So you are stick building a wooden fence that has a picket design that requires the top of the fence to look straight. It may be dogear pickets, French Gothic Pickets, or maybe even saw tooth pickets. Perhaps your fence will be stockade fencing (no gaps between pickets), or spaced picket fencing. No matter what picket design or style, you need to keep the top of the pickets in a straight line. There are a few different ways to achieve this. This article explains the use of a bumper board.
For the purpose of this article, we will assume you have already set your fence posts and installed the fence rails. The rails are the 2×4 horizontal members of the fence. Now your ready to install the pickets. Before you put your pickets up, you need to plan your “reveal”. The reveal is the amount of picket that will be above the top rail. Common reveals are between 6″ and 10″. The reveal is usually planned for before the rails are installed. On a 6′ tall fence, if the top of the top rail is 66″ off the ground, you should plan on a 6″ reveal. 66″ plus 6″ equals 72″, or 6′ tall. For the purpose of this article, we will plan a 6″ reveal.
Now take two pickets and measure 6″ down from the top of the picket. Make a small mark with a pencil on the edge of the picket. Decide where you are going to start picketing. This is usually a end or corner. Take one of the pickets you marked and place it where it will be installed. Line the pencil mark you made up with the top of the top rail. Install this picket with all the nails you plan to use for each picket. Be sure to check for plumb first! Take the second picket you marked to the next post in the line of fencing. Line the mark you made up with the top of the top rail. Put one nail in this picket. This picket will be a guide board. This picket will be taken down and put up at the next post, so don’t put too many nails in it! At this point you should have one picket completely installed where you are going to start picketing, and one picket held in place with one nail at the next post in the fence line. Now its time to make the bumper board.
To make a bumper board, you will need two pieces of 2x4x8 lumber and a few 3″ nails. Make sure the 2×4’s are straight and not bowed or warped. Take one of the 2×4’s and cut two 9″ pieces off of it. Take the other 2×4 and lay it down flat so the 4″ side is facing up. Take one of the 9″ pieces of 2×4 and nail it to the end of the uncut 2×4. You do this by placing the 9″ piece of 2×4 on top of the uncut 2×4 at the end making a 90 degree angle. Nail this in place. Now you have a 2×4 with a 9″ 2×4 piece nailed on top of it at the end making a 90 degree angle. Flip the 2×4 over and do the same thing on the other side at the same end. You will basically make a “U” shape. Take the 2×4 with the 9″ 2×4 pieces nailed to it to your fence line. Place the “U” section you created over the picket that is completley installed. Rest the other end of the 2×4 on the picket that is held in place with one nail. You will see there is 6″ off space between the top of the top rail and the bottom of the 2×4 used in the bumper board throughout the entire fence section. This will keep your reveal uniform throughout the entire fence. Now you need to make the sliding section of your bumper board. Cut two 9″ pieces of 2×4 and one 3 1/2″ piece of 2×4. Place the 3 1/2″ piece of 2×4 between the two 9″ pieces of 2×4. Nail these pieces together forming another “U” shape. Take this piece over the 2×4 that is resting on the picket held in place with one nail.
The “U” pieces of the bumper board keeps the bumper board from falling down while you are nailing. Take a picket and place it next to the picket that is completely installed. The top of the picket should touch the bumper board or “bump” up to it. Nail this picket in place. Keep picketing until you reach the picket that is held in place by one nail. Once you reach this picket, slide the slider portion of the bumper board over one of the completely installed pickets. Take down the picket held in place by one nail and install it on the next post. Remember to use just one nail. Finish picketing the previous section. Since you slid the slider part of the bumper board down, you now have 2×4 extending past the already installed pickets. Picket up to the post using the bumper board as a top quide. One you install pickets to the post, move your bumper board to the next section and repeat the same steps.
Once you are finished picketing, you will see your fence has the same reveal throughout and the tops of the pickets are in a straight line.A bumper board is inexpensive and easier to use than a string line. It also makes a straighter top as it is harder to move the bumper board up than a string line. Give the bumper board a try. Its much easier to use in reality than it is to read about it. After using it for one or two sections of fencing, you will figure out the tricks of using the sliding portion as well. Happy fencing!