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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bird

The Good Enough Fence

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

There are lots of blog posts about building the PERFECT fence, and there are even more articles with titles like, "Ten Reasons Your Fence Sucks And Also, For The Record, You Suck, Too". There are even, amazingly videos of professional fence builders watching videos of amateurs building fences and critiquing their efforts, because if there is anything our world needs, it's more videos of people watching videos. This post is strictly about the Good Enough Fence, the 240 linear foot line of demarcation that gives me some privacy while imprisoning my pets safely. I built it by myself with no real carpentry skills and very few tools and it cost me less than $1000.


The Good Enough Fence proved to be an absolute necessity after we moved into a corner double lot property; the house had been empty for at least two years. Man and animal alike had developed an unsettling habit of cutting the corners and strangers routinely passed by the bedroom window so close I could count their buttons. One kid even yelled "I like your flag," through the window, gesturing to one hanging on the wall. Behind the bed. Yelled isn't the right word, he really just said is since he was basically less than two feet away with just 1/2 inch of glass between us.


It was much worse with the canine neighbors. Roosevelt trembled with impotent outrage at the window as a legion of unleashed dogs, most sporting a distressing pair of bloated cods, defiled his kingdom in broad daylight. Some of the dogs were regulars that lived on nearby streets and for whatever reason, were given full license to roam like unwashed toddlers all day. My dog clutched his pearls and practiced his affirmations while the Hell's Angels waited for him outside. Even if he didn't get beat up, I didn't want him falling in with the wrong crowd and learning how to pick locks or start fires. Poor Mr. Kitty had it much worse. He had enjoyed a modicum of safe freedom on the porch since he rarely ventures more than 200 feet from his food bowl. He would be relaxing quietly in the sun, thinking kitty thoughts, probably: "food, food, food, sun, food," when a pack of ragged eared canine miscreants would tear around the corner flashing teeth and ready for blood. Have you ever gone from a full nap to running for dear life? It takes an emotional toll and Mr. Kitty had to eat even more than usual to comfort himself.


To the left, actual photo of Roosevelt. To the right, actual photo of the dogs outside:

As a lifelong city dweller, I had dreamed of the day when I could let my dog out to do his business without the rigmaroles of putting on the harness and grabbing the poo bags (public service announcement: not cleaning up after your dog is considered extremely bad manners in addition to a fineable offense north of the Mason-Dixon line). I fantasized about the rainy days I could open the door, sans pants, while enjoying my coffee instead of bumping around in the dark waiting for the discerning Mr. R to find just the right place to make a deposit. A property owner finally, the dream was dashed because the existing fence infuriatingly did not include any of the doors. I imagine the previous owners discussing where they might build a fence.


"The front yard? Maybe so everyone doesn't walk through the yard?"


"Nah."


"The side yard? For some privacy on the main street?"


"Hmmm. No."


"By the kitchen door? That might make trash days easier."


"Nope, that's not it, either."


"Hey, let's just build a fence on the property that has no relationship to the house whatsoever!"


"Yes! That's perfect! We can build it on a slope, have no privacy, and make it completely inconvenient to access!"


"Let's also build the latch so tall that only a Harlem Globetrotter can reach it!"


"Yeah! Great idea! And also let's close of the spigot on that side of the house so there is no way to water anything in the fenced part of the yard."


"Perfect!"


(They high five, kiss, and celebrate their genius. End scene.)


So to recap, I had to saddle up the adorable Mr. Nibbles (aka Roosevelt) four times a day to walk him through his own yard to watch helplessly while every Boomer, Buddy, and Max in the county generously deposited their twice processed Ol' Roy onto our estate. Their big brown eyes were unrepentant; I know because every single one of them made defiant eye contact as they worked. Good fences make good neighbors, but they make even better dogs. The Good Enough Fence was born.


Professional options were so far out of my budget that the quotes might have well been from Frank Llyod Wright, himself. I never considered building it myself until it was the only option. So I watched dozens of videos where men neatly poured cement into uniform predrilled holes and then rigged up about 30 different levels without breaking the creases of their pleated khakis. Every video stressed the importance of levelness for a straight fence; if you couldn't get your fence level, basically the earth would open up and swallow your abomination whole. They declared that a fence that wasn't level simply wouldn't work. And don't even think about digging a fence post less than 2 feet deep and better make it 3 just because if you don't, you might as well build your fence out of popsicle sticks and unicorn spit. It would never work and you better just call a professional because who do you think you are just willy-nilly thinking of doing something for yourself when you should be paying a licensed stranger to do it for you?


I designed a fence with vertical 4x4 8 foot posts and 8 foot long pine planks. I would attach my planks horizontally which would give me more wiggle room and eliminated the incessant leveling. If a vertical fence is crooked it looks like bad orthodontics, if a horizontal fence is crooked it's still a fence. After a frustrating afternoon with a post hole digger (ha!), I bought an auger from a pawn shop and watched more videos. I was feeling pretty confident when I ordered the wood for my brainstormed design, but receiving the delivery of 600 bucks of pine planks and cement bags was sobering to say the least. My idea was now fiscally real. If I didn't make a viable fence, what else was I going to do with this lumber? Pinewood derby for the rest of my life?


I started the fence in November, using the planks to get my spacing. I dug out 28 holes with the auger and it was maybe the most physically difficult thing I've ever completed. If you think you are gonna fire up an 80 pound auger and churn up the ground like buttercream frosting, you have a harsh lesson coming, my friend. Mr. Khaki pants never broke a sweat digging his holes in the accommodating soil of the internet. My property is clay veined with shallow roots that made the 9 inch bit squeal and bite. More than once the drill bit turned one way and I flew off in the opposite direction. It would have taken me 5 years to dig them by hand, but it took just two brutal afternoons with the auger. I still had to clean out each hole with the old fashioned post hole digger, but this was one of the few instances I was grateful for modern interventions.


I set the 4x4 posts in cement and braced them with 2x4s. At this juncture, the internet again overcomplicates things. I used what I had on hand: cinderblocks, scrap wood, and buckets filled with rocks. I did use the level to set the posts and I didn't worry if some holes were the recommended 24 inches and others were 18. After all, I'm not keeping the Hun Army out, I'm keeping a 32 pound dog safe. All of the videos used the same analogy when mixing cement: oatmeal consistency. I think a more accurate analogy is brownie batter because you get little pockets of dry mix you need to stir out, but I doubt many fence builders are baking up brownies when they get home; apparently they just eat poorly prepared oatmeal.


A stick figure chorus line!


I used 20 50-pound bags of Quickset cement total, mixing it in my new wheelbarrow, stirring it with my trusty shovel then spooning it into each post hole. Then I jammed a wooden stake around to break up any air pockets. In one of the videos I watched, a woman painstakingly sculpted each cement mound so that they were perfectly smooth like frosted cupcakes. That is not the mindset required for the Good Enough Fence. The Good Enough Fence allows for accidental blobs of cement flying off your eager shovel into the grass.


Although this was a big project, the jobs became progressively easier, so the next step of attaching the planks to the upright posts was a cake walk compared to the brutal mining required for setting the posts. I quickly learned the merits of an impact driver and the T25 bit, which didn't shred the cheap metal of the imported Chinese screws we are all stuck with now. The bottommost boards were the hardest to do because I had to lie on the ground to get them right, but once I got up to about 3 feet high, it was downright easy. I alternated the planks on either side of the 4x4 which gives my fence a basketweave type design I really like and also sets pockets into the fence for planting flowers. This design gave me a lot of flexibility with boards not lining up exactly. I had at least 4 inches of leeway on both ends.


Initially, I built the fence to about 3 1/2 feet tall, but senior citizen Roosevelt promptly shamed the family by leaping gracefully to freedom within minutes of being introduced to his new yard. Now the fence is about 6.5 feet tall with plenty of lookout places for my nosy pets between the slats of the fence.


My fence attracted attention, more than a few cars slowed to ask questions and a few kind people even encouraged me. I don't know if that means I was looking like I needed encouragement; maybe they witnessed the struggles of one of the auger days. One lady stopped and leaned out her window,


"I am just so proud of yeeeeeewwww!" (that's how Southern people say it) "You go girl!"


She made my day with her kindness, even though she almost gave me a heart attack rolling up on me when my back was turned like a drive by. It made me realize even though I built my fence by myself I had a lot of help. The workers and delivery man who brought me my supplies. The Lowe's driver (who has delivered to the house a few times now) took the trouble to put my many cement bags under the porch in case it rained. The people who made the videos I watched to teach myself; it takes a lot of time to make those. Sitting here writing this measly blog post took my the better part of an afternoon! I appreciate the City Hall man who talked me through the code requirements. (Short answer, 5 feet from the side of the road and don't block an intersection.) Within minutes of me leaving a message he returned my call - when does that happen anymore? The very materials themselves, logging and milling the wood; I'm grateful for the trees and my access to what I need. I'm very grateful for the Lowe's employee who helped me rig up my wheelbarrow to get it home. Handing me a length of rope she said,


"Us women just have to do what we have to do."


Be warned that when you build a Good Enough Fence of your own, you will get lots of unsolicited advice on how to improve your fence, but you will be so strong and wise from digging holes and mixing cement and carrying stacks of wood that you will have built a smaller and stronger Good Enough Fence around just yourself. An invisible one, but indestructible because you built it yourself with the very most expensive material around, experience.


My best buddy loves his freedom in the yard. He diligently does a morning and evening patrol around the perimeter. He knows he can go out whenever he wants and stands by the door for immediate service like the demanding little prince that he is. He has been doing important digging research as well as some serious dirt lounging. The Wild Boys dogs can only spoil the curb now which seems much less interesting to them. Roosevelt gave them a piece of his mind from the safety of his fence! You better believe he had some grievances to air.










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