At first glance a wooden fence might not look like the most complex thing to build in the world.
A couple of wooden slats, couple of wooden posts, and maybe a bucket of nails and you can call it a day, right?
Truth be told, there’s a lot more going on “under the hood” of even the most rudimentary wooden fence – a lot more components that come together to create a safe, strong, and secure barrier for your property.
In this detailed guide we are going to go over all of the main components of a wooden fence so that you better understand what you are getting into if you’re going to build one in the future.
Check out our average fence height article should you need some advice.
Breaking Down the Main Components of a Wooden Fence
Each and every one of the main components we highlight below are necessary parts of the wooden fence system.
Take out even one of these components and you end up with a significantly weakened fence structure.
Take out two or more of these components and you might not even have a wooden fence at all!
The backbone of any wooden fence system is always the fence posts that support the fencing itself.
Fence posts are often big, chunky pieces of pressure-treated wooden material (usually 4 x 4 or larger posts) that are specifically designed to withstand all of the stress that a fence puts on this part of the project.
Fence posts aren’t just holding up the rest of the fencing material, after all. Good posts will also need a good post rammer.
These components are also going to be put under a significant amount of stress from wind and weather. Every time a stiff wind comes through, for example, it’s going to blow on fencing panels – exerting extreme force sometimes, and threatening to blow the posts over or pull them from the ground.
It’s important that fence posts are driven deep into the earth to support the rest of the fencing system.
In parts of the world where winter weather means a lot of snow and a lot of frost fence posts usually have to be installed deeper than the frost line, sometimes anywhere between 4 feet and 6 feet underground – with another 4 feet or 6 feet above ground to attach the actual fencing.
Think of these as the foundation of your fence and you’ll understand their importance.
Backer rails are the rails that run horizontally along the pickets on a wooden fence, holding everything together and giving the fence stability and structure.
Sometimes these rails are called “fence rails” and sometimes they are called “fence stringers”. At the end of the day, though, they all do the same job – they tie all of the individual pickets together.
Depending on the style and design of the wooden fence you are working with there may be two or there may be three backer rails on each fence panel.
These panels are always installed on the inside of the fence, too. That hides them from the public and leaves the outer facing panels a lot cleaner.
Individual pickets are the pieces of the wooden fence that run vertically – the actual components that make up the fence system that most people are talking about when they say fence in the first place.
Sometimes these pieces of wood are called boards, slats, or fence strips. All those terms can be used interchangeably.
Most of the time these pieces of wood are going to be much thinner than the backer rails and certainly thinner than the posts themselves, but they aren’t going to be razor thin or week by any stretch of the imagination.
These kinds of wooden construction components come in a variety of different sizes and a variety of different widths, with a 42 inch tall or 72 inch tall picket the most popular – usually coming in at around three quarters of an inch wide.
Pickets can be painted, stained, or finished in a variety of different ways to create the kind of look and aesthetic wooden fence owners are after. They can also be run diagonally, horizontally, or even in unique herringbone or modern patterns to give the fence a completely different look without sacrificing its utility along the way.
Post toppers (sometimes called post) are little pieces of finish work that can be attached to the top of your posts to give them a much more ornamental look than a squared off 4 x 4 of pressure-treated materials.
These pieces are super easy to install (they are often just a hollow premade to fit a 4 x 4 post), though you can certainly tinker and toyed with different designs and different flourishes if you want to make them yourself.
Gates are obviously another big piece of the puzzle when it comes to a wooden fence, especially if you want to have easy and secure access to otherwise completely fenced in areas.
Gates can be made custom fit from wooden fencing panels to blend in perfectly, can be made whole cloth to look totally different than fencing panels, and can be ordered directly from gate manufacturers out of totally different materials.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
The sky is really the limit when it comes to gate options. All you really have to do is make sure that the gate fits, can be mounted on the available posts specifically intended for the gate, and latches and locks securely.
Kickboards run along the bottom of a fence to give it a little more of a finished look but also a bit of extra protection.
Plenty of folks like to add kickboards to their project if they have small children, small animals, or dogs that have a tendency to dig holes to try and escape.
Kickboards come in all shapes and sizes, but they are usually made out of a 2 x 6, 2 x 8, or 1 x 6 or 1 x 8 piece of material. They usually get finished to blend in with the rest of the fence itself, though sometimes they are finished with contrasting colors for a bit of “pop” and visual flare.
And there you have it – a pretty solid breakdown of all the different components you’ll find in modern wood fences today!