"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have
time to do it over?" That's been our basic motto, and
usually it provides a pretty workable philosophy. Even the
best job is not necessarily permanent, though, and after 50
years or so even a well-built barbed wire fence may need to
One approach is to build a completely new fence alongside
the old one, preferably before the first completely gives
way. This may sound obvious, "right", and permanent, but it
may not be the most practical method of going about the
job. A fence, you see, usually gives way at its weakest
point, but even after it starts to go down — may still have
many very serviceable portions remaining.
These good sections can be salvaged with relative ease,
while only the broken parts must be replaced. (Note the use
of the word relative. It means that fence repair is easier
than laying cement blocks, for example. It also means that
an afternoon nap is easier than mending a fence.)
The best time to repair a barbed wire fence is just before
it goes down. Sure, trying to work in the existing fence
row is difficult . . . but you'll at least be able to
choose the hours you want to put in on the chore. Once the
strands are suddenly down — on the other hand — and
the livestock are getting out — or in! — it has to be
fixed then and there.
You'll find that it is easiest to replace defective posts
first. Start by unfastening the strands of wire (whether
tied or stapled to the upright) without cutting them. The
broken post — stump and all — is then removed. (A
pair of posthole diggers comes in very handy at this
A replacement post is next set about two feet deep in the
hole from which the broken upright was removed. And please
notice that I said "replacement" instead of "new". While it
doesn't make much sense to substitute a semi-rotten post
for a rotten one, it's often possible to scrounge (from the
toolshed or farm shop) a long-forgotten post of about the
same age and quality as the better ones still standing in
the fence row.
Whether your replacement post is brand new or reclaimed,
you'll have to push the strand of barb out of the way to
get it into position. An inch or two will usually do the
trick and — if you wear heavy enough clothes to protect
you from the wires' spikes — you can manage that quite
simply by just standing on the post side of the strands and
leaning against the stretched wires.
The "new" post is aligned by sighting along the tops of the
existing uprights, to see that it's as close to
perpendicular as possible. It can then be tamped solidly
Tamping does not mean just shoveling all of the loose dirt
back into the hole (although that might well be sufficient
to hold the weight of the post). To do the job right, earth
should be packed around the upright from the bottom up,
with a small amount of dirt placed in the hole at a time
and firmed with vertical blows from a blunt, heavy object
such as a crowbar. The post should seem steady long before
the hole is filled to ground level . . . and when that is
done, the post shouldn't budge even when you lean against
it with full weight.
Once you've replaced all the defective posts in a bad
length of barbed fence, you'll still have to contend with
broken strands of wire. Luckily, although barbed wire is
normally stretched a full roll at a time, there is
frequently no need to replace a whole run of wire.
Repairing a snapped wire is a job for two people. When a
strand breaks, the whole fence becomes looser. Therefore,
it's necessary to restretch each end of the severed wire to
make the tence taut once again. To tackle this job properly
you'll need a carpenter's wrecking bar, a pair of work
gloves, a hammer, and some staples.
Start at the post nearest the shorter length of broken wire
by hooking a barb from the loose strand in the claw of the
wrecking bar. (Holding the loose wire along the shaft of
the bar will give you better control over the length of
barb.) Then, using the post for leverage, pull the wire
tight and have your. partner staple it. Half the broken wire is now repaired.
Enough additional wire now must be spliced to the remaining
loose strand of barb so that it will reach the fencepost.
(You may be able to get this "new" wire at the same place
you got the "new" post.) To fasten the strands together,
first loop about eight inches of the broken wire around the
"new" one. Then, using the new strand as a crosspiece,
twist the old wire tightly around itself a few times. You can then finish the splice with the help of
your wrecking bar.
Hold the bar vertically, with the claw against the ground
and the shaft sticking straight up. Wrap the new wire once
around the top of the bar, and then twist it around itself.
The prybar will give you the leverage you need to make
good, tight turns which will prevent slippage when the
fence is up.
Once the splice is complete, stretch the lengthened wire
and staple it to the same fencepost — and in the same
way — to which you attached the first strand. (Don't
forget, you need two people for this job.) The barb is now
tight and continuous . . . and, just as important, there is
equal tension on each side of the post.
When you have all the replacement posts up and the wires
spliced, the second still must be properly fastened to the
first. (Remember that each strand has to be attached at
every upright.) If the posts are made of wood, the wires
already stretched, and the fence is considered only
semi-permanent, this last chore can be handled quickly with
staples. Ties, however, spiffy up the stretching job, act
as a more secure fastening device, and have no single
pressure point to give way. For these reasons, it's a very
good idea to attach the strands of barb — especially
old, loose ones — to the uprights with ties.
The principle is simple: Wrap a plain wire tightly around a
post so that it holds a barbed strand on both sides.
You'll need 18 inches of tie wire for each intersection of
wire and post. While standing in front of the upright on
the barb side, wrap the plain wire around the horizontal
strand on the left side of the post. Next, push the barbed
wire in on the left while you loop the fastener behind the
post and wrap it tightly around the barb on the other
(right) side. The more pressure the fastener
exerts on the strand, the tighter the fence, and the better
To finish the job, loop the tie wire back behind the post
once more and wrap it around the barb on the left side of
the upright again. A barb fastened to a post in this way
should hold your weight without slipping.
There you are . . . a functional fence again. Not as neat
as the original, perhaps, but it'll do the job!
To repair an existing barbed wire fence means working under
difficult conditions. It you wear heavy clothes for the job, you can
hold back the wires with your body while you line up replacement posts.
Even a treated post rots after many years in the
ground. Choose a sound substitute and tamp the earth well around it so
the new support can take its share of the load. The
shorter end of a broken wire must be pulled tight and stapled firmly to
the nearest post before splicing. Begin by hooking a barb in the claw of
a carpenter' wrecking bar. Hold the loose end of
the wire along the shaft of the bar and pull the strand right-using the
post for leverage-while your partner drives in the staples. To splice the broken wire, a new strand is held as a crosspiece
while the old length is looped around it and twisted back on itself
several times. Sharp turns are necessary to avoid slippage. The wrecking bar can be used to keep the new length of wire steady
while you twist the strand around itself. Remove the
slack by pushing the barbed wire with the left hand and pulling the tie
with the right. After splicing, the wire must be
stretched and attached to the post . . . and on an older fence this is
better done by tying than by stapling. First, support the barbed strand
and take a few turns of plain wire around it with the left hand. More slack is taken up by pushing the barbed length with the
right hand while wrapping the tie with the left. A good
tie is strong enough to hold your weight.