How to Erect Feather-edge (Close Board) Fencing

August 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm
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Feather-edge fencing (also known as close board fencing) is a strong and versatile alternative to panel fencing. Constructed by attaching overlapping ‘feather-edged’ planks to a timber framework, a feather-edge fence can is much better suited to curves, undulating ground, or spans of varying sizes than panel fencing, as the timber framework can be made to fit the application perfectly, and the individual planks cut to fit the framework accordingly.

A good feather-edge fence is only as good as the framework on which it is built, so if you’re planning to take on a fencing job of this type, spend as much time as you can planning, then getting the framework right before you even start thinking about nailing the planks on.

This guide will show you how to make a strong framework, and get a professional finish to your plank work too.

Tools

Tape Measure
Pencil
String Line
Hammer (and Gas Nailer if available)
Saw (Chopsaw and/or circular saw if available)
Drill (and Impact Driver if available)
Spirit Level
Square
Hop-up Platform to work on
Spade/ground working tools may be appropriate

Materials

4 inch x 4 inch posts for uprights
4 inch x 2inch timber for chocks and bearers
6 inch x 1 inch timber for gravel boards
Feather edge planks (once overlapped, each 125mm plank will cover 100mm, so 10 planks per metre. Allow 3-5% extra for wastage)
Fence capping (to required length)
Fence post caps (to match the number of uprights)
Nails
– 90mm nails (to fit nail gun), x2 on each bearer/cam rail
– 51mm ring shank nails, to fit feather edge plankwork
Assorted Screws
– 6mm x 100mm screws, x4 on each bearer/cam rail
– 4mm x 40mm screws for capping
– 5mm x 60mm screws, x4 per gravelboard
Appropriate materials to erect upright posts (concrete, hole diggers etc)

Instructions

  1. Begin by planning your work, and considering your materials. It’s important to give some thought to the materials that you’ll be working with when you’re planning your fence. For example, the bearing timbers that you’ll fix to the upright posts are usually sold in lengths which are multiples of 1200mm, so you might typically be working with lengths of 2400mm or 3600mm. Plan the location of your posts to be spaced 100mm or so shorter than the length of your bearers to reduce wastage. Don’t attempt to work to the exact length of your bearers – you only need to be a little out (or for the timber to be out!) and you’ve caused a difficult problem to rectify.
  2. When you’ve decided on the location of the posts, you’ll need to work along the line of posts, concreting them in. We won’t cover that process in this post, but you can read more about how to concrete in a post here. Do take extra care to make sure your posts are upright, in line and correctly spaced. Any variations will be apparent in the end result. Allow at least 24 hours for the concrete to fully harden before you start to work on the upright posts.
  3. Securing the gravel board. The feather-edge planks will eventually sit on the gravel board, so it’s crucial to the finished look of the fence to get this step right. The gravel board can follow the contours of the ground, but it is preferable to have as few changes of direction as possible. Start by setting up a string line between your first post and the post that you’ll work to – depending on the shape of the ground, this might not be the last post in your span. Most gravel board is 6 inches wide (150mm) so set your line at this height above the ground.
  4. Using the chopsaw if you have one, cut ‘chocks’ from the bearer timber which are 6 inches (150mm) long. You’ll use these to attach to the base of each post, to which you’ll then attach the gravel board, as this will bring the gravel board out to the same depth as the planks will be when are attached to the bearer timbers. 
    TIPS: 
    • If your chocks are made from the same timber as you will use for the bearer timbers, there’s no need to measure anything – you can be sure that everything will be at the right depth, or distance away from the upright posts, so it will all line up neatly.
  5. Taking care to align the top of each chock with the string line, fix all the chocks in place at the foot of the upright posts.
  6. Once all the chocks are attached, you can screw the gravel board to the chocks, lining the top of the gravel board up with the top of each chock. You’ll need to offer each gravel board up to the gap, then mark the point at which it meets the center of the post and cut it to this length before securing with screws.
  7. Spacing and securing the bearers. To locate the bottom bearer, measure and mark 100mm above the gravel board. This is the height at which the bottom edge of your lowest bearer will sit. To locate the top bearer, you need to make sure that the top edge of it will sit 100mm lower than the height of your feather-edge planks. The middle bearer simply needs to be equidistant between the top and bottom bearers.
    TIPS: 
    • As alternative to measuring 100mm above the gravel board for your lowest bearer, simply use short sections of the bearer timber resting on the gravel board chocks, balance the lowest bearer on them and fix at this height.
    • To find the right height for your top bearer, measure a feather edge plank and subtract 100m from the measurement. Work along your upright posts and mark this height on all posts. You can then use an offcut of bearer timber as a template to mark the bottom and top edges of your top bearer, as its often easier to see the bottom mark than the top one!
    • Make sure that bearers are staggered, like brickwork, so that all bearers are not joined on the same upright.
  8. You’ll need another pair of hands to help you at this point – someone to hold the other end of each bearer as you screw them to the uprights.
    TIPS: 
    • As an alternative to another pair of hands, you can cut short pieces of wood to balance your bearers on as you screw them on.

  9. Securing the Feather-edge Planks. Each plank needs to be nailed (through the thick edge) to all three bearers, so it’s quickest and easiest to do this with a nail gun. However, if you don’t have one of these tools, a hammer and nails will suffice.
  10. Each plank will be overlapped by the next one and to get a great finish, the overlapping distance needs to be precisely the same for each plank. Fix the first plank in the series with a single nail into each bearer, through the thick edge of the plank only. Take the next plank and put it into place, overlapping by at least 25mm. 
    TIPS: 
    • To save yourself a huge amount of time, spend a few moments making an ‘L’ shaped spacer which is the right size to hook onto the fixed plank and pull the plank to be fixed tight to it, then simply nail in place and repeat.
    • Use a spirit level every few planks to check that your planks are upright. The spacer will help, but it’s always good practice to make sure that it’s doing a consistent job.

  11. Capping the Planks. To give the exposed ends of the fence some protection against the weather, and get a neat finish to your work, you should fit capping to the top of the plankwork.
  12. Fitting the capping is quite straightforward; simply measure the required length, place on top of the plankwork (locating the ends of the planks in the groove) and fix using screws.
    TIPS: 
    • Take care with placement of your screws when you fit the capping. Make sure they are evenly spaced along the length of the capping/fence, but adjust the location of the screw so that you always screw through the thickest part of the plank. Screwing through the thin part of the plank will almsot certainly split the plank
    • To further prevent against splitting the planks when fixing the capping, make sure that you drill a pilot hole to accommodate the screw(s).
  13. All posts should be capped too, using a wooden post cap, simply screwed on.
  14. Finish by levelling the ground around your gravel boards, if necessary.

Product Recommendation

Amongst the many that we use, there are three tools that are invaluable when putting up feather-edge fencing, especially long sections; Paslode Gas Nailer, Makita BTD146Z 18V Impact Driver and the Makita BSS610RFE 165mm 18V 3Ah Li-Ion Cordless Circular Saw.

The Paslode Nailer isn’t just a lazy man’s alternative to hammer and nails, it’s also a good way to work quickly and efficiently to fix bearers and plankwork without disturbing the uprights that you’ve only just set in concrete. The single action of a nail fired into wood is much less stressful on your fencing framework than repeated hammering will ever be. This nailer is powerful and quick to charge – an essential tool.

Until you use and impact driver such as this excellent Makita, you’ll probably think that your combi drill does a great job. This tool is lightweight and gets a long run time out of a single charge. Its hammer action and impressive torque make it a much more efficient tool to use when screwing in lots of screws, such as in a fencing job like this.

Lastly, we’ve come to rely on a chopsaw to deliver quick, accurate cuts in wood which can save hours on a job. However, when there’s no 240V supply near where you’re working, the Makita BSS610RFE comes into its own. We haven’t yet found timber that this little saw struggles to chomp through and regularly use it to cut bearers to size, or trim uprights down at the end of a job. Our batteries on this saw are starting to show some signs of fatigue, but if anything that’s a testament to how frequently (and hard) we use this tool.

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