Your Complete Guide to Fence Board Spacing


When placing fence boards, you need to choose a specific look and style for your fence. Once you’ve done that, you need the exact numbers and measurements in order to install your boards to match the esthetic you’ve chosen.

The space between boards for a wood fence should be 5/8 inch to 1/2 inches. For a picket fence, the space should be around 2 1/2 inches. There shouldn’t be any space between vinyl fence boards. Horizontal fence boards should have between 1/4 inch to an inch of space.

Although this seems simple enough, there is a lot more you may need to know depending on what you need.

Complete Guide to Board Spacing

In one simple chart, here is what you need to know:

Wood Fence Board Spacing0 inches to 1/2 inches
Picket Fence Board Spacing1 1/2 inch to 2 1/2 inches
Vinyl Fence Board Spacing0 inches
Privacy Fence Board Spacing5/8 inch to 1/2 inches
Horizontal Fence Board SpacingPrivacy: 0 inch to 1/8 inches
Regular: 1/4 inch to 1 inch

Because there are so many different looks, types, and styles of fences, there could be lots of space between the fence boards or no space at all.

These are the most common types of fences and information about them to help you gauge and know exactly what you need in order to accomplish all your fencing goals!

Wood Fence Board Spacing: Tips and Tricks

If you’re planning to install a wood fence, there are a few things you’ll need to know, consider, and remember before installing.

For example: every type of wood WILL shrink naturally over time. No matter what type of wood you get, if it’s brand new, it will shrink. Wood also expands when it gets wet. It’s made up of natural fibers so expect some expansion.

It’s also good to know if you’re using barn wood, or any other type of “weathered” or old wood, shrinking won’t happen due to it’s age, but expansion will.

Because it’s already been in use and in the elements, you don’t need to worry so much about shrinking. Just take into account that it will still expand when it’s wet.

That being said, when you’re installing the fence boards, you’ll still want to place them right up next to each other with NO space in between them. Yes, the boards will expand when water gets on them, but they will shrink more than they will expand.

Again, to help alleviate this specific problem, you’ll need to place the boards right up next to each other with NO space in between right when you install them.

If you do that, over the next few weeks to a month, the boards will shrink and you’ll be left with about 1/2 inches of space between each board.

You also need to think about how far away you are placing the posts. They should be around 6-8 feet apart. The closer to 6 feet they are, the less likely they’ll settle and “sag”.

Obviously, nothing is ever fool proof!

There have been times when, if you place the wood boards too tightly together, they warp because of the pressure. If you’re worried about this happening, you can place the boards about 5/8 inch apart. This way, when shrinking does happen, you’re left with (hopefully) just over 1/2 inch of space between each board.

Picket Fence Board Spacing: Do’s and Don’ts

When you’re installing a picket fence, because the style is different than a classic wood fence, the same tips and tricks don’t necessarily apply. A picket fence isn’t meant to provide any privacy so space is expected between the boards.

Now, when referring to a “picket fence” it’s meant in the traditional “white picket fence” sense that everyone always wants with their big house and wrap around porch.

Obviously, most fences could be considered a “picket fence”. This is referring to the style of fence, not the way it’s installed or the material that’s used.

There are many differing opinions about the exact amount of space you should have between picket fence boards, but the average space is 1 1/2 inches to 2 1/2 inches. If you place the boards too far apart, it often looks unfinished. If you place them too close together, the whole esthetic if lost.

Don’t:

There is no need to place the picket fence boards right next to each other (obviously) but you also don’t want to place the boards more than 2 1/2 inches apart from each other. This makes the fence look sloppy and unfinished.

Do:

With a picket fence, you don’t need to worry about shrinking or expanding because space is expected and preferred. So, feel free to customize it! Make it look exactly how you want it to and make sure you love it!

Just like wood fence boards, you do need to be aware of how far apart you’re laying the fence posts. Again, the average length for the posts is 6-8 feet apart.

But for a picket fence, because you have extra railing behind the boards, you don’t have to worry too much about sagging, so you can move closer to the 8-foot mark.

Vinyl Fence Board Spacing: Basic Guide

Vinyl fences are a whole different ball game. With these, shrinking and expanding doesn’t really happen, but you do need to worry about a bit of settling once everything is installed.

You want to make sure your boards are as tight together as they possibly can be. Make sure you use a mallet to ensure contact between the boards before you add your next post to the end.

Ensuring that the posts are as tight as possible will help avoid cracks and spaces between them when settling does eventually happen.

Vinyl fences typically don’t sit right on the ground, but just a bit above it. They usually sit about 3 inches above the ground so inevitable settling can occur and the space isn’t too big.

Vinyl fences do require a bit more attention to detail when it comes to laying the posts to avoid future spacing and sagging. The posts should be 6-8 feet apart. But, because vinyl fences settle, you’ll want to place the posts closer to 6 feet apart to avoid any unwanted spaces between the boards.

Privacy Fence Board Spacing

If you’re wanting a more private fence, meaning no one can see in and you can’t see out, the spacing is a bit different than a traditional wood fence and it requires a bit more wood and work.

Obviously, vinyl fences are usually considered “private” just because there shouldn’t be any space between the fence boards. But, if you want a wood privacy fence, there are a few things you need to know.

First, just like regular wood fencing, shrinking and expansion do occur. BUT, because it’s meant to be a privacy fence, this doesn’t matter as much due to the steps taken to make it “private”.

So, with this fence option, you can either not leave any space, or leave about 1/2 inch of space between the boards.

Second, once the first layer of wood is installed, you’re going to put a second layer over each of the gaps of the boards on the first layer. This ensures that, even after shrinking and expanding, nobody can see in or out and it provides the privacy you’re wanting.

Third: you’ll want to place each board right down to the ground on both layers of wood. This way, there aren’t any spaces to look through on the bottom of your fence and, if you have pets, they won’t be able to escape easily.

Remember: if you’re using barn wood, “weathered” wood, or any used and old wood, don’t worry about it shrinking. Just keep in mind that it will still expand when it gets wet.

The posts for privacy fencing doesn’t have to be exactly between the 6 and 8 foot average. Because you have 2 layers of wood and the rails between the layers, it’s less likely you’ll experience settling and unwanted spaces so you can decide how close you want to place them.

Horizontal Fence Boards

Now, another option to consider when installing a fence is the direction of the fence boards. You could either lay them vertical or horizontal.

If you’re really wanting to jazz up your fence and make it seem a bit more stylish and modern, you can lay the boards horizontal.

If you’re installing the boards horizontal, you’ll want to leave 1/4 in -1 inches of space between the boards. For privacy purposes, get the boards as close together as you can. If it’s impossible to do that, or you’re worried about shrinking and expanding, leave 1/8 inch between each board.

Installing the fence boards horizontally is a great way to achieve privacy in your fence, and it’s a bit easier to accomplish that goal thanks to our little friend, gravity.

As you lay the boards and get them as close together as you can, because they’re horizontal, the gravity will help close any unwanted space WHILE YOU’RE INSTALLING. Again, there’s no guarantee after it’s installed.

If you’re using wood, for this fence, still account for shrinking and expanding overtime as this, naturally, will occur. But, like I said before, if you’re using barn wood, “weathered” wood, or any used wood, shrinking won’t happen, but expansion will.

The posts for a horizontal fence should follow the same guidelines I’ve listed above: 6-8 feet apart. If you’re installing a privacy fence, shoot for closer to 6 feet than 8 feet.

That wraps up our guide. Best of luck!

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