and iron. Unless your enclosure is small, the posts in the corner assembly and those supporting gates should also be 6 inches or more in diameter (Some sources recommend 8 inch corner and gate posts for farm fences). An alternate approach to corner bracing (see “Good Homestead Fence” in Resources) uses a horizontal wooden member between the corner post and the brace post (located near the top of each). A strong twisted wire assembly then runs from high on the brace post diagonally back to near the ground on the corner post. This approach and the above-pictured bracing technique have the same objective - to prevent the corner post from tilting when the fence wire is stretched. Some sources (See “Woven Wire Fencing” in Resources) also add the diagonal wire to the bracing technique shown above). Heavy-duty steel “T” posts can be used between the corners as described below.
Install Corner Post Assemblies
Dig post holes 3.5 feet or more deep for the corner, brace, and gate posts. Unless you are in very good physical condition, renting a gasoline powered “hole digger” or auger is a good idea (See “Tool Rental Guide” in Resources and also check with other local tool rental stores.). Even better for extensive fencing would be a tractor-mounted auger. The hole has to be large enough to permit packing the dirt around the installed post – say at least 2 inches clearance all around. A one-person gasoline powered auger typically can make up to 8-inch diameter holes down to about 45 inches deep. The two-person auger can go up to about 18 inch diameter holes and down to about 51 inches deep. You can get extensions and different size auger bits for either. Note that if you have any heavy clay layers in your soil, even the powered equipment gets quite strenuous with large diameter holes. While installing the posts, use a carpenter’s level frequently to check that they are still vertical. Also tamp the dirt tightly around the posts after every few shovels full using a steel pipe or a piece of 2x2 lumber (2x4 when spacing is sufficient). Gradually fill the holes to slightly above original ground level. You may also want to backfill around the gate posts with concrete and sink these posts below frost line if you plan a very wide, drive through gate. Gate posts are supported in a manner similar to corner posts, but of course only have a brace post on one side (See “Wide Farm Gate” in Resources). After the wooden posts are set, install the diagonal braces. To prevent any slippage, notch the posts at each end of the diagonal braces and secure them with long lag bolts. For very long runs or changes in terrain slope or fence direction, you may need intermediate braced posts between the corners.
Install Steel Posts
Stretch a strong twine along the run between opposite corner posts to keep the steel posts aligned and then drive the steel posts into the ground at the desired spacing. If runs are very long and if large animals are to be enclosed, a wooden post every 50 –75 foot is helpful to prevent the steel posts from bending over time. For lightweight wire and smaller enclosures, you may be able to get by with lighter materials for both corner assemblies and steel posts, but over-designing a bit is always good for reliability and longevity. The steel posts can be driven into the ground with a hand held steel post driver as shown in the picture. This driver consists of a length of steel pipe welded shut on one end, perhaps with some added weight inside. It weighs perhaps 17-20 pounds. Some have handles welded to the side and with others you simply grip the pipe. It is used as follows. The steel posts have a triangle of steel welded at what will be the ground level. Set the post at the desired location and with one foot on the triangle shove the post into the ground enough that it will stand by itself. Slip the driver pipe over the top of the post and then raise it and slam it down repeatedly until the top of the triangle is just at ground level. Keep the post as vertical as possible while driving. If the ground is too hard to get the post to stand by itself as described above, get an assistant to hold it upright until you get it driven in a bit. If you are building a very light fence with light-duty steel posts, you can probably drive them in with a heavy hammer (preferably a 2-3 pound mini-sledge) or even a heavy hatchet with a flat or hammer side.
Build Wire Stretching Clamp
The woven wire must be stretched tight to prevent sagging and looseness. As shown in the picture, a simple clamp made of 2x4’s and large bolts in combination with a pulling device (a “Come-along” or its equivalent) can be used can be used for the stretching. The clamping device is simply two pieces of 2x4 sandwiching the woven wire fence material between them. The 2x4’s are clamped tightly to each other and to the wire by approximately 5 to 6 inch long ½ inch diameter bolts running through them. Use 4 to 6 bolts depending on the height of your fence and make them very tight using box and ratchet wrenches. Attach the clamp well in from any cut end of the woven wire fencing. This clamp must not slip while stretching the fence wire. Use a utility chain around the 2x4’s as shown to provide a point of attachment for the Come-along. The chain has hooks on each end to secure it to itself after wrapping around the clamp. Do not use a piece of rope to replace the chain unless you have a very light and short section to tighten
The picture shows a Come-along that provides the mechanical advantage to exert very large pulling forces. Depending on its size, the Come-along can exert from one to several tons of pulling force. Note the hooks at each end of the Come-along. The point of attachment for one side of the Come-along was shown in the previous picture. Clearly a very strong anchor point is needed for the other end. Often one may need a temporary, auxiliary post beyond the corner post. This temporary post should be braced back to the base of the corner post (i.e., brace from high on the temporary post to low on the corner post). A chain around the temporary post can provide a place to attach the Come-along. On a farm, a tractor or farm truck could be used as the anchor point for the Come-along instead of a temporary post. However, you should not attempt to stretch the wire using the tractor itself rather than the Come-along, because there is too much risk of over stretching the wire and possibly having it snap. If available, two Come-alongs or their equivalents, one at the top and one at the bottom of the clamp, can be used to independently adjust the top and bottom fence stretching forces. It is important to stress that the stretching operation is potentially dangerous. Stretching any component to the breaking point can result in violent recoils of the elements. Wrap one end of your woven wire around the corner post and fasten it securely with large fencing staples. Put the staples in at an angle to the grain of the post’s wood. Unroll the fencing to beyond the next corner post or intermediate braced support. Stand the wire upright and pull it as tight as you can by hand, holding it while an assistant ties it loosely to the intermediate posts with twine. Fasten the clamp securely to the fencing and set up the Come-along. The Come-along involves a steel cable that wraps around a drum as you ratchet the handle. Try to have the setup such that you will be able to use most of the Come-along’s range, i.e.. have most of its cable pulled out at the start of fence tightening. Ratchet the Come-along slowly, checking wire tension frequently until it is tight enough. Then attach the wire securely to the corner post with fence staples. Also attach the fencing to the brace posts with staples and to the steel posts with sturdy wire. Release the Come-along and remove the clamp and proceed to the next section. Cut the wire fencing when required with fencing pliers or other heavy duty pliers with a wire cutting provision.
You can construct a gate out of treated 2x4’s or 2x6’s (or even 1x6’s if gate is small). The gate should be appropriately cross-braced to prevent sagging. The “Wide Farm Gate” link in Resources shows how to make and support a very wide farm gate. Depending on the application, the gate can be constructed entirely of boards or a board frame can be covered with the woven wire. It is also possible to buy many sizes of gates from large home improvement stores or farm/home supply stores. Hang the gate with good, heavy-duty hardware that will last for many years. A well-constructed woven wire fence with proper materials can last well over 25 years.
Final Tips and Warnings
- Rent labor saving equipment such as gasoline powered augers when possible.
- Tightening wire to breaking point of equipment or fence materials is dangerous. Do not over-stretch.