Learn how to install fence posts, or try a different fence design with our vertical fence and framed-panel fence tutorials—and prolong your fence with LifeTime Wood Treatment

Today, we're talking about how to make a horizontal fence, which is our term for a fence with horizontal boards. (We know the fence is, in fact, vertical to the ground.) Horizontal fence installation is slightly more advanced than installing a vertical fence, but the extra bit of time and attention pays off—a DIY horizontal fence is a great way to get a little privacy while upping the curb appeal of your home.

Once your fence posts have been secured in the ground, you can start building your horizontal fence. Let’s get to it!

Step 1: Plan your design

Often, horizontal fencing consists of boards nailed in place with a uniform gap between them. That’s a great look, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Consider using boards of different widths, or even alternating a pattern. For the fence we’re building today, we used one-by-sixes and one-by-twos in a unique pattern. Whether you look at the fences around your neighborhood or do a little digging on the web, find a look you like and sketch out a design that works for you.

When you sketch out your design, you’ll need to decide whether the fence boards will run across the face of the posts or be set back a bit. We chose the first method, and we snapped a vertical chalk line down the center of the post as a reference point. 

Step 2: Mark spot for top rail

Fence rails span between posts and offer strength to the fence section. Our design has the top rail hidden on the backside of the top board, so we positioned that rail just below the top of where our first fence board will be. We mounted our rail on-edge and flush with the front face of the fence post board. Attach yours in a way that works for your design.

Step 3: Cut rails to length

Next, measure between the posts at the heights marked, and cut your two-by-four rails to a length just a bit shorter than that measurement (so the rail will slip in just between the posts). If you’re using fence clips (see below), you’ll need to cut the rail slightly shorter than you would if you were using nails or screws. 

Step 4: Fasten top rail to post

Once your rails are cut to length, attach the top rail to the post with nails, screws, or fence clips. If you’re using nails or screws, drive a few fasteners at an angle through the end of the rail and into the post. Many people find using fence clips—metal brackets that are first mounted onto the post and hold the fence rail in place—makes fence building easier. 

placing top rail to fence post
hammering top rail to fence

Step 5: Attach boards horizontally

The look we went with today mixes one-by-six cedar fence boards with one-by-two cedar fence boards. Our span is just shy of 8’, so we purchased 8’ boards. Measure the posts from center to center, and cut boards to that length, fastening them on the ends into the post. With our uppermost board, we were able able to drive a few nails into the top rail behind, too. Use a level to make sure the top board is horizontal.

To create the look we wanted, we used a piece of scrap fence board material to create a 3/4" gap between each board. To do this, hold the spacer board in place and fasten your next board on the ends, then remove the spacer board and repeat as you fasten more boards. We mixed one-by-sixes and one-by-twos according to the design we sketched out in step 1. Work your way down until you’re just a few inches off the ground—it’s important to leave a little bit of space here to avoid rot and decay. Our bottom board is a one-by-six, and before anchoring it in place, we attached our bottom rail the same way we attached our top rail, hiding it behind the one-by-six fence board. Once it’s in position, fasten your bottom board.

attaching board to horizontal fence
using level on horizontal fence
creating space between fence boards
hammering horizontal fence boards
adding board to horizontal fence
bottom board on horizontal fence

Step 6: Extra vertical support

Eight feet is a long span for fence boards, so we decided to add in a vertical two-by-two at the center of the run. We cut the vertical two-by-two to fit between the bottom of the top rail and the top of the bottom rail, screwed it into place, and then nailed each horizontal board into it at the center point.

adding vertical board to fence

Step 7: Repeat for each section

Once you’ve finished the first section, move onto the next and repeat the same steps. You might choose to cover the joint where the boards from neighboring sections meet (in the center of the fence post) with a vertical one-by-four. This is optional. We like it because the board covers the joints that may not be perfect, and it breaks up the fence visually. Doing this also means your eyes won’t notice boards out-of-parallel as easily.  

Step 8: Add post caps

Once you’ve finished your fence, add a post cap for a finishing touch. Post caps come in myriad styles and types, which means you can find something that suits your design. Some are made of wood, some are copper or other metals, some are glass, and some have solar-powered lights built into them—the options are endless. Choose one that feels like it’s you, then sit back and enjoy the added privacy and attractive look of your new horizontal fence. It's a great way to dress up the perimeter of your property!

fence post cap
How to Build a Horizontal Fence