How to Keep Fence Pickets Level (On Any Ground)


When building a fence, it is so important to make sure the fence is level. Doing this on even ground can sometimes be difficult, let alone on uneven terrain. During my time building fences, I have found a few different ways to make sure that your fence pickets are level and look good.

However, even with all of the cool ways I have learned, I still have my favorite, go-to way to keep pickets level. Today, we are going to go over this method to keep fence pickets level with each other.

Keeping your fence pickets level starts from the very beginning of building your fence. Let’s take a look at how to keep your fence pickets level, from the very beginning:

1. Set the End Posts

Setting your end, or corner, posts is the first step to building your fence and keeping it level. As you are setting these end posts, it is important to make sure that they are not the only level and straight according to the ground, but that they are in line with each other.

As you are setting each end post, use a nice, big level to make sure that the posts are perfectly straight vertically.

Leveling your end posts will be meticulous and will require you to measure every couple of taps of the mallet to make sure the post remains level. However, the time and energy spent ensuring the posts are level will be well worth it in the future.

2. Set the Rest of the Posts

Next, we want to set our intermediary posts. These posts play a big part in keeping your fence level and sturdy. When your posts are nice and level, it helps the rest of the fence to remain that way.

Run a length of super taut string at ground level between each end post to make sure each post is in line and mark out the spots for your posts with spray paint. Try to set each post about 7 feet, 8 inches apart from each other, rather than the normal 8 feet apart.

Many people say to set them 8 feet apart, but you don’t want your fence posts being any more than 8 feet apart. Seeing as there will be some variance in how accurately you space them out, if you try to space each post 8 feet apart, you may have some that end up being spaced farther than 8 feet, which we don’t want.

For this very reason, we advocate for spacing the posts at around 7 feet, 8 inches or so apart. This will allow for the natural variance in measurement to not have any of your posts spaced more than 8 feet apart.

When setting the posts, run the same length of string at eye level. Make sure this string is as tight as physically possible! With this string, you will be able to make sure the posts are going to be flush with the rest of the fence.

3. Install the Rails

With our posts level, we now need to install the rails before we can make our pickets level.

Install the rails as normal onto the fence, keeping them level.

4. Place the First Picket

After the rails are installed, we can install our first picket!

The first picket will be the most important picket, as it will be the guide for the rest of the pickets, so you want it perfect.

A poorly placed and not level picket now will result in all of the pickets being poorly placed and not level, so now is definitely the time to break out that level again and be as meticulous as possible.

Install the picket right next to one of the end posts, rather than in the middle of the fence.

5. Place the Last Picket

At the opposite end post from where the picket is, you are going to want to install what will be the last picket, even though it’s the second one placed.

Take the measurements of everything you did with the first picket and replicate it exactly with the last picket. Make sure that they are the exact same and are perfectly level with the ground and even with the fence.

I know that I have said a lot of things are important for this to work, but if the first picket and the last picket are even slightly different, it will be very noticeable when you put the rest of the pickets up and they are slightly off-kilter.

Remember, if a plane alters course even a half of a degree, after a fair distance they will be majorly off course. The same principle applies here.

6. Insert a Nail or Screw Into Top of the Pickets

Now, with the picket perfectly level and installed, we are going to want to insert a nail or screw into the very top of the first picket, pointing vertically.

Make sure that the nail is not bent and is perfectly level. If it isn’t, it could potentially help to throw the rest of the fence off.

Go to the last picket and insert a nail or screw in the top of it as well, again making sure that the nail is level and vertical.

7. Tie a Level String Very Tight On Both Ends

With the pickets up and the nails or screws ready, it is now time to run the string.

The string that you run should be strong enough to be pulled very tightly, as you are going to want the string to be as taut as possible. Any slack at all in the string will throw you off when installing the rest of the pickets.

Tie one end of the string to the bottom of the nail on the first picket, so that the string will be touching the tops of the soon-to-be installed pickets when the string is tied to the other side.

Next, run the string to the last picket. Make sure the string is super taut when you tie it off. With the string resting on the top of the picket, there should be no slack at all. As stated before, any slack at all will throw you off!

This video on YouTube shows more or less how it should look. Keep in mind that he puts his nails in the side of the picket, which can be done also, but can be harder to do.

This can be tricky to do alone, so it can be helpful to ask a friend to help keep the string tight as you are running it.

8. Continue Placing Pickets Level With String

The string you just tied to each end picket is going to be your guide for where the pickets need to be.

One of the great things about this method is that you don’t have to remeasure every picket you place to make sure it is perfect. The string does it for you, so long as everything is level and the string is pulled tight.

Once the string is tied, you can begin installing the rest of the pickets. When installing the pickets, build the pickets so that they touch the string, but not enough to move the string at all.

Again, while it is definitely possible to do this alone, we highly recommend having someone hold the pickets in place while the other secures the picket with nails or screws.

With someone to help, it is much easier to ensure the pickets are level and everything is going well.

Should installing the pickets take multiple days, you will have to rerun the string after about a day or two.

The string will stretch over time, and after about a day there is enough slack to require you to rerun it or risk the rest of your pickets not being level anymore.

9. Repeat On Each Side of Fence

Once that section of fence is finished, just repeat this process for each other section of fence you need to put up.

  • Make sure the end posts are level.
  • Set the intermediary posts at about 7 feet, 8 inches apart and level.
  • Install the rails.
  • Place your first picket perfectly, measuring and making sure the picket is level.
  • Place the last picket of the section, with the exact same measurements as the first picket.
  • Insert nails into the top of both pickets.
  • Run a length of string between the pickets, making sure it is tied very tight and “resting” at the top of the pickets.
  • Install the rest of the pickets, using the string as a guide to where the pickets should be placed.

After all is said and done, your pickets should all be level with each other!

However, though the pickets may be level with each other, they may not be level with the ground; especially if the ground the fence is being built on is not very flat. If that is the case, then you have a few options, as outlined in this video by Joe Everest, a fencer in the Midwest:

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is right for you, your circumstances, and your budget. Hopefully this guide was able to help you keep your fence nice and level!

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