How to put up a fence: An easy step-by-step guide to installing panels and posts

Grey closeboard fencing with artificial grass, patio set and patio umbrella
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Learning how to put up a fence you will give your home a natural boundary that brings privacy and enhanced security. But the real bonus is that any competent DIYer can take on the challenge and have a brand spanking new fence erected over a weekend at a cost that won't break the bank.

Ready-made fence panels appear to be heaven-sent for DIY fans. Stick up a few posts, screw the panels to them and you’re done. This is true in theory, but to install a fence that not only looks good, but will last, you need to be concreting the posts in and making sure that you know how to paint a fence. Not only will this give added protection but also let you choose a colour you want. 

You will also need to ensure a meticulous degree of accuracy when marking out posts. Once you have concreted in a post you'll struggle to move it, and if your fence panel don't fit there's a lost of unwanted work ahead so you need to get it right. 

Follow our step-by-step guide to find out how to get a straight guide line, how deep to dig, measure up, protect your posts and concrete in for a long-lasting garden fence.

How to put up a fence step-by-step

Here we take you through from the whole process of putting up a garden fence to give yourself a new, neat and tidy boundary. 

In this step-by-step we are putting up the fence on a DIY basis which save you money, but you still need to know how much it will cost to install a fence before you start. Shop around to see if you can bag yourself a bargain. 

In addition to buying the panels, there are a number of other key materials you will need to buy, and tools you'll need for the job. These include:

  • Wooden stakes
  • String
  • Tape measure
  • Spade
  • Fence posts
  • Gravel boards
  • Bitumen-based paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Pencil
  • Fence panels
  • Batten
  • Spirit level
  • Quick-setting concrete post mix
  • Water

Once you have bought your materials and collected the tools required, you can begin our step-by-step guide (ideally on a dry day).

Start with a straight fence line

To end up with a straight fence you need to start with a straight line. Hammer a wooden stake in the ground at the starting point for the fence. Tie a string to this stake, pull the string out tight and wrap around another stake at the end of the area to be fenced off. This will provide a straight datum line to work to.

Now dig a hole 600mm deep with sides the same width, using a regular-sized garden spade, at the start point of your fence line. This size hole provides enough room for the post and the concrete needed to secure it.

Two pictures side by side with the left image stringing out a line and the second measuring the depth of a hole for a fence post

(Image credit: Ben Field)

Mark out and dig out the holes for fence posts

Now mark out the position of the remaining post holes. Do this with a tape measure, or a gravel board — it’s the same width as the fence panel and makes for a rapid form of measurement.

Dig out the remaining post holes using the same method mentioned in the previous step.

Side by side images. Left: laying down gravel board. Right: digging hole with spade

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Paint and protect the fence posts

If you're using timber fence posts instead of concrete, it's a good idea to ensure the section which will sit below ground and just above ground is protected.

Even if a fence post has been pressure treated – where chemical preservatives are forced into the wood – it makes sense to add extra protection for the section of post that will sit in the ground. Brush on a couple of coats of bitumen-based paint on all sides and at the base of the post.

The bitumen paint on the bottom of the fence posts will take around two to four hours to dry and be ready to use.

Alternatively, you can plan ahead to save time at this stage by painting all the fence posts with bitumen the day before you are going to install the fence. This means the paint will be completely dry and posts ready to use.

Painting bottom of fence post with Bitumen paint

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Drill pilot holes in the fence panels

Drill four pilot holes through each side bar of the fence panel, ready to attach the panel to the wooden fence posts. 

Make sure the drill holes match the size of the screws you are going to use. In this step-by-step we use closeboard fence panels, but the principles can be applied to all different fence types.

Drilling hole in side of fence panel with a cordless drill

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Insert gravel board and attach the posts to the panels

It’s a good idea to use a gravel board at the foot of the panel to stop the end grain touching the ground and absorbing moisture. Position the gravel board just above the bitumen-painted section of the post. 

Now drill a pilot hole diagonally through the edge of the gravel board and into the post on both sides — use a couple of screws to secure the board. 

Even if you’re not using a panel with vulnerable end grain, a gravel board will prolong the life of the fence — particularly for those that run over the top of grass or soil, which will invariably be waterlogged at some point.

Leave a 5mm gap between the base of the fence panel or gravel board and the ground over hard surfaces like concrete. This allows water to wash underneath, rather than soak into the wood.

Now attach the panel to a post on both sides, screwing through the pilot holes made previously.

Sie by side images. Left: Screwing gravel board into fence post. Right: Attaching fence panel to fence post

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Lift the first fence panel and posts into position

With the gravel board and fence panel firmly attached to the fence posts you now need to lift into position and lower the posts into the holes. (You'll need a second pair of hands for this task.) Make sure that you are observing common fence rules and the combined height isn't over two metres. 

Prop the fence panel in position with a length of batten run diagonally from the ground to the top of the panel. Put a screw in the top of the batten and hook it over the top of the fence panel to help keep it in position.

Side by side images. Left: Fence panel being out into place by man. Right: Close up of wodden batten and screw holding up fence panel

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Check the fence panel is level

Now you have the fence panel in position use a spirit level to check the fence panel is level across the top and then check that the posts are vertical.

If the fence panel isn't horizontally level, add a little rubble, stone or dirt into the post hole and check the levels again. Keep doing this until level. Adjust the batten so that the posts are upright and vertically level. 

Man holding yellow spirit level on top of fence panel

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Add the next fence panel and posts

Once the first panel is secure, fix a post to one edge of the next fence panel and lower the panel and post into position. Use a batten to secure the panel – as shown before – and then check for level before screwing the new panel to the existing post. Add rubble to the hole and then repeat this whole step until all the fence panels are in position.

Two people placing fence panel next to another fence panel

(Image credit: Future/Ben Field)

Check levels and cement the fence posts into place

Finally check again that everything is level. With all the posts vertical, the fence posts can be concreted in. You can mix up your own cement and ballast to make concrete, but it’s far easier to buy bags of ready-mixed, quick-setting ‘post mix’. 

Poured in the dry mix and pack down with a piece of wood. Now pour the right amount of water into the hole; pack down to make up a stiff mix. Keep the mix just below the natural level of the ground so the set concrete can be covered over with earth or turf later on.

Side by side images. Left: Pouring gravel into fence post hold. Right: Adding water to cement in fence post hole

(Image credit: Future/BenField)

Paint panels and add the finishing touches

Once the concrete is dry and your fence posts and panels are painted you can think about adding a few creative fence lighting ideas to take your garden boundary to the next level. 

While your hard work, diligence and creative mind will mean that your fence will hopefully look wonderful for a long time you can never rule our high winds and storms, which might damage your fence. So be prepared to repair damaged wood fencing, or in more extreme cases replace fence panels to restore your fence to its former glory. 

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.

With contributions from