How to Build a Privacy Screen on Your Patio

This wooden privacy screen works as a fence-like barrier between your patio or deck and your neighbors.

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This airy screen provides the perfect solution to a less-than-private patio or deck by screening in your outdoor living area. The screen offers an attractive look and unique design, which will enhance your yard, yet it's also DIY friendly to build. In fact, we'll show you a foolproof technique for laying out the fence to ensure you get perfect post positioning. Most of the rest of the job is cutting boards to length and screwing them together.

Tools Required

  • Bucket
  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cold chisel
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Hammer
  • Hearing protection
  • Level
  • Posthole digger
  • Safety glasses
  • Spade
  • Speed square
  • Tape measure

Materials Required

  • 1-lb. box
  • 1x4 x 12' cedar board (1)
  • 1x6 x 12' cedar board (1)
  • 1x8 x 12' cedar board (1)
  • 2-in. deck screws
  • 2x2 x 10' cedar boards (13)
  • 2x4 x 12' cedar boards (4)
  • 2x4 x 8' pressure-treated lumber (4)
  • 2x6 x 12' pressure-treated lumber (2)
  • 2x6 x 8' cedar boards (8)
  • 3-in. deck screws
  • 40-lb. bags of gravel (4)
  • 5-lb. box
  • 60-lb. bags of concrete mix (8)

If you feel as if you’re living in a fish bowl when you’re lounging on the patio, we’ve got the solution.

What Is a Patio Privacy Screen?

A patio privacy screen is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a means of separating the otherwise wide open space in your outdoor area, giving you a little shelter from the neighbors or even your own home.

This simple, airy outdoor patio privacy screen will block all but the most persistent prying eyes. It’ll even block heavy wind, but it’s open enough to allow light and cooling breezes through, so you won’t get that hemmed-in feeling you’d get from a solid wall or fence. Our privacy screen is 12 ft. long and about 7 ft. tall at the highest point. But you can adapt the length or height to your own needs or even mount a similar design on an existing deck (see “Deck-Mounted Privacy Screen.”).

These plans follow a foolproof layout technique using the horizontal rails to guide the post positioning and screen assembly. With this simple system, a robust novice can build this project. You can easily adapt it to any screen size.

We’ll also show you a new technique for setting solid, rot-resistant posts using dry concrete. And we’ll demonstrate a simple method for making the curved, three-board top using spacing blocks and scribing the curves with one of the top boards. To build your own screen, you’ll need a circular saw, a screw gun and a sharp chisel, as well as a “clamshell” posthole digger and a 2- or 4-ft. level for digging the four postholes and plumbing the posts.

Selecting Materials for Your Privacy Screen

We chose to build our screen from rough sawn cedar because we wanted its decay-resistant qualities and rough look. Materials costs can vary, but you can spend less by substituting smooth-faced cedar, treated wood or even conventional framing lumber. Whatever you choose, use treated wood for post parts that are in the ground so you won’t ever have to worry about rot.

When you’re selecting your lumber for the top cap pieces, pay special attention to get sound 3/4-in.boards for the top cap pieces—no cracks, splits or large knots. When you’re bending the boards, knots or cracks may cause them to break under the stress (Photo 10).

Screws are the best way to put together a strong, durable screen. But read the box to make sure you select ones that are designed for decks. Other fasteners may corrode and leave ugly “bleed” marks on the wood after a short time.

Secure Building Permits and Call Before You Dig

The chances are remote, but your locality might require a permit, so check with local officials before starting construction. If you’re part of an HOA, it’s a good idea to double check the rules for fences and building for your neighbored association too. Don’t skip this step or you may end up restaining or even tearing down your new screen.

Be sure to call to have the underground cables and gas lines marked before you dig any post holes. Most states have a single toll free number you can call to get all the utilities marked. You can ask the building department for the number, or call the nationwide Dig Safe hotline at 811. Mark the screen’s position on the ground with spray paint or stakes before the crew comes. Call ahead of time; it generally takes two to three days to have utilities marked.

Figure A: Privacy Screen plans

Project step-by-step (12)

Step 1

Planning Your Privacy Screen

We built our privacy screen on a level site, but you can build a similar screen on just about any slope. For it to look best, keep the rails level and then follow the slope with vertical pickets that are a consistent distance from the ground.

Build your screen any length you wish. However, the longest material you’ll be able to buy is 16 ft., so for longer screens, you’ll have to splice the rails and top caps. If splicing is necessary, plan it so the joints fall near the post centers, and splice opposite rails and overlying top cap layers to fall on different posts. Add or delete posts as you wish, but stick with our system for laying out post locations using chunks of 2×6 posts and 2×2 pickets to get the spacing right. However, keep the post spacing less than 4 ft. for a highly rigid, wind-resistant screen.

We don’t recommend building a higher screen, especially in high-wind areas. But lower screens are sometimes preferable if you’d like to see over the top while standing but want more privacy while seated. Build a shorter screen using the same spacing techniques we show but reduce the distance between the upper and lower rails. The top cap for a shorter screen may require a gentler curve because it’ll be difficult to bend the wood without breaking it. Try a test bend.

If you hear the wood crack or it takes too much force to make the bend, simply cut the middle posts shorter until the wood bends without trouble. If you don’t want to fuss with the bend or want to match other horizontal elements in your yard, consider just cutting off the posts and screwing on a flat top cap of solid 2×8.

Step 2

Mark the Post and Picket Locations

Before you dig the postholes, lay out and notch all four horizontal rails as shown in the photos below.You’ll use the rails for positioning, spacing and anchoring the posts, and later for placing the 2×2 pickets.

Lay out the 2×4 rails and clamp them together. Then, measure 6 inches from one end and use a 2×6 block as a template to mark the first post notch. Use a 2×2 block to mark a gap, then a picket, another gap and so on for nine pickets. Mark the next post notch and then continue marking the rest of the pickets and posts. After the last notch, measure another 6 inches and cut the rail to length.

Family Handyman

Finish the Cutouts with a Chisel

Cut 45-degree bevels on both ends. Flip over the rails and cut a series of 1-1/2 in. deep saw kerfs at the post locations, then break out the wood and flatten the bottoms with a chisel.

Family Handyman

Step 3

Dig the Holes and Set the Posts

Lay the straightest rail on the ground and shift it until you find the screen’s best position. Position the privacy panel postholes by laying a rail on the ground and driving two stakes behind it. Then drive stakes 2 in. away from the centers of the post notches to mark the postholes.

Set the rail aside and then dig 3-ft. deep x 8-in. diameter postholes at each notch location and pour about 6 in. of gravel into each hole. Preassemble the 2×6 and 2×4 treated post bases and set them in the holes, nesting them into the rail notches. Measure the hole depth and then cut the outer 2x6s to project about 6 inches past the top of the holes, but let the 2×4 center posts run full length. You’ll cut all the post parts to length later. Preassemble the treated posts with 3-in.deck screws.

Keep the fasteners 8 inches or so below the top of the 2x6s to avoid hitting them with a saw blade when you’re trimming them to length later. Reset the guide rail and use it and a level to position and plumb the posts in each hole. After each post is positioned, hold them in place with temporary screws driven into the guide rail.

Step 4

Set the Posts in Dry Concrete

To avoid waiting for concrete to set up, you can fill around the posts with dry concrete mix rather than pouring wet concrete. That way, you can continue with the rest of the carpentry work and maybe even finish the project in one day. Keep the top of the dry concrete a 3 inches below the top of the hole. (You’ll need about two 60-lb. bags per hole.) When you’re done working for the day, simply flood the top with the garden hose and the concrete will set up overnight.

Don’t worry about trying to saturate the mix. Over time, the underlying concrete will absorb enough moisture from the ground for complete curing. Mixes that are labeled for “post,” “quick” or “fast” are the best ones to choose. But if all you can find is regular premixed concrete, that’ll work fine too.

Mark and cut the 2x6s about 3 in. above grade. Before you cut off the post tops, drive two screws through the 2x6s above the cut marks. They’ll hold the pieces in place so you don’t get bonked by the cutoffs.

Step 5

Screw the Parts Together

You’ll be amazed at how fast the rest of the screen goes together. That’s because you’ve already cut the notches for the posts and marked the picket locations. It’s largely just a matter of screwing all of the parts together. It really helps to prefinish all the parts before laying out the rails and doing any assembly. We stained everything with two coats of solid stain before any cutting, and stained the notches and freshly cut ends before assembly for even more protection. That cuts down on painting inside crevices and cutting in, particularly if you have a two-tone color scheme like ours.

After cutting off the treated 2x6s about 3 in. above grade, as shown in the step above, screw the 2×6 cedar outer posts on one side of the 2x4s, and then screw two rails to one side of the posts using the heights we show in Figure A.

Level the rails and sight down them to make sure they’re straight before screwing them to the middle two posts. Then plumb and brace the two end posts in both directions as we show in the photo below. The rails should hold the center posts plumb as well, but if you have any stubborn ones, plumb and brace them, too. The dry concrete mix will let you make minor adjustments.

Step 6

Attach the Pickets

Cut the 2×2 picket caps to length and screw them to the 2×6 posts, so they fit tightly between the 2x4s. Then screwing on the 5-ft. long pickets will go fast. Just push them against the top picket cap and use the marks on the rail to guide their placement.

Step 7

Set the Front Posts in the Precut Notches

Finally, screw on the other post parts and rails. Attach the front cedar 2×6 posts using the precut notches in the front top rail as a guide. You may have to drag an assistant to help you hold the 2×4 rails and wiggle them into place.

Secure them with 3-in. screws every 6 inches.

Step 8

Mark the Top Cap Locations

Attach temporary bending blocks on each end post and prop up a long 1×4 on a 16-in. block halfway between them. Mark the post heights.

Bend the 1×4 top cap board to simulate the top curve and to determine where to cut the posts. Center a screw on the end blocks so they can pivot while you make the bend. You may need a hand with this part too.

Step 9

Cut the Posts from Each Side

You’ll find it awkward to hold the spring-loaded 1×4 in position while reaching and scribing all four posts. Transfer the marks around to the other side of the posts with a square and then cut off the posts with a circular saw and handsaw. Transfer the lines to the other side and cut off the posts from each side. Finish the 2×4 center cut with a handsaw.

Step 10

Attach the Top Cap Boards

Center the 1×8 top cap and screw it into each post . Center and screw down the 1×6 and 1×4 top caps to the posts, adding screws wherever gaps appear.

Step 11

Fill the Dry Concrete Holes with Water

Fill the holes with water and let the panel sit overnight. Remove the braces and touch up raw wood and screws with finish.

Step 12

Deck-Mounted Privacy Screen

If you have a deck that makes private gatherings feel like neighborhood events, don’t fret. This privacy screen adapts easily to most decks. That’s because most decks have a single rim joist that’s the same thickness as the center 2×4 of the post. In most cases, you can easily remove an existing rail, notch the decking and straddle the rim joist with the outer 2×6 of each post.

Brace the rim joist with blocking to at least the second and third joists back to stiffen it as we show in Figure B. Lag screwing the end posts to an existing rail and the house will also greatly stabilize the screen.

Deck sizes vary widely, so to fill a side of a deck with a privacy screen, you’ll need to work out the number and spacing of posts as well as the finished height on your own. But a 7-ft. tall screen may look too high on a smallish deck. A shorter height of 5 or 6 ft. will still give you reasonable privacy, especially when you’re sitting at a table. Keep post spacing between 3 and 4 ft. if possible.

Attaching posts to a deck