Guide to How To Build A Fence

Jim Fairfield continues the second of a two-part article guide to how to build a fence, including how to lay out a fence, digging, drilling and driven postholes, braces, wire, and stapling.

| September/October 1975

A good fence, farmers say, should be "horse high, bull strong and pig tight." Here's how Jim Fairfield and his neighbor Bill Deavers construct such an enclosure from wooden posts and woven wire on their family homesteads in Virginia. 

NOTE: This is the second half of a two-part article. The first half, which described how to price out fencing supplies and save money on their purchase and/or fabrication, appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 34.

Special note for all readers of Jim Fairfield's first installment in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 34, and especially for any of you who may have been scared out of a proposed livestock project by the high cost of fencing: Hardly had that issue been mailed out when an alert Louisiana economist and geologist, Claude McMichael, telephoned my editorial office to point out a — er — slight error in Jim's calculations. Mr. McMichael's logic was indisputable, and when the fainting fit had passed off I put in a call to the Fairfield place up in the Virginia hills to check with the author. Jim, radiating blushes along the phone line all the way to North Carolina, allowed as how he'd goofed for sure and told me how it happened.

Jim's done a lot of fencing up at Glencairn, the same way most homesteaders do it: a new line here and a repair job there and never one big chunk starting from scratch. Accordingly, when he prepared "Part I" of this article, he sat down with a pencil and a supply of old envelopes, figured out what materials would be needed to enclose a 10-acre field, and added up the cost. His arithmetic was fine, too, except for a single basic and very common mistake: He based his calculations on the perimeter of one acre and multiplied the results by 10.

Now obviously (obviously when you get to thinking about it, anyway), the perimeter of one 10-acre field is not equivalent to the perimeters of 10 one-acre fields, which means that Jim's figures in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 34 are way, way off . You wouldn't, for example, need 694 line posts for such a fence, but only 220. And you'd buy 8 — not 26 — rolls of woven wire, and only 2 of barbed wire. And the total cost of fencing 10 acres, with materials selling for the prices Jim quoted, would be a comparatively modest $1,193.50, which sure sounds a lot better than the $3,600 plus figure our red-faced author arrived at; and my editorial staff, who tend to get somewhat glassy-eyed around deadline time, dutifully checked all the arithmetic but never noticed the fundamental error in method.  

Oh, well. Jim fully expects Bill Deavers to razz him about the mix-up for the next ten years or so, and I fully expect an overwhelming volume of mail from all you sharp-eyed folks out there who spotted what my staff missed. At least we can all console ourselves with the reflection that the cost of fencing — while high enough, certainly — isn't anywhere near as high as we let on in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO 34. — MOTHER.

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