Traveling along the highway and those stretches of country roads, those long expanses of the classic post and rail fences are a familiar site, beautifully poised to follow the rise and fall of the ever undulating lay of the land.
They really give a rather grandeur presence to whatever lies behind them, even if it is just a field of wheat. The post and rail fence style has been given many purposes and uses over the centuries.
There are many different styles of the post and rail fence which gives us homeowners much to choose from. Decisions, decisions! And each style presents its own design variations which makes choosing a fence for your yard even more interesting. Isn’t it nice that everyone’s fence doesn’t have to look the same!
The various styles of post and rail fencing can be described as rustic, simple, and straightforward to the more intricate and architecturally detailed. There is a post and rail fence style for any space or need.
Uses for a Post and Rail Fence
There are many ways that homeowners like to use this fence style: to define a property line, if a lot of space is available – to create a grand entry to their property, to limit access onto their property or specific areas, as a backdrop to a garden, to support a climbing plant (i.e. roses) or vine, for screening an unwanted view, to mark a pathway, for containment on a horse farm, to add architectural details and aesthetics to outdoor spaces, add value to property….well, you get the idea! Whether in suburbia or in wide open spaces, the reasons and uses are endless!.
We know that each of you is on a mission to create a lovely outdoors for your home. It’s why you are taking time from your busy schedule to read this! So what are some of the traditional styles of the post and rail fence? We’ll start with the rustic design and work our way to the highly architectural styles.
The rustic style post and rail fence has more of an unfinished and rugged appearance which is perfect for where they are typically used. They lack details like a post cap or finial, and any design patterns created on the posts, like fluting. They are typically built with roughly finished rounded posts, and rough sawn or split rails. The rails are usually designed with mortise and tenon construction to connect them to the posts. Mortise and tenon construction is where the end of the rail is placed in a side slot of the post.
The rustic style, whether stained a natural finish or left to weather to a grey hue, is perfect for a country, pastoral, or natural setting. It’s rough, unfinished character makes it extremely well suited for a casual setting, also. Don’t let the description ‘rustic’ be misleading. There are versions of this fence style that can be quite eye-catching.
Perhaps the most familiar post and rail fence style is the one that is designed with 2-, 3-, or 4-rails using flat rail boards, such as 1 x 6, 1 x 8, etc., that are flush-mounted to the face of a square or round post. ‘Classic’ is our term for this attractive and time-honored style. The simple construction makes it one of the easiest post and rail fences to build for the do-it-yourselfer. All the lumber used for the boards and the posts have been milled to a smooth finish, creating a more refined appearance.
We have seen this style beautifully used as a perimeter accent in a re-creation of a long ago New England styled residential community. This style has also become well known as an iconic element on large stately horse farms; and for us, our family home where we grew up, was a Colonial Revival style house with a white fence in this classic style. It was a beautiful detail in the yard.
Typically, this style of post and rail fence is traditionally finished in classic white. Although, we have seen it used in areas with more open space and finished in a verde green, and it was quite a striking feature in the landscape.
The classic style is the perfect fence for all traditional period colonial and colonial revival house styles, including Dutch Colonial Revival, Minimal Traditional, and Garrison Colonial.
A variation of the classic style post and rail fence is the striking crossbuck fence with its criss-crossing rail pattern. A bit fancier than the classic style, it makes a very elegant statement when used in long runs. But any number of sections (a section is the area of fence from one post to the next post) will create a beautiful and timeless feature for your yard.
The rails of a crossbuck fence can be attached to the posts either by the mortise and tenon construction method or by attaching the rail board to the face of the post (like the Classic Style). The mortise and tenon construction is obviously more labor intensive, but each method produces a beautiful fence.
With its beautiful traditional design, the crossbuck fence would be perfect with traditional period colonial and colonial revival house styles. Typically finished in classic white, this fence style would look great in the verde green, also.
If you would like to build a crossbuck fence for your yard, you can find the plans here, in our Outdoor Projects section.
Diamond Rail Style
Another post and rail fence style with mortise and tenon construction is the diamond rail fence style. This style is so beautiful and is a great scale if you don’t have a big yard. Remember to keep the scale of features, and your yard size, in mind when picking out elements for your yard. A two rail fence in this style at a 30” height may likely be perfect for a smaller yard.
This style uses 4 x 4’s for the rails that are turned on an angle (diamond). These post-rails are connected to a larger post, like 5 x 5 or 6 x 6 posts, with the mortise and tenon method. The angled rails give this fence a beautiful profile and the post-rails give it an opulent appearance.
This fence style works great with traditional house styles including colonial and Tudor styles. A white finish is classic and traditional, but darker greens, brown, and taupe may be better for a Tudor.
One of the most elegant post and rail fence styles, and one of high architectural detailing, is the Chippendale fence (influenced from the designs of 18th century cabinet and furniture maker, Thomas Chippendale). This style is characterized by intricate woodworking motifs of geometric patterns or designs, many times created on the diagonal. One or two patterns are used in a repeated rhythm in the overall design. A wonderful historic example of this style is the beautiful and extensive use of it at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello (as seen in this photo).
The Chippendale style is quite labor intensive, and the fitting together of the geometric patterns would require skilled carpentry. This style was used on colonial period houses as railings for porches and balconies, as well as for fences in the yard.
This beautiful and intricately designed style is well suited for many colonial period and colonial revival house styles including Georgian, Adams, Federal, and Neo-classical.
Also, it would be well-suited for the less gingerbread-ish Queen Anne Victorian style (Chippendale furniture was very popular during the Queen Anne Victorian era); perhaps, depending on the exterior color palette of this house style, you may want to go with one of the hues in the color palette instead of the traditional white.
For Period Colonials, Colonial Revivals, and Queen Anne Victorian house styles, posts can be topped with caps, or finished with a traditional design for the respective era created by chamfers and routing. For Tudor house styles, posts can be topped with a sphere or bishop’s hat style caps, or finished with a gothic or spire design.
Note: Be sure to check with your local building department for all requirements (including permits) they have regarding building fences in your yard. Also, if you are going to be installing a fence along your property line have your property line (also setbacks, easements) located by a professional surveyor.