Cheapskate DIY Picket Fence

I saved tons of money building this fence by using salvaged lumber and cutting 6-ft. pickets in half.

I needed to make a fence for my new dog. Lady has the dangerous habit of roaming about the busy county road that we live on. I love my dog, but I’m also cheap. I thought I could get by with spending a few hundred bucks on an electronic fence, but then I figured it wasn’t in the budget, so I was forced to build one myself. I decided a picket fence was the way to go.

Cheapskate picket fence

I saved tons of money building this fence by using salvaged lumber and cutting 6-ft. pickets in half.

I don’t consider myself a packrat, but I hate to throw away stuff that is still useful. I have the good fortune to own a little land and couple of outbuildings, which allows me to squirrel away surplus materials. I was a general contractor for many years and have gathered quite a collection. A few years ago, I salvaged a bunch of the cedar boards from a deck we demolished. The eight 4×4 cedar posts and more than 20 cedar 2x4s were almost enough for the entire structural portion of my new fence.

The boards needed a little cleaning up before they could be used. After checking every board for nails and screws using my metal detector, I ran them all through my surface planer. One side of every board was painted. I planed that side last, thinking the paint would gum up my planer knives, and I was right. I ended up with almost $300 of lumber that only cost me a few hours of work, plus a $50 set of knives—not bad.

I couldn’t find pickets smaller than 6 ft. to buy, but I didn’t need or want a fence that high anyway. After I gave it some thought, my cheapskate gene kicked in, and I decided to buy 6-ft. gothic pickets for $1.50 each and cut them in two. I bought 120 pickets and cut them so that I ended up with 32-in. square-end pickets and 40-in. gothic-top pickets, 120 of each type.

I staggered the pickets every other one and held the fence a few inches off the ground to make grass trimming easier, so the fence is effectively more than 43 in. tall. Lady is a small golden retriever. I’m pretty sure she’s capable of jumping 43 in. high, but I also know she’s not that ambitious.

The whole fence ended up costing me $40 for four extra posts, $180 for 120 pickets, $60 for hardware and $40 for child labor. That’s a grand total of $440, a fraction of what the fence companies wanted to charge and only $100 more than an invisible fence would have cost me. Now I just have to find some cheap paint.

— Mark Petersen, Contributing Editor

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