How to Install and Space Field Fence Posts


Fence posts are the spine of any fence, and properly placing them in a field is a somewhat more demanding procedure than performing the same task on a suburban lawn. In addition to measuring the spacing of the posts and taking pains to ensure the fence line is straight, you must also deal with uneven terrain. Only after you stake out the fence line and check that everything is properly laid out can you set the fence posts in place.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Stakes
  • String
  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Mattock
  • Posthole digger
  • Sand or gravel (optional)
  • Level
  • Iron tamping rod


  • Measure the length of your fence rails with a measuring tape to determine post spacing. If you are stringing wire between fence posts, follow the wire manufacturer's instructions regarding post spacing.

  • Prepare a roll of stakes and string. Measure out a length of string equal to the distance between fence posts, and tie both ends to stakes. Keep measuring string and tying it to stakes until you have enough stakes tied up to mark out the fence line for one day's work. Bundle up the stakes and string.

  • Walk along the planned fence line, driving the stakes into the ground with a hammer at the spacing dictated by the attached string. As you go, look back along the line of string to assure yourself the fence line is straight. The string provides both a measure of proper distance between stakes and a visual reference as to the line's straightness.

Setting Posts

  • Pull out the first stake in the line and dig a posthole in its place, using a mattock, shovel and posthole digger. Excavate this hole to a depth equal to roughly 1/3 the height of the fence post, and between double and triple its width. Pile the excavated dirt on one side of the hole, within easy reach of a shovel.

  • Put a fence post in the hole. Use a level to check its straightness, and adjust accordingly.

  • Fill in about 1/3 of the posthole with loose dirt. Compact this dirt with an iron tamping rod. Continue adding dirt and compacting it in layers with the tamping rod until the hole is filled with firm, compacted dirt.

  • Repeat Steps 1 to 3 to install every fence post in the line.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can hold a post straight and in place while filling in the hole, although this is awkward. The task is much easier with help. While holding the post erect with one hand, use your other hand to first scoop dirt into the hole with the shovel and then to compact it with the tamping rod. After reaching the 1/3 mark, the post should stand on its own, freeing up both hands.
  • When laying out posts on steep slopes in a field, it is a good idea to check your work by putting a fence rail between the stakes. This gives you a visual reference as to how the incline affects the layout of your fence, and lets you make any small adjustments necessary to compensate.
  • Fence posts set in depressed areas of a field that have drainage problems require a foundation to prevent their bases from rotting. Dig the post hole six inches deeper, and fill the extra depth with sand or gravel.

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