Three Easy Fixes for Common Wood Fence Problems
by Michael Chotiner
When a wood fence starts to look shabby, it may seem easiest to just replace it entirely. But before spending the money and time—and throwing out perfectly usable lumber in the process—consider repairing that old fence instead. It isn't as hard as you might think! Here's how to complete three easy fixes for your wooden fence.
How to Reinforce a Weak Fence Post
Fence posts naturally weaken and rot, whether they're cut from treated or untreated lumber, installed directly in contact with soil or encased in a concrete footing. It's more or less just a matter of time. Fence posts typically break at the greatest stress point, and once that happens, the adjacent fence sections start leaning over.
If you were to replace a rotted post, you'd need to take off the adjacent panels and get the old post—rotted end and all—out of the ground. Even if the post bottom is not set in concrete, it can mean a lot of digging and a lot of hassle to get the fibrous, crumbling end out of the hole. If the post was set in concrete, it's even harder to get it out. You might as well dig a new post hole next to the old footing and offset the post spacing pattern.
If you have only a few rotted posts, consider stabilizing them with steel splints or braces. If the post in question isn't set in a concrete footing, E-Z Mender splints are the easiest, most effective hardware to apply. C are made for reinforcing 4 x 4 posts. They are U-shaped, 28-inch long jackets made from 12-gauge steel that's powder coated to prevent rust. One end of the jacket is shaped to a sharp point and the face has a nailing lug punched in it.
To reinforce a weakened post, just insert the pointed end of the E-Z Mender against the post at grade, and drive it down with a sledgehammer until the top of the nailing lug is even with the ground. You could fasten the splint to the post with hot-dipped galvanized nails, but I'd recommend using one-inch coated structural screws instead. The manufacturer's recommendation is to install two E-Z Menders—one on each side of a weakened post. However, you may find you only need one to get the job done.
For posts set in concrete, the Fix-A-Fence post brace is a heavy-duty U-beam with an offset 8-inch flange at the bottom that's designed to extend beyond any existing concrete post footing. A threaded pipe section screws into the flange to anchor the brace 18 inches into the ground.
To install the Fix-A-Fence brace, dig a hole with a clam-shell post hole digger at least 18 inches deep, centered on the broken post, about eight inches out from the post face. At that distance, you shouldn't have to break up or otherwise mess with the existing concrete footing.
When digging is complete, assemble the brace and pipe section. Set the pipe section in the hole and snug the base of the brace against the post. Mix a 60-pound bag of concrete according to instructions and fill the hole around the pipe. Plumb the brace on the face and side before the concrete begins to set. Wait a day or so for the concrete to cure, then lag the brace to the broken post with the screws provided.
How to Fix Sagging Fence Rails
Horizontal rails that support the fence screen—which may be pickets, solid boards or other decorative pattern elements—tend to sag over time. Most often, sagging originates when rail ends start to weather and the fasteners securing them to the posts begin to loosen. Sometimes rails sag because the span between posts is too great, or the rails themselves are insufficiently rigid to support the weight of the screen. Both issues are easy to address.
To tighten and reinforce rails that are separating from posts, apply a metal post-rail connector. Cut or remove the fasteners that were originally set to hold the rail in place. Before resetting an existing rail, brush a little wood preservative on the end grain to arrest incipient rot.
Mark the post where the bottom of the rail should join, then nail the connector to the post with galvanized nails or screws. Set the rail in the connector and secure it in place through the bottom and side flanges with anti-rust nails or screws.
If the rail is sagging at the center, consider wedging a brace between the upper and lower rails. Set a block under the brace to prop up the fence screen.
How to Repair a Sagging Gate
Like other parts of fences, garden gates tend to sag with weather and age. When they do, the latch bolt and retainer become misaligned and the gate won't latch. In the worst cases, the bottom of the gate scrapes on the ground. To diagnose the issues behind the problem, look at the post on which the gate is mounted, as well as the hinges, rails and stiles of the gate itself. More often than not, you'll find multiple issues.
Typically, the joints between the rails and stiles of the gate frame loosen and the frame goes out of square. Anti-sag gate kits that provide a cable or rod with an adjustable coupling along with all the necessary mounting hardware are readily available for pulling the frame back into shape.
If the post that the gate is hung from is leaning slightly into the opening, you may be able to adjust the position of the hinges to lift the bottom of the gate. Chances are if the gate has been scraping on the ground, the hinge-mounting screws are going to need tightening anyway. But if the post is weakened and/or leaning badly, consider readjusting it to plumb with a bracing system.
Protect all surfaces from the weather by reapplying water-repellent stains or paint every few years. As soon as you see green or black spots forming on surfaces, clean them away with chlorine bleach. It's best to relieve any structural stresses right away, as they will only make the fence break down faster if left to their own devices. To keep wood fences in shape as long as possible, fix what's broken as soon as you notice it.
About the author: Michael Chotiner is a home improvement author and former contractor who writes about DIY projects for The Home Depot. Michael not only provides great tips and advice for installing new fences, but also for mending old fences. To find all the materials you need to fix your fence, including wood fence panels, visit The Home Depot.