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Setting Posts:

Illustration Setting Fence Posts

  1. Depending on the geographical location, fence height, and fencing materials used, post hole size may vary. In general for residential chain link fences, dig holes 6" in diameter by 30" deep (or below frost line in your area). Another rule of thumb is to dig the holes three times the diameter of the post, i.e. a 2" diameter post would require a 6" diameter hole, and put one third of the height of fence that's above ground -  in the ground. Typically gate post holes are dug larger in diameter and deeper to withstand the additional stress of a moving gate. The guide string may be removed temporarily prior to excavating to prevent cutting it. Be sure to replace it as it was originally stretched.
  2. Restretch guide string and check holes for accuracy visually and/or by placing a post in the hole and plumbing in all directions.  If the hole needs 'shaved' or moved, do it now.  If holes are shallow because you hit an object you can't remove,  'bell' the hole at the bottom.  To 'bell' a hole, use a post hole digger and/ or spud bar to make the bottom of the hole larger than the top. This further anchors the concrete footer which will support your fence. 'Belling' will compensate for holes as shallow as 18" deep.  If necessary, move the hole slightly to miss any obstructions. This will change your post spacing.  However, there is no harm in the case of line posts.  If you must move it more than a couple of feet, consider installing an extra post midway in the enlarged space. Other ways of dealing with obstructions include bending posts below ground and welding plates on to posts to secure to large rocks.
  3. Mix concrete with water using pre-mixed bag.  Go easy on the water.  Mix should look like thick gray mud, not like Mom's watered-down chili.  If it doesn't pile up on the shovel, it's too thin; add more mix to dry it up.  If you are mixing from scratch using aggregate like gravel, limestone or sea shells, concrete sand and Portland cement, mix 3 to 4 parts (shovels) of aggregate to 2 parts sand and 1 part cement.
  4. Mark post grade mark.  End, corner and gate posts should be marked at the height of the fence plus 1 inch;  49" for a 4' fence, 61" for a 5' fence, etc.  Mark intermediate or line posts at height of the fence minus 3 inches; 45" for 4' fence, 57" for 5' fence, etc.  When you add your line post cap and top rail, the height will be accurate.  Grade marks represent the bottom of the fence and are essential in setting posts to the correct depth. If you bury the post hiding the grade mark by 1", you will need to trench to bury the fence here. If your grade mark is above ground by 3", your fence will be off the ground by three inches and you better plan to cut it off later or fill under the fence if a tight fit is necessary.
  5. Fill holes with wet cement. Do not fill too many and risk having the concrete cure before you can 'stick' your posts. Do not fill holes to the the top with concrete, leave the concrete down 3-4". Filling the hole completely with cement is a common mistake. If this is done, water will collect under this 'lip' of concrete. When it freezes, the ground will literally squeeze the concrete footer and 'heave' the post up, much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste.
  6. Stick Posts. Most chain link posts can be installed by actually pouring the cement in the hole first and then 'sticking' the post in the wet cement. Simply push the post into the cement mix in the center of the hole. Set terminal posts as tight to the string as possible without touching the string. Set line posts approx. 1/8"-1/4" off string. This will account for the differences in fence post diameters. Another way of setting posts is for one person to hold the post plumb to the string line while another shovels concrete mix around the post. The first method explained is actually easier, a more efficient way of setting fence posts, and assures there is concrete around the post, under it, as well as in it.
  7. After setting each post to grade, backfill with dirt and step on the backfill to hold the post to height. Repeat for all posts in this length of fence.
  8. Sight posts. To 'sight' in posts, stand at end of length of fence and look across the tops of the posts. Adjust heights of posts as necessary to account for gradual slopes and changes in grade. The goal is to have smooth transitions between posts and to avoid sharp changes. This is easiest for two people to accomplish: one persons sights posts while the other adjusts and checks for post plumb. Be sure to check plumb on each post after adjusting and watch the grade mark as noted above.
  9. Install gate posts with the exact opening size as recommended by gate supplier or manufacturer. The opening size is the distance between the two gate posts, inside to inside. If possible make the tops of gate posts level to each other by placing a post across the tops of the posts and checking with a level.  If the ground slopes off sharply under the gate, set the gate posts to grade.  It won't look proper to make them level.
  10. Let concrete cure for at least 24 hours prior to continuing work. Click for Page 4 - Installing Fence Fittings

 

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Set posts to the depth of the grade mark first. Be sure to set fence posts tight to any buildings if animal containment is important.
Set posts to the depth of the grade mark first. Be sure to set fence posts tight to any buildings if animal containment is important.

After 'sticking' post in hole with concrete mix, backfill with loose dirt. Plumb post while stepping on dirt around post. This will help hold the post plumb in the hole.
After 'sticking' post in hole with concrete mix, backfill with loose dirt. Plumb post while stepping on dirt around post. This will help hold the post plumb in the hole.

After setting posts to grade marks, adjust height slightly to account for grade changes.
After setting posts to grade marks, adjust height slightly to account for grade changes.

Holes next to buildings often must be dug by hand. Take caution as drain pipes and other utilities can be located near foundations.
Holes next to buildings often must be dug by hand. Take caution as drain pipes and other utilities can be located near foundations.

Some obstructions such as the one above can be difficult to deal with. A post may be bent in this case to miss the pipe. Measure the depth of the bend first.
Some obstructions such as the one above can be difficult to deal with. A post may be bent in this case to miss the pipe. Measure the depth of the bend first.

Notice how the post remains tight to the house, yet is still dug to depth with a sufficient concrete footer.
Notice how the post remains tight to the house, yet is still dug to depth with a sufficient concrete footer.

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