Preassemble as many components as you can in your basement, garage, or workshop. Then move outside, set the posts, and fasten everything together.
For each fence section 6 feet 7-1/2 inches long, including posts (the capital letters correspond to the Diagram page):
1. Print out the diagram on the next page.
2. Make the posts. With a router, chamfer each post corner as shown in illustration. For the cap, rout 7-1/2-inch square by 1-1/2-inch stock (B) with a cove bit. Round-over the cap edges and corners. Attach a cap to each post with water-resistant adhesive and galvanized nails. Finally, drill a pilot hole in the center of each cap and screw in a finial.
3. Construct the frame. Round-over the ends and edges of two 2x4 end boards (D). Cut two 2x3 rails (E) 65-1/2 inches long. Attach the end boards to the rails by drilling pilot holes and driving zinc-plated screws through the end boards into the ends of the rails. Make sure the rails are square with the end boards.
4. Construct the fencing. For the five spacers (F), cut 1x4s to length and round the top edges. Cut eight 60-inch-long pickets (G). Enlarge the pattern and transfer it to a piece of 1/4-inch plywood. Cut out the plywood quail, then use it as a template for shaping the tops of the pickets. Use a scroll saw or jigsaw to cut quails in the picket tops. Nail the pickets and spacers to the rails, spacing them 1 inch apart.
5. Assemble the fence in place. Set and plumb the posts, referring to the page "How to Set a Post" for more advice. Install the preassembled fencing unit by driving screws through the end boards (D) into the posts.
6. Apply a finish, using paintbrush or rags. (See the page Choosing a Finish.)
Wood has two formidable outdoor foes: moisture and sunlight's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Different exterior finishes provide differing degrees of protection against wood's natural enemies. Here are your choices:
Clear finishes include varnishes, water repellents, and penetrating oils. These finishes shield wood from water while allowing its color to show through, but they also let UV rays penetrate the grain, causing the wood to break down. Adding a UV-filtering agent to a finish retards this reaction, but doesn't prevent it entirely.
Semi-transparent stains let a wood's natural grain and texture show through but will alter the wood's color. They are usually oil-based and offer minimal protection against UV rays, so you'll have to recoat every few years.
Semi-solid stains have more pigment than semi-transparent stains and are more UV-resistant as well.
Opaque stains resemble paint in the sense that they conceal a wood's natural color, but they allow the texture to show through. They do a good job of resisting UV rays and are available in either an oil or a latex base.
If you're up to mending your fence every few years, you can simply dig holes in the ground, drop in posts, and pack earth around them. For a more lasting installation, you'll need to protect the posts against rot by setting them in or on a concrete footing.
If you decide to set posts in concrete, pour a footing that is several inches larger than the post and below the frost line for your region. Unless you're setting a lot of posts, use bags of premixed concrete. While the concrete is still wet, set and plumb each post. When you set a post in concrete, taper the concrete around the post 2 inches above ground level to help shed water that can collect around the base and cause rot.
Home centers sell a variety of post anchors. You can also buy adjustable post bases that fit over machine or carriage bolts set in the concrete footing. These types of anchors allow you to make minor lateral adjustments when you plumb the posts.