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Posts Tagged ‘cedar posts’

Plumbing the hinge post

We dug 12 post holes in all; four large enough for gate posts, eight fencepost-sized.  Not by hand, of course, or at least not entirely by hand.  The PTO-operated posthole digger with a 9- and a 12-inch auger did most of the work, but Kentucky Jack digs postholeshas its share of rock, which resisted the machine’s auger tip and had to be busted out by hand.  The old-fashioned way, with the tools you see here, and lots of elbow, back and arm grease.  Once the buried layer of rock had been punched through, the auger was able to finish the dig.  I’d say of the 12 holes, only 3 were uncomplicated by a 4-inch layer of rock that lies about 12-inches beneath this area.

A few lessons learned:

1) Lining up post holes is easier said than done.  Check them after they’re dug by propping the posts up in the holes and stringing a line across their tops, if you want the fenceline to be straight.  We measured and flagged every one, but they all had to be adjusted before the posts were set.  Posthole diggers are not precision instruments.

2) Body weight helps when using the spud bar to break rock.  Get the guy to do that part.

3) Don’t even think about digging postholes or setting posts without a spud bar.  Tool of choice, nonpareil.

As for plumbing the posts, the approach varied from the textbook version of using a level since our posts weren’t milled perfectly uniform from top to bottom like store-bought posts would be.  Cedar trees taper and are larger at the bottom than the top – how to plant a post plumb then?  Skidder had the solution, learned from prior experience; a stake laid across the top of the post with a line and plumb bob hung from the end gives a vertical reference through the post’s center.  Viewed from two different angles 90 degrees apart ensures a perfectly plumb post.  Worked like a charm.  I’ll plumb all my posts this way from now on.

farm fence and gates

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fence posts almost

Building a fence out of your own trees isn’t the easiest way to do things.

 My li’l ole fence out front along the road has garnered many compliments because it looks damn nice, and really stands out among the pressure-treated, milled lumber, commercially-installed versions in the area; but its true beauty in my view is its humble, local origin.   And that it was built by my own hands.  From my own trees.

Most folks around here probably think that viewpoint’s a little off.  Too much work, nicer materials right down there at Lowes; why go to all the bother.  I admit, it would have been much easier just to call someone out and pay them to slap something up.  It would have met the minimum objectives as well, which was to keep vehicles from driving up to the house and shop building, thus making the place more secure.

But it wouldn’t have been a thing of beauty, or have the potential to last 25 -30 years like this one will, or given me any of the satisfaction I’ll feel every single time I lay eyes on it and remember how we built it from cedars and hardwoods cut off the hill above. 

Arguments for saving time and effort aside, I’m just not interested in paying someone to do work that I enjoy doing and can do well myself, especially on a project that designs itself as it goes; nor am I at all keen to buy mass-produced, trucked-in, chemically-treated materials when I have raw materials in abundance in my own backyard.

Sounds a little pious, perhaps too idealistic, I suppose.  I will readily admit that this commitment to doing my own work and using my own materials as much as possible has its drawbacks, not the least of which is the multiplication of effort and time in any project equation.  But I’m pretty stubborn, and not afraid of slow, hard work, and so I accept that building something from scratch means doing things “the hard way” with hand tools, sometimes, and a great deal more effort than needed with “modern” methods and commercial materials.

I may not be able to take this approach every time.  The porch, for instance, was built with pressure-treated lumber, after much thought and deliberation about the pros and cons of using non-treated lumber in that climate for that type of application.  But my pasture fences will need to be non-toxic, in the big scheme of operating a certified organic farm, and so this small section was a test bed for my ideas of how to use locally harvested, untreated posts in the Kentucky soil without compromising on fence longevity.

What I didn’t know before Skidder and I took that first walk up the hill to survey for materials, was that I had a good number of mature eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana) at their climax of growth potential, having been overtaken by taller hardwoods and fairly begging to be made into fence and gateposts before their wood began declining as they lost the battle for sunlight, water and nutrients.   And while this tree is not a true cedar, but a member of the juniper family, it does have superior rot-resistance – especially in the red heartwood – not as much rot resistance as black locust, but more than any other hardwood species I might have had to use.

We took four 8 – 9″ gate posts and nine 6 – 7″ fence posts off the south-facing hill just around the corner from the shop.  I believe I felled a total of eight trees, for the posts.  One was quite large, leaving me a lovely 10-foot timber that will make some fine slabs for sign-making and bench-building.  Skidder pulled most of them down the hill by herself while I cut.  We worked furiously in the morning rain, thinking it might go on all day and wanting to get the logs down to the shop so we could peel them inside.  But the rain stopped as we finished, which wasn’t a bad thing. 

Next:  peeling with spud and draw knife.

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