Building a split-rail fence
Radio interview source: Samson Lough, Owner, Lough's Lumber
Listen here to the radio story (mp3) or read below
During the 1800s, land owners built split-rail fences to manage livestock. They were also used to mark positions on Civil War battlefields. Rails were split from logs with hammers and wedges, and then stacked in a zig-zag pattern. This was a simple way to build a fence because no digging was required for post holes.
Sam Lough owns a company in West Virginia that specializes in historic fencing. He says acreage owners are adding split rail fencing, also known as snake rails, for rustic appeal and to add value to the property. "Normally the fence is stacked five rails high, and that makes about 40 inches high. The rails are eleven-feet long, and they'll run anywhere in circumference about 12-14 inches," Lough says. "When building this fence too, you should put a flat rock or a couple of bricks down at each end of the rail sections. It keeps it off the ground, makes them last longer, plus it's easier to mow around."
When laying out the fence line, Lough says to also plan for where you want it to zig and zag. Mark these areas with rock and string. "You can put a stake in and go down a straight line to wherever you're going to go to and put another stake and a string, and then you can lay a flat rock about every 7-8 feet," says Lough. "And then, whichever side you want your zig to go, zig-zag, you put a string back there about three feet."
Lough says since there are no anchored post holes, this fence can blow over in heavy wind. Put a deck screw through each rail as it's laid, to make it more wind-proof. A properly constructed split rail fence should last for decades. The wood doesn't need to be sealed, and little maintenance is required.
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