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Beauty of a picket fence is yours for the building

Picket fences are neighborly and nice to have around.

One of the easiest fences to build, the old-fashioned picket fence has charm, character, and harmony. It completes the design and effect of the entrance to a front garden or, lining a driveway, may serve as a background for flowers.

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Picture, for example, a lovely row of multicolored zinnias against the whiteness of a picket fence.

Should you decide to have one, you may find what you need at a local lumberyard where prefabricated fences are sold. But remember, prefab fences are expensive and they're time-consuming to paint.

After you measure the length of fence you want, it is almost as easy to go to a lumber company that has green, unseasoned boards. Buy them in the largest lengths you can manage because this makes the cost cheaper in the long run.

First establish the fence line; then set in the end posts. These are the key to a stout fence. Dig a hole that is deep enough (one foot of hole to every three feet of post above ground). Set the post on a bed of gravel (to promote drainage). Tamp small stones around the post, thus providing more rigid support than earth alone.

Be sure to treat the lower part of the post -- the part that goes into the ground -- with a preservative before you put it in the hole.

Pickets should be marked off evenly on the stringers; that is, the two lengths of board running horizontally at the top and bottom of the fence. Depending on the length, you may need additional posts for support. The point where wood decay starts is where the pickets cross the stringers. Simply, water gets in between the two and causes rot.

To help prevent rot, paint the stringer pieces and the pickets before they are put together; and then nail them while the paint is still fresh.

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It is also a good idea to let the stringers project a few inches beyond the end posts so that if the posts decay, new posts can be driven in on either side and the stringers easily attached by heavy nails or spikes.

To facilitate the sawing of the pickets, use a workbench or sawhorse. You can put guides on the workbench at the angle at which you wish to saw the top of the picket. These can simply be two upright pieces of block.

The maintenance of a picket fence lies, of course, in keeping it painted, but if you start out with a good base coat, it will help keep any future coats of paint from peeling.

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