Dunn DIY welcomes Trish Mahoney, Seattle DIYer and the brains behind the popular lifestyle blog, Modern Thrifter! Here, Trish shares the second part of a two-part series on a beautiful backyard fence project. In case you missed it, read How to Build a DIY Backyard Fence: Part 1 for the first part of this project. Now let's get on to Trish's tutorial:


It takes a lot of wood to build a fence, and we wanted to have as few seams as possible on our slats. For our design, that meant we needed our horizontal boards to be twelve feet long for most sections. Dunn Lumber offers $40 delivery. We had been going back and forth on what type of wood we were going to use, and we didn’t get our final plan together in time to schedule the delivery. Instead we had to rent a trailer that was big enough to accommodate the boards. Because we wanted twelve-foot boards, we weren't able to use actual fence boards and opted for a thicker cedar one-by-four. This was worth it for us, but you should keep in mind that this decision does effect the cost of the fence. 

While we had the trailer, we also picked up a miter saw, nail gun, and air compressor that we borrowed from a friend. If you don’t have those tools and you don’t have a friend to loan them to you, it is well worth your money to rent them.

Once we had everything home and unloaded, it was time to get to work.

Step 1: Stain the Wood 

Stain all of the wood - all six sides of each board.  This doesn’t have to be done before you finish the fence, but you will love yourself forever if you plan enough time to make it happen before moving on with the construction. We had some time constraints and we had to skip this step until the end. Trust me, there are a million little cracks and spaces that are hard to get with a brush or roller once the fence is finished.

Step 2: Measure the Overall Height of your Fence 

Mark the posts with your overall finish height. We planned this out in sections because our fence line is on a slope and we knew we’d need to stair-step it down to keep it close to the 6-foot city code. Once we measured the 6-foot mark on one post, we ran a string from that mark to the next post, leveled the string, and marked the second post. Line levels (lightweight, small levels that hang from the string) are really inexpensive and a great tool for this process. 

measuring fence for backyard

Step 3: Measures the Spaces Between Boards

Measure down the post for each board and space until you get to the bottom board. It’s best to start installing boards from the bottom up so that you get the most accurate spacing and to make the rest of the boards easier to install. Basically, you’re stacking the boards on top of spacers instead of floating them underneath a board. We spaced our boards 3/4” apart.

Step 4: Create a Spacer

Cut 2–3 spacer pieces. Use a scrap piece of wood and cut it to the width of space that you want between your boards. Keep track of these pieces, they will save you a ton of time and keep your fence nice and level. They are also really helpful to hold the boards in place so they can be installed by one person.

horizontal fence borads diy

Step 5: Cut your Fence Boards 

Measure and cut the fence boards. We cut all the boards with the miter saw for one section and installed them before moving on and cutting the wood for the next section. Measure your distance from post to post. Our boards covered two 6-foot sections. At the starting point of the fence, the boards were flush to the end of the post, and in the middle sections of the fence the boards ended at the center point of the posts. This kept the overall look clean.

cutting fence boards diy

using saw on fence boards

Step 6: Install the Bottom Board 

Find the bottom mark on the first post and hold the board in place spanning across to the other end. Level the board and nail it to the posts on each end (and to the post in the center if you are covering more than one section, like we did). It’s really helpful to have two people on this step. Once the bottom board is level and attached, the remaining boards in the section can be installed by one person.

Step 7: Install the Remaining Boards 

Place a spacer on top of the bottom board at each end. Then set the next board on top and nail it to each post. Repeat this process until you reach your desired height, checking the level periodically. Then move on to the next section and repeat steps 4–6 until all of your sections are complete.

If there are any boards that end on a post that won’t be getting a trim piece (like in the stair-step sections), a small piece of wood can be nailed on the adjacent side to give the look of a thicker board (see photo).

modern horizontal fence diy

nailing horizontal fence

backyard fence installation

Step 8: Trim the Tops of your Posts 

Using a circular saw, cut the tops of the posts flush with the top fence slat. The saw won’t be able to make it through the post in a single cut, so cut halfway on one side, switch to the opposite side and cut the other half. Wear hearing and eye protection when you do this - and a dust mask too since there is a lot of dust when you’re cutting. 

circular saw on for fence boards

Step 9: Add the Trim 

This step isn’t necessary, but it will really enhance the overall look of the fence. We used 1”x6” boards and ran them up the sides and across the tops of all the sections.

backyard fence board trim

Step 10: Stain your Fence 

If you didn’t do this in step one, you are stuck doing it at the end like we were. You will be kicking yourself for not staining the wood first as you painstakingly paint in-between each slat, but don’t give up—it’s worth it. It’s helpful to get a skinny paint roller that is just slightly smaller than your spaces, otherwise you’ll have to use a brush. It’s also best to work in sections, painting one long board at a time. Having two people working at the same time is ideal, so that one person can be on each side and working on the same section to avoid paint drips.

diy backyard fence stain

painting a horizontal fence diy