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Absolutely necessary to let cedar fence posts dry first?

Vladimir Horowitz

Joined: Feb 19, 2012
Posts: 23
Location: N. Idaho, zone 5
I'm in the planning phase of my spring garden fencing project, and of course looking to cut costs(fencing gets expensive!) and utilize on land resources. I am planning on building an 8' wildlife exclusion fence, most likely with some sort of welded wire game fence. There are quite a few western red cedars of post-worthy size that need to be thinned on my property, so I would love to use those if possible. Problem is, I will be installing the posts only 2-3 months after cutting the posts. I understand that the wood shrinking could seriously effect a framed structure, but would it make that much of a difference on a really simple fence like this?

Also, if anyone has any reccomendations on the minimum pole diameter i can get away with while still keeping a strong and taught fence(we have moose and elk up here) i would appreciate the input. I plan on using 11' tall posts and burying 3'.

One more thing, remove the bark or no?
Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Wood barely shrinks at all, length wise. We also install our post just after cutting them. Never had a problem. Some woods, it is the only way to get a grapple (heck, what is the word in English for the nail you use to put of fencing?) into the post is if it is still green.

All it probably will do, if your wood is hard enough, is make it nearly impossible to take the nails out in the future. We know from experience.

And, we know fencing, we have had to put new fencing in nearly 900 acres of plantations...

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
tick brown

Joined: Feb 22, 2012
Posts: 1
Location: missouri
hello ~first post~

I have used fresh cut cedar for building structures with no problems other than them being sticky because of the sap, but they have a roof and are somewhat protected from the elements.

Fence posts should be aged because the outer (white) wood will rot off, it's the inner (red) wood that is fairly rot resistant. If you must use fresh cut cedar for fence posts pick the posts with the least amount of white and the most red.

Also cedar is a softwood, very soft, so if you need to take out fence staples or nails or whatever later, it is pretty easy.

edit to add~ sorry, the bigger (diameter) the better for strength and if you can bury it another foot that might be better too. bark or no bark, it's up to you but I find it easier for cedar fence posts to be bark free.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
we generally use cedar posts fresh, but do strip off the bark if you can..also the bark makes good chipped mulch


Bloom where you are planted.
Chaya Foedus

Joined: Feb 20, 2012
Posts: 16
I am not a fence builder like the others that have responded (I've only built one); but in the spirit of the drawing for the 4 copies of Carla Emery's book, I'll give you her response on the subject out of the "Encyclopedia of Country Living" book. Sorry if I'm getting obnoxious with this

Triangular sections split from large diameter trees are the strongest of the splitting options, according to Carla. It sounds like you're going to use the whole tree? I think that would be the strongest option entirely. Cedar is "wonderfully easy to split and slow to rot" so it is perhaps the most popular choice. She suggests that the posts be 3-4 inches across, with corner posts being "huskier". Your biggest concern with not treating the wood is the bugs lunching on it, but she says that if you're going to skip this step to use "red fir, cedar, or black pine". She said you can get 15 yrs out of an untreated cedar post where she lived (out West) but that it would be leass in a southern or wetter climate, and it also depends on soil acidities.

you can find her fencing section starting on page 585 of the book.

Produce, Prepare, Preserve your own food surplus
Ernie Wisner

Joined: Oct 16, 2009
Posts: 788
Location: Tonasket washington
unless you are in the pacific NW where the ground will eat cedar (yes we have biota that will decay cedar as fast as fir) you wont have much of a problem instead of staples use a wire wrap to secure the fence. then when it buckskins all you have to do is re stretch the the fence and retighten the wire.

no big deal. Size i would use 4 to 6 inch posts and 6 to 10 inch corner posts with braces. do it right so you dont do it over.

Need more info?
Ernie and Erica
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Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3772
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
To facilitate quicker drying, cut the trees a few weeks in advance and postpone limbing. The leaves continue to transpire which dries out the wood.

For longer post life put a flatish rock at the bottom of each hole to stand the post on and then backfill with rubble rock. Instead of contacting wet soil, the post will be suspended in air with maybe 20% of the burried portion contacting rock.

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Vladimir Horowitz

Joined: Feb 19, 2012
Posts: 23
Location: N. Idaho, zone 5
Many thnaks for all the responses, been away from the internet for a bit and it is great to see all the support! The project is rolling along and since there is snow on the ground right now I am just clearing the land for the garden and cutting the posts and firewood. I am alot clearer on how to successfully construct this fence now, but still some questions remain. First a little more background/fence specs: I am in N Idaho and in a moist area. In addition to deer, i have moose, elk, black bear, rare grizzly and gophers to keep out. I plan on cutting posts to 12'4", so that 4' gets buried, 8'4" above ground with 8' welded wire game fence and string with streamers running along the tops of the posts(to discourage the big jumpers). Posts will be spaced ~11' apart, with chunky ones on the corners(one side will have 2 extra chunkys for the gate also). Total of 320' of fence in a 90'x70' rectangle. And I plan on building this fence stout and right, I want to make it right now so that I don't have to mess around with it for awhile and am willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

I am still wondering a bit on what size posts i can get away with using to maintain strength. I feel a minimum of 6" for corners/gate and i was hoping to use some that are only 3" for a few of the smaller ones. Is this to wimpy of a size? Also considering cutting a larger cedar or two and splitting it into multiple posts. Anyone with any experience or insight on this would be appreciated(how big do they need to be?, rot faster than poles?, etc).

Still pondering on methods to preserve these poles longer. Dale, I like your idea of the flat rock and crushed rock backfill. It seems like this won't give as solid of a placement though with all that air, thoughts? Anyone ever use the oldschool techniques of charring the posts or using creosote? I am just looking for the best non-toxic option.....

While i'm fishing, I am looking for a solution to the gopher situation. I don't want to go to war, so I figure that keeping them out is the only option. Is metal underground fencing a viable option, or will it rot away to fast? How about a gravel filled trench? Scrap metal roofing pieces? How deep should the solution be?
Steven Yanoff

Joined: Apr 03, 2012
Posts: 1
I am in New Mexico and have the exact same questions - looking for advice on an 8' game fence around an orchard and garden where deer, elk and gophers are the main pests. Everything from what dimension posts, what kind of fencing, how to install posts and fencing, what kind of undeground "gopher deterrent" etc. If you have any advice, including other web links, as your project proceeds, I'm interested.
Philip Freddolino

Joined: Jun 02, 2010
Posts: 53
I have used red cedar for fence posts for years. I peel the logs after they have dried a bit. There seems to be a perfect range of dryness where the bark peels off nicely. I then char the end that gets buried. This helps preserve the sapwood that would otherwise rot away at the soil line and make the posts loose in the ground. Thinning trees from inside a dense stand will yield posts with the densest red heartwood and least sapwood.
R Scott

Joined: Apr 13, 2012
Posts: 2315
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
3" round at the small end should be OK if the part in the ground is 6" or so.

You will need to bury fencing to keep gophers, moles, rabbits, etc. out. If you buy the double-dipped galvanized hardware cloth made for rabbit cage bottoms, it will last long. It is worth renting a power trencher for this part of the job. Run that cloth 6-12 inches up from the ground, too, to tie into and close the bottom holes of the welded wire.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi. "Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Rose Black

Joined: Apr 29, 2012
Posts: 9
My fence building years are nearly 40 years behind me. But I did learn how to set a fence post the "correct" way and the last time I drove by that farm (about three years ago) those fence posts were still standing. I learned from an old cowboy who learned it from his father.

The way I was taught was to make the post hole at least twice the diameter of the post itself. Pile the dirt up on a tarp as you dig. Then add about 25%-35% more dirt to the pile (high clay content good but not necessary). Dig the hole at least two inches deeper than you will need.

Put in two inches of gravel fill. Put in the fence post and brace it to the vertical (VERY IMPORTANT). Then shovel in 2-4 inches of dirt.

Check to make sure the post is vertical. After this point, straightening up the post will be darn near impossible.

Then comes the hard part. You take a tamper, which is a long metal rod with a metal plate welded on the end, maybe 2 x 4 inches, and tamp down the first layer of dirt. As the saying goes "tamp 'er til she rings." That means beat the dirt down until the tamper makes a sound like you are banging it on concrete. Be honest, don't settle for a dull thud, keep tamping until that tamper rings like a bell.

Then shovel in 2-4 inches of dirt and repeat.

Once the dirt is level with the ground, you should still have dirt left over because of the volume of the pole and the extra dirt you added to your pile. This is good! This is the dirt that will help your post stay strong for years.

Build a well tamped cone around the base of the pole. It is really, really important to tamp until it sounds like you're hitting concrete with the tamper. When you're done, your fence post will look like it was set into a little mound, 6-12 inches high (depending on the size of the original hole).

The real test comes in 1=2 years. If you tamped your fence posts in correctly, there won't be any vegetation growing in the tamped areas because they are tamped too tightly to allow in enough air and water to allow plant growth. Insects can't burrow through it and fungus can't grow in it. There won't be any water erosion marks because the dirt is tamped so tightly, the water just runs down the outside it.

If you really want to do things right, take scrap planks and make little caps to put on top of each fence post to protect the end grain from the rain. You just make a little right angle cover out of two pieces of 1x so that it forms a little A line roof on each fencepost. And if you've got kids to keep busy, have them slap on a coat of boiled linseed oil every few years to slow down the speed of absorption/release of moisture in the posts.

Warning! A properly set fence post is really difficult to remove, so be absolutely sure of where you want to set them in the first place.

A very common ploy in my area for long stretches of fence is to alternate heavier fenceposts with lightweight fenceposts. The lightweight fenceposts can even be T-posts. As the lightweight fenceposts get beat up, then you can replace them with heavier fenceposts, set correctly.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6495
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
Welcome to the forums Rose.

I have seen the method you describe used for running a fence, and while it may appear 'extra work', it will save you time and grief in the long run. By compressing the dirt, and having a run-off slope, you will keep water from pooling around the base. Keeping the grasses from growing at the base also eliminates the damage from years of weed-whacking around the base.

Fence posts set as you describe will last decades longer than 'easier' methods. Building a fence can be both time consuming, and expensive. If done properly, you will not need to go back and redo it later.

By eliminating standing water, insects, vegetation, etc at the base, you will have created a fence that will last nearly forever.

Rose Black

Joined: Apr 29, 2012
Posts: 9
John Polk wrote:Welcome to the forums Rose.

I have seen the method you describe used for running a fence, and while it may appear 'extra work', it will save you time and grief in the long run. By compressing the dirt, and having a run-off slope, you will keep water from pooling around the base. Keeping the grasses from growing at the base also eliminates the damage from years of weed-whacking around the base.

Fence posts set as you describe will last decades longer than 'easier' methods. Building a fence can be both time consuming, and expensive. If done properly, you will not need to go back and redo it later.

By eliminating standing water, insects, vegetation, etc at the base, you will have created a fence that will last nearly forever.

Thank you.

All my life experience indicates to me that as the years go by, I will only get older, lazier and more stove up. Putting in some extra effort now to save me from effort in 10 or 15 years is a good investment to me.

Plus, setting fence posts that way means you don't have to turn to toxic methods to preserve them. When I was setting fence posts 40 years ago, it was to contain horses, which are animals that are amazingly easy to poison. Best just not even to bring anything like that into their environment.

Horses can also be really destructive of fencing, although this is usually only a problem in pastures that don't allow enough personal space per horse. A fence post set properly can withstand any horse scratching on it.
subject: Absolutely necessary to let cedar fence posts dry first?
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