DIY

More on How to Mend a Barbed Wire Fence

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ARROWS
Building fences and repairing them really isn't difficult. Just follow a few simple rules and take the time to do a good job.

For over 50 years I’ve been building and repairing barbed wire fences.
I started as a young child just big enough to hand my dad
staples and tools . . . and I’m still at it. Most of my
fencing has been done alone, often from scratch, with very
old salvaged posts and wire and I’ve never found such work
to be difficult. All you need is time and patience, the
information given by Sharon McAllister in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 33 . .
. and a few additional tips I’d like to pass on.

More Tips on How to Mend a Barbed Wire Fence

[1] First, about replacement of posts: Often an upright is
broken off near the top, who the bottom is still sound. In
that case a new length of wood can be wired or nailed to
the old, or — if the stub is too short — partly
buried in the ground. You’ll frequently see this done on
power or phone lines.

[2] I must emphasize that it’s very wrong to set a
replacement post into the same hole from which you’ve
removed a rotten one. Bits of rot will remain in the ground
and will soon start decay in the new wood. It’s far better
to dig a clean hole in a spot about a foot to either side
of the original site.

[3] To remove a post from a hole (if the upright is long
enough and strong enough to stand this kind of handling),
dig out a good amount of earth three-quarters of the way
around the base and rock the timber back and forth to
loosen it. Then embed the pointed end of a long pick in the
wood near the bottom of the post, rest the tool’s head on
solid ground, and pull back on the handle. Or dig out and
rock the upright as described, loop a chain around the
bottom of the post and then around one end of a fulcrum
timber, lay the latter over an upright heavy block, and
push down on the other end. Either method will save your
back and temper.

If it’s a round iron post you want to uproot, loosen it in
the usual way and then try to rotate it. This often works
like a charm. The same is true of round iron
stakes — usually old axles — which are used to
fasten down tents and buildings or to stake out animals . .
. or which serve as deadmen (anchors for brace wires) at
fence comers and the ends of clotheslines and plant
supports.

[4] Deadmen, incidentally, are often simpler to make than
braces and can tighten up a sagging fence or whatever very
quickly and easily. The anchor itself can consist of a huge
rock . . . or you can drive or set a post in the ground at
a sharp angle, pointing away from the end post of the fence
which is to be strengthened. If that arrangement locates
the deadman on a neighbor’s property or in a road, simply
install the support a couple of posts up the line.

Next, find a length of heavy galvanized wire (either barbed
or plain), run it around the top of the end fencepost,
staple it there, and twist it back on itself. Carry the
strand down around the deadman stake, post, or rock and
back up to the starting point. Puff the wire as taut as
possible with a wrecking bar (as shown in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 33),
and staple and twist it as before.

You now have two parallel strands, which should be twisted
together with the aid of a strong stick (not your wrecking
bar . . . you may not be able to extract it from the grip
of the wire when you’re done). The fence will tighten up
just like magic, and the piece of wood can be left in place
and used from time to time to take up any slack that may
develop.

[5] Be sure to treat all posts and deadmen against rot.
Used motor oil mixed with creosote makes a good
preservative. Either soak your timbers in a barrel of this
mixture, or apply it with an old paintbrush. Be very
careful not to splash any in your eyes . . . it burns.

Creosote is added to this homemade preservative, partly
because animals dislike its odor and taste and will let
treated wood alone. Never soak posts in straight crankcase
oil! Cattle which lick this substance may contract
X-disease from the chemical additives which have been in
use for the last 40 years or so . . . and may even pass on
the condition to their offspring. For the same reason,
never park any vehicle where livestock (or young children)
can get at it.

[6] The rounded end of your shovel handle, an old mop or
broomstick, or a wooden closet pole makes a good tool for
tamping sod into a posthole. Anything much larger won’t
pack the dirt firmly . . . and don’t use an iron crowbar
for such a purpose unless you’re young and strong and have
a lot of excess energy to work off. The rest of us find
this technique very tiring.

The secret of tamping is to add a very little earth at a
time. The post will then go in so tight that it becomes
part of the ground itself.

[7] Posts can be set immobile even in gelatin-soft mud if
you’ll simply scrounge a supply of old bricks or rocks and
tamp them in a few at a time all around the upright. To do
this, of course, you’ll need a much larger hole than usual.

[8] When you drive an iron post, keep water handy and pour
a little at the base now and then to make the job easier.
Stand on the back of your pickup truck to swing a
sledgehammer at the upright, which is held vertically by
your partner or gripped between your knees. (And swing
carefully! — MOTHER.)

Better yet, have the local welder make you a post-pounder .
. . a length of pipe large enough to fit over whatever
metal supports you’re installing (commercial posts, iron
pipe, metal tubing, etc.). The cylinder — which can be
left plain or fitted with two handles — is topped with
a solid iron rod welded into one end. The total weight, of
course, should be suited to your strength.

Such a device makes one-person fencing or repairs easy.
Just lay the post on the ground with its bottom end near
the hole, ready to stand up in the proper position. Slide
the pounder over the top, carefully set the whole business
upright, and hammer away by raising the weight and letting
it fall.

[9] If you don’t have a post- or stake-pounder, a heavy old
axle or straight crowbar is a good substitute. Just hold
the bar upright above the post and bring it down on the
support’s top. Such a tool is less tiring and less likely
to miss than a sledge-hammer, and you’ll find it easier to
keep the post straight.

[10] One trouble with working alone is that there’s no one
to tell you whether a post is set straight in its hole.
Here’s a simple test: Squat a little to sight the timber
below the level of the pounder (if you’re using one). Then
spot a distant utility pole or the vertical edge of a
budding and line up the fence support with that guide.
Perhaps you can find another such marker at right angles to
the line of the first, as a second check.

[11] Old barbed wire is often too brittle to be spliced in
the conventional way, but still thorny enough to turn
livestock. In that case, just pull the broken strand as
tight as possible by hand and twine the ends together with
long, gentle twists.

[12] When you use a hammer or wrecking bar to stretch wire,
or when you pound in staples, be very careful not to damage
the metal strands. Barbed wire — like glass — is
very strong but also very hard, and breaks easily if it’s
slightly nicked or notched.

[13] I’ve stretched many a fence myself by gripping the
barb in the claw of an extra hammer or wrecking bar and
holding the tool’s end with my body while I stapled or
twisted the wire. Or you can attach the strand to your
vehicle’s trailer hitch — or to a heavy rope or cable
fastened to the front or rear bumper or axle — and
tighten it by moving the truck or whatever . . . but don’t
pull it too taut or you’ll break even new wire. Or you can
buy inexpensive pulley-and-rope fence stretchers which can
be locked once you’ve used them to pull a strand as taut as
you want it.

A run of new wire should be tight enough to “sing” when
tapped anywhere along its length with a wooden hammer
handle. Old barb, however, may be so weak that it can be
stretched only from post to post.

[14] When all broken posts and wire have been repaired, a
barbed wire fence can often best be tightened and made
stock-proof by the addition of extra vertical posts called
“floaters” (since they are not set into the ground). Two
should always be added between regular posts on each new
fence, to prevent livestock from spreading the wires apart.

Fasten each floater with staples or galvanized wire so that
it can’t slip. You can even hold small ones in place with
the soft, smooth galvanized wire that is sometimes thrown
away in great quantities from vegetable packing sheds. Lace
every floating post down through the horizontal strands of
wire (in front of the first, behind the second, etc.). This
will tighten the fence so that it can’t sag, which will
help it last many more years than is normal. If enough
floaters are woven into the strands, you’ll have almost a
netting effect.

If you don’t have a ready source of wooden or iron pipe
floaters, you should know that fencing supply dealers
frequently sell “ready-mades” fabricated from twisted wire.
They’re easily installed merely by “twisting them on” to
your horizontal strands of barbed wire (as is often done
along many railroad and highway fences).

Whatever kind of floaters you use, you should keep in mind
another strong point in their favor: They make breaks in
the horizontal strands of fencing easier to repair. Often a
replacement piece of barb can be installed with no need for
splices at all: Just run it from one floater to another.
Likewise, a broken main strand on a floater-equipped fence
sometimes doesn’t even have to be replaced if its loose
ends are merely bent back around the nearest floater on
each side of the break and securely twisted to the
uprights.

[15] Never apply whitewash to a wire fence, or anywhere
near it. The “preservative” causes almost instant rust. For
the same reason, use only galvanized barb and staples.
Contact with ungalvanized metal will start rust even in
good wire.

As I said before, building fences and repairing them really
isn’t difficult. Just follow a few simple rules and take
the time to do a good job. Even old fencelines, properly
maintained, will serve you well for many years.