In this tutorial I explain how to install a top cap, install the board on board cedar fence pickets, as well as add the outside trim.
Ok if you missed last week’s post, I am in the process of rebuilding the privacy fence around our backyard. Instead of going with another standard pine picket fence we decided to upgrade to a board on board cedar fence with a nice top cap and trim. All the initial decisions are covered in detail in part 1 of building a fence with a gate of this series; if you haven’t done so already, check it out!
Things I Used In This Board Cedar Fence Project:
- Triton Multi-Stand
- Triton SuperJaws
- Triton Circular Saw
- Nail Gun
- Stainless Steel Ring Shank Nails
- Step Stool
- 50′ Air Hose
At this point, all of my stringers are in place and I am ready to move forward with a top cap. You can very easily make a similar fence without the added cost of a top cap, but I decided on it not only because we prefer the look of a top cap but also because the top cap adds to the stiffness and the strength of the fence. In addition to adding some stiffness to the top of the fence, the top cap also serves as a nice solid reference for placing the pickets, and ensures you are getting the same bottom gap on every picket. If you decide to not use a top cap, a mason line is needed to establish your top reference.
Note: A mason line is basically a nice tight straight line (typically made from nylon) which runs from a starting point or pole, and is tied off to an end point or pole. The line usually has a small “line level” hung from it as a level reference. Once the line is tied off, it serves as the stopping point for the top of the picket.
In my case, I’m going with 2” x 6” x 16’ cedar for the top cap. Before lifting the first 2×6 into the air and on top of the stringer, I needed to decide how much of an overhang I wanted on the frontside (or pretty side) of the fence. I decided I wanted 2-1/2”. This might seem like a lot but remember that I’m going to have two pickets (1/2” each) and also the trim (another 1/2”) on this side so after everything is installed I’ll only have 1” of over hang remaining. This will leave the overhang on the backside of the fence 1-1/2″.
*For the sake of clarity, throughout this text the “frontside” will refer to the picket side of my fence and the “backside” will refer to the pole side of my fence
After deciding the overhang, I prepped the first 2×6 for installation. I mitered the end of the 2×6 so that the next top cap that will butt up to it a littler nicer. This is strictly an aesthetic choice, you could leave both ends at a straight cut and just butt them up against one another.
Installing The Top Cap
I used my circular saw to cut the miter on the end. Note: When cutting 45’s with a circular saw, the amount of blade contact area goes up quite a bit and can make the cut a bit trickier than a standard straight cut. If you choose to do the same, just be very careful and mindful of kick back. Oh yeah – another thing I did not realize until this project is the blade reference on the saw deck is not the same on 45’s as it is for square cuts.
The first top cap went up to the top stringer just after the miter is cut. I started at the closest corner of my yard and made the end of the 2×6 flush to the end of the top stringer. I used a short scrap piece of wood as a spacer to make lining up the 2×6 go quicker. Some of the stringers had a bit of bow to them and would need to be pushed one way or another. Cody helped me with this portion and would move the stringer or the top cap in the direction I needed based on what my little gauge block told me, and I would set the top cap in position with 2-1/2 ring shank nails.
Note: I later switched from nails to 3” exterior wood screws. The nail gun I was using would not allow for longer nails and I was not overly impressed with how well the nails kept the top cap secured. The screws worked much better.
Now I just repeated with another 2×6. Note: When you get to a corner be sure to I account for the adjacent top cap. You’ll need to leave room for the adjacent top cap to slide into position and make it look seamless.
Installing Cedar Board on Board Pickets
After installing the top cap I could finally move on to placing my first pickets in place! This was beyond exciting for me since it finally felt like the new fence was taking shape. Starting at the same corner where I began with the top cap, I placed my first picket. I positioned it flush with the ends of the 3 stringers, made sure it lightly touched the bottom of the top cap and then POW! POW! POW! – I shot in the first few nails.
Lets talk about these nails real quick. You know how some old fences have those ugly brown streaks that seem to pour out of the nail holes? That’s because the nails are rusting inside of the picket and the rusty finish is basically running off of the nail and staining the wood every time it rains. It’s because of this I chose to use stainless steel nails. Over time, these nails will not rust and will not cause streaking. However, these nails are a lot more expensive to use coming in just over 5 cents per nail or $191 for a box of 3600 nails. Unfortunately, our fence required about 1-1/2 boxes of nails for our entire fence.
To make installing the pickets easier I cut a spacer that is 3” wide. My pickets measure 5-1/2″ wide so this means I’ll have slightly over 1” of overlap on each side of the board when everything is installed. This is important because these boards will shrink over time and I don’t want any gaps eventually showing up…that would defeat the purpose of going with a board on board fence.
I made the spacer from a picket by ripping it down on my table saw. I also installed a simple drawer handle on the front so that I could easily grab it to move around in between pickets.
I started by laying down a handful of back pickets, using two nails per stringers to install them. Then I would double back and repeat the process, laying down the front pickets. Note: be sure to check for plumb every few pickets just to make sure you aren’t getting too far off. If you are, then just correct for it by leaning the top or the bottom of the picket out by a small amount and then continue on.
If you are mindful of where you place your nails you can actually end up covering up a lot of them. On the top two nails, be sure to place them within 3” of the top of the picket so that the final trim board will end up hiding them. On the center and bottom nails, place them within 1” of the edges of the picket and the top picket will end up hiding them. : )
Tip: I ended up having to do this job in the summer and something I found really useful is using a canopy to straddle the fence to provide some shade. It’s still hot but it at least keeps the sun from just roasting you. Since I was working under the canopy I would lay down as many back pickets as I could within the shade, then double back to install the top pickets. If you aren’t working within the confines of limited shade, then you can very well lay down all the back pickets at once then work on the front pickets. Either way works.
After I got done with an entire side of pickets, I would wrap around to the next side and repeat. It roughly took an entire day per side to picket.
Finally, after all the pickets were installed I moved on to the quickest step of the entire project! Adding the trim on the frontside. This trim is made from a simple 1”x3” and butts directly against the top cap and covers the dog ears of the pickets. Again, this isn’t required but I do think it gives the fence a very nice uniform look. I attached the trim using 4 or 5 nails per 8’ joint and I left the ends at straight cut and butted the boards against one another.
Annnnd that’s where I have to stop this week. I originally planned to include the boxes in this tutorial but they ended up taking up a lot of time and I want to be able to go into full detail on how I installed them. If you’re still on board with this project, head over to part 3 of building a fence with a gate where I go into detail about the installation of the boxes around the steel posts, the trim to pretty them up, as well as making a gate.
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