A Split Rail Fence – Is it Worth It?


Walking along your new property, you decide that it’d be much easier to keep your place safe and secure with a fence. The number of options you can find online or at your local hardware store is overwhelming, but you decide to go with something simple, since you’re going to be putting it together on your own. After much deliberation, you feel that a wood fence would also look the nicest, and thus your search for the right technique begins anew, until you see a picture of a split rail fence and realize it’s what you were looking for all along.

Split rail fences are iconic symbols of American history, having been in regular use since colonial times. Although many homeowners love their classic farm-look, they’re hesitant to put up a wood fence at all, wondering “is it worth it?” Fortunately, there are some clear benefits and negative aspects of split rail fencing that make the decision easy.

Material Costs
Split rail fences used to be zigzaged affairs, constructed much like Lincoln Log-style wooden cabins. Made of long timber logs split lengthwise,and stacked at their ends, low split rail fences were used for agricultural and decorative purposes, serving little function as security barriers. Unfortunately, zigzag split rail fences require far more lumber to construct than any other wood types, making them a huge investment for those who did not live in areas where timber was abundant.

Modern mortised split rail fences use posts with holes to allow for the mounting of three or four horizontal rows of split rail beams. These are often combined with chicken wire to create a more animal-proof barrier, and are a great alternative for those who want the split rail look without the high cost of so much lumber.

Like all wooden fences, split rails are subject to weathering. In the zigzag variety, timber rot is not as much of an issue because the beams are so thick, but mortised split rail fences can suffer. Wood such as American Chestnut and Cedar are typical choices as they are insect and weather-hardy. Split rail fences are extremely durable, lasting many decades or more, and they are easy to repair if damaged. If you have the luxury to afford such a fence, it will definitely increase the value of your property simply through it’s classy look, but realize that there will be a lot of labor involved in your build project.

If you decide to build your own split rail fence, you’ll definitely need some assistance. Traditional zigzag fences use 10-12 foot long sections which cannot be moved, trimmed or stacked safely without help, but do not require any post hole digging. Mortised split rail fences are a bit easier to work with in small sections, however, shallow post holes must be excavated in order to ensure their stability.

A split rail fence is definitely worth the effort it takes to build one, both in terms of its long-term usability and the beautiful look it creates. Combined with wire mesh and a nice gate, such a fence will make the perfect property barrier without negatively affecting your view of the neighborhood.

This post was written by

jasonjason – who has written posts on Home Tips Plus.
I'm a father of three, married and a home owner since 2006. I've worked in fixing up homes and rental properties.

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