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  • Split Rail Fence Guide – What You Need To Know

What is Split Rail Fence?

Split rail fence is a style of wood fence, made up of only two components. Posts and rails. The post is the vertical supporting piece of the fence. Each post has holes milled into them.

The rail is the horizontal piece of the fence. Manufactured from logs of lumber that get split apart. Rails insert into the post holes. Split rail fences can have 2, 3 or 4 rails.

Different types of lumber are used for split rail fences. Locust, cedar and spruce are the most common. Split rail fences are rustic looking and easy to install. They are great for defining property lines, containing horses and livestock, or simply for decoration.

What Height Does Split Rail Fence Come In?

There are three standard heights. 2 rail fence is installed at 36″ high. 3 rail fence is installed at 48″ high. Lastly, 4 rail fence is installed at 54″ – 60″ high.

The height of the fence is measured at the top of the rail. The posts will stick out slightly higher. What the intent the fence is used for will help determine what height the fence should be.

Let’s take a look at each height and discuss some examples on where they would be used.

2 Rail Split Rail Fence

line of fence with 2 horizontals
2 Rail Split Rail Fence

A 2 rail fence is great for defining property lines. Its low height and open design is unobtrusive. However, it clearly states where one property ends and another begins.

Found along walking paths and trails. 2 rail split rail fence also defines boundaries and guides foot traffic. Backdrops for flower beds and gardens are also populars places to find 2 rail split rail fences. Because of its lower 36″ height, it is great for front yard residential applications.

Many developments have 2 rail split rail fences along both sides of the street with corner returns at the driveways. The rustic look combined with natural materials blend in well with country settings.

3 Rail Split Rail Fence

Split rail fence with 3 rails
3 Rail Split Rail Fence

The most common height is a 3 rail fence. Measuring in at 48″, it is popular for many applications. Take a drive to the country and you will see 3 rail split rail fence surrounding many farms and pastures.

Because it is inexpensive, it is great for covering large amounts of footage. Combined with its easy installation, it is a popular choice for ranchers and farmers.

But 3 rail split rail fence isn’t just for keeping in animals. Homeowners use it in conjunction with a wire mesh backing to keep in pets and children.

Builders use it along the road frontage leading up to entrances of developments. Parks and golf courses use 3 rail split rail fences around lakes and ponds, and along parking lots to prevent cars from driving on the grass.

4 Rail Split Rail Fence

split rail fence with 4 rails
4-Rail Split Rail Fence with Woven Wire Mesh

4 rail fence is a standard height. However, it is not as common as the other two heights. Horse farms makes use of the extra height that a 4 rail split rail fence offers.

Sometimes community gardens use it to try to persuade deer from entering. Most companies don’t stock 4 rail fence posts. As a result, plan on longer lead times.

Wire Mesh for Split Rail Fence

Because its open style with large spaces between the rails, it is not good for keeping things in. Adding wire mesh however, turns it into an option for keeping pets and children contained.

Horseshoe nails attach the wire fabric to the wood posts and rails on the inside of the fence. This prevents animals and children from climbing the rails of the fence like a ladder.

There are three types of wire mesh you can add to a split rail fence. Each type of wire mesh has advantages over the others. Let’s take a closer look at all three.

Welded Wire Mesh

Welded wire mesh attached to split rail fencing
Black Welded Wire Mesh on Split Rail Fence

Welded wire mesh is the least expensive option for adding mesh to a split rail fence. Common mesh sizes are 2″x3″ or 2″x4″.

The thickness (or gauge) of the wire used to manufacture welded wire is the thinest. As a result, making it the weakest of the three. However, because it is the thinest, it blends in or disappears better than the others.

Welded wire comes in galvanized or vinyl coated options. It is not good for installations with hills or changes in grade.

Welded together at right angles in order to form the rectangular pattern. As a result, the wire does not flow well on uneven terrain.

Welded wire can’t be stretched tightly. Over stretching results in broken welds at the joints. Stretching is done by hand or with stretching tools at very low tension.

Woven Wire Mesh

woven wire mesh on split rail fence
Woven Wire Mesh on Split Rail Fence

A special knot is used to tie the horizontal and vertical strands of woven wire together forming the mesh. As a result, this allows for woven wire fence to follow uneven terrain better.

Woven wire also uses thicker gauge wire. Therefore, allowing it to stretch tighter than welded wire. It is also much stronger.

The mesh comes in various sizes. For smaller animals, there is 2″x4″ mesh. 4″x4″ is great for keeping in larger animals like goats or large dogs.

Even wider mesh sizes are available if desired. Galvanized is the standard color for woven wire mesh. But some manufactures do make it with color options.

Vinyl Coated Chain link Mesh

Black Chain Link Mesh on Wood Split Rail Fence
Black Vinyl Coated Chain Link Attached to Split Rail

Most residential split rail fences will use vinyl coated chain link fence mesh to keep in pets and children. Black, green and brown are standard colors.

Chain link fence fabric has a 2″ diamond mesh. Great for most applications. Chain link stretches like woven wire. It also follows grade better than the other two options.

Although, it is the most expensive of the three. However, sometimes home owners associations require the use of chain link mesh over the other options.

Split Rail Fence Gates

If your fence is going to surround something, you will need a gate to access it. Split rail gates are configured in one of two ways. There are walk gates, made from one single leaf. Or double gates, which have two gate leafs.

However, with every other type of fence, the gates match the rest of the fence. With split rail fence gates, there is a wide variety of options to choose from.

Matching Gates

gate in fence line
Traditional Split Rail Man Gate

Some manufactures will offer gates that match the fence. However, these gates are heavy and cumbersome. Over time they sag. As result, making them very difficult to open close.

From an installation perspective, they create potential callbacks to a fence company for constant gate adjustments or warranty issues. Therefore, many companies choose to offer different options when it comes to gates for a split rail fence.

Wood Picket Gates

Split Rail Picket Gate
Arched Picket Style Gate

The second most common gate for split rail fence gates is to simply make a wood picket gate. Picket gates are wood and also have opening between pickets. Although they have a totally different style, they are close enough in style to be an acceptable option.

They are much more reliable than split rail gates. Wood gates also have many more hardware options for hinges and latches.

Wood picket gates come in single walk gates or double gate configurations. But, if you are looking for an even wider gate, or don’t care what the gate looks like in order to reduce costs, a welded steel tube gate will be the answer.

Welded Steel Tube Gates

Welded steel tube gates work well for split rail fence gates. They are strong, light, and fairly inexpensive. For extremely large openings, single leaf tube gate come up to 16′ wide.

They are open and airy, just like split rail fence. Available in painted (normally red, green, or blue) or galvanized. They are simple to install and operate.

Tube gates last for many years and don’t sag over time. Their strength makes them perfect around large animals such as cows and horses.

What Types of Wood Does Split Rail Fence Come In?

Split rail fences use three types of lumber. Locust posts with hardwood rails, pressure treated spruce, and cedar. Each type of lumber has proven to last.

However, each lumber type also has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each type of lumber used for split rail fences.

Locust Posts with Hardwood Rails

Black locust is a dense and strong hardwood. Perfect for fence posts. When I started installing fence 25 years ago, every split rail fence we installed had locust posts. Some of those posts are still standing today.

However, the problem with locust posts was consistency. Some posts were 5″ across and others were 9″ across. Some posts would have a nice rectangular cut to them and others would be smooth on one side and have a half radius on the other side with bark hanging off it.

When setting posts, it made it more difficult to keep them inline with one another. Split rail is supposed to be rustic. But some locust posts weren’t acceptable to customers. Especially in residential settings.

Poplar is the hardwood lumber for the rails. Rail inconsistency is common with all three types of lumber. Some rails are larger than others.

Poplar rails give split rail a sturdy robust look. But locust and poplar have become more expensive overtime. So manufactures started using treated yellow pine for both.

Treated Yellow Pine

Today, most split rail fences consist of pressure treated yellow pine. Ruff sawn, it keeps the rustic look known for split rail fence.

However, the posts are much more uniform in size. This makes it easier to install and better looking once it is. Because the rails are the same material as the posts, they match perfectly in color.

Treated yellow pine split rail fence posts do not last as long as a fence with locust posts and hardwood rails. However, it is affordable and posts are easy to replace if necessary. Therefore, consumers choose treated posts over locust posts because they look better.

Treated rails are relatively uniform in size and shape. Because they do not make contact with the ground, they last almost as long as the hardwood rails.

Western Red Cedar

cedar fence with 2 rails
2 Rail Western Red Cedar Split Rail Fence

Cedar lumber has oils in it that naturally make it weather resistant. This makes cedar a great choice for split rail fence.

Mostly used in western states, cedar split rail fences last for decades in dry open areas like fields and pastures.

Cedar posts and rails have a very rustic look. Rails will have a more square shape as compared to other types of lumber. Unlike treated and hardwood rails, cedar rails do not overlap each other at the post. They fit inside the posts like a tenon and mortise joint.

In wet areas however, the dryer more porous cedar lumber can wick in and hold moisture. As a result growing a mold or fungus. This causes rot and decay if left unattended.

Split Rail Fence Maintenance

The best thing about split rail fence is that it is affordable. The second best thing is it requires no maintenance! It’s supposed to look rustic. Therefore, don’t do anything to change that. Let it weather. Let it fade. It’s supposed to!

Some people stain their fence or add a water sealer to it. This can darken it or change the color. But there is no need to. If a post rots out in 10 years, replace it. If a rail breaks, you can fix it yourself.

Split rail fence should be left alone to weather naturally in the elements. If you choose to do periodic maintenance, you can. But it is definitely not required.

Split Rail Fence Installation

Installing split rail fence is easy, requiring no special tools. Just a way to dig a hole. Once dug, insert a post and pack with the dirt that was removed. However, concrete gate posts to prevent them from moving.

After setting the first post, insert a rail into the bottom hole. Rails overlap each other (unless using cedar) so mark the next hole about 6 – 8 inches from the end. Dig another hole and repeat.

Install the remaining rails as you go. Sometimes, sections need cut at the ends requiring a chainsaw. For cut rails to fit, cut the factory taper back into the rail.

Tamping posts tight and plumb is key. Digging larger diameter holes will allow for easier packing. Repack the posts after a few good rains if the soil settles.

Conclusion

Split rail fence is an affordable, easy to install fence. Whether you choose to install it yourself or have it professionally installed, it will give your property a rustic country look and feel.

Versatile enough to be used for large ranches and farms, or for keeping in pets in a residential setting. Once installed, simply enjoy it and let it do its intended purpose.

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