Building a Fence? Using post spikes? Read this first.

As part of the home improvement/home maintenance craze that's overtaken the world our house, we put in a fence this weekend.

We live in a fairly new area.  We house was built around 4 years ago.  About 2 years ago a fence company came in, convinced 98% of our neighbours they *NEEDED* to put up a fence and within days, the view from our back windows changed from greenery and niceness to a pressure treated wood extravaganza.

Fences Everywhere

Well, the times they are a changin' and now we want to put in a deck that necessitates the building of a fence.  And so our story begins… 

Earlier this week, our neighbour put a fence up on the left hand side of his property, with help from my husband and the neighbour whose property is adjacent to our neighbour's.  This inspired the boys to go ahead and fence our section this weekend.  When they put up the fence this week, they used fence post spikes instead of drilling post holes and securing the posts with concrete.

Spike

When it came time to discuss our section of fencing, our neighbour wanted to use fence post spikes again.  We weren't sure about the stability of this product so we searched high and low for any feedback on the internet and we also asked around at home improvement stores.  We only managed to come up with one anecdote of the spikes failing and it happened 7 years ago on a large length of fence.  The fence that was put up this week is only 25 feet long (the same length as the fence we need built).  The fence is anchored at one end to the house and at the other end to an existing fence that has its posts in concrete.  Consensus between Home Depot employees was that the posts would be stable enough using spikes.

The section of fence that was completed last week went off without a hitch.  3 spikes, one sledgehammer, lots of muscles and boom — the spikes were in and level and it was all good.  When  it came to our section of fence, we weren't so lucky.  3 spikes, one sledgehammer, the same guy using the sledgehammer and boom — one of the spikes wasn't level.  It actually had to be pried out of the ground and re-set.  I (thankfully) wasn't here for that but when I did return, "Mr. CrankyPants" was a word that could have been universally applied to the men involved.  I did what I think most women would do — I turned right around and made a trip to the beer store.  If they didn't need the beer when they were finished, I did.

We have one more side of our yard to fence on our property and then 4 backyards will have been fenced.  My husband asked if I still have the telephone number for a guy that comes and drills post holes and sets the posts for you.  The frustration that everyone dealt with yesterday was enough to guarantee that we're getting the posts set in concrete for the final section of fence.

They guys aren't entirely happy with one out of 4 panels of fencing that they put in.  It's partly because of the spikes.  The cuff that the post sits in prohibits you from attaching anything to the post, below the cuff.  And the cuff is 4 inches high.  That makes a big deal in our backyard because we've got a very visible grade.  It makes the amount of space under one side of the panel 4" and 7-8" on the other side of the panel. I've included some pictures for you to try to show the size of the cuff and the difference it makes at each end of a panel.  Look at the bottom of the fence to see what I mean.

Spike Cuff    Grade

So, if you're going to use spikes, make sure you have someone try to hold them while you put them in (who wants to do this with a sledgehammer coming your way?) and don't wait until it is all the way in, to ensure that it is level.

One the one hand I'm happy the fence is going up.  It means we can start on our deck soon.  On the other hand I'm a little sad because I know it means we won't get the bunny rabbit visitor we usually get.  We've never seen the rabbit but s/he leaves delightful tracks in the snow in the wintertime.  It fascinates the kids.  And yes, I will be busy staining the fence this week but I'll spare you the details on that.  I'd actually like to spare myself the details on that.  Between painting the front doors, painting the garage door, and the dresser I sanded and painted (first coat only, second coat goes on tonight), I'm a little home-reno'd out.

UPDATE:

The other side of the fence is now complete.  That would be the side with posts secured in concrete.  We paid $25/post for someone to come in with a tractor and an auger and drill the holes.  They poured the concrete and set/levelled the posts for us.  According to my husband (who actually built the fence), it was easier to build the fence on the concrete post side than it was on the spike side.  The main reason for this is because the posts were all level.  On the spike side, the posts were never 100% level and the guys had to work to get them as level as possible and in some cases, they planed some of those posts to make wood fit.  If our resident fence-builder had to use spikes again, one change he would make is that he would drive the spikes into the ground so deeply that the cuff (seen above) would not be visible above the ground.  This would allow for a tighter fit between the bottom of the fence and the ground on our grade and would eliminate the need to cut the posts after the fence has been built.  Obviously the concrete setting is more expensive than the spikes but from an observer's point of view, things moved along much more quickly with the concrete posts than the spiked posts.  They had a much longer section of fence built (40 feet) built in less time than it took them to put up 26.5 feet.  Hope that's helpful.  I've gotten a lot of hits on this blog post indicating a great number of you are debating whether or not you should use spikes.  If you have any questions, please ask and I'll forward them to the resident fence-builder and post a response.

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23 Comments

  1. norman said

    here it goes the cheaper version of the fence spike, is the non swivel type. They make spikes that even if you put them in out of plumb they will still level after instalation. the cuffs are made of aluminium so you can drill them and secure the fence sections! good luck

  2. goddess said

    Hunh. Those would have been useful. Thanks Norman, for adding that.
    Another point I should add to my post is that if you walk up to both sections of fencing that we put up (the section secured with concrete posts and the section secured with spikes), and push on them, both fences have the same amount of give. And both are sections are still standing. Always a good thing!

  3. gary said

    I would love to put up a little fence in my front yard but zoning laws say that I can’t. But I just wanted to say that your fence is very nice and it shows that you’ve put a lot of hard work into it.

  4. david said

    First thing I could have told you is not to trust what employees of Home Depot and Lowes say. These are just regular people off the street and not contractors/builders who have actual experience with the products they sell. That’s not to say they don’t know anything. But think about it: if someone has any kind of expertise in something, they wouldn’t be working at Lowes or Home Depot for $6/hour (at least that’s what they pay here). Home improvement stores are good if you already know what you need and how to use it. People that work there only know what’s written on the box (which you could read for yourself) or on what isle X is in the store.

    I think the fence post spikes you used are best for a temporary situation where you might want to remove the posts some time later. Using a little chain pulley to pull them out of the ground would be a lot easier than trying to haul up something buried in concrete.

  5. James said

    Good god, I stumbled across your doing some googling on the merits of post spikes (which I am not using!) and your view out the back windows looks exactly like mine! Gotta love suburbia! Tell me that’s not Markham! :)

  6. goddess said

    Insert chuckle here! Not Markham, but close ;)
    Re: the spikes. I’m fairly certain that the panel that is anchored with the post spike that had to be pulled out and re-set, is wobbly. I’ll get our resident fence builder to check it out but it doesn’t seem as sturdy as the other panels (spike or concrete).
    Glad you found this post and hope it helped in your decision making!

  7. Don said

    You don’t say how high your fence sections are. The web info I’ve found says 24″ spikes are good to 5′, and recommend 30″ spikes for a 6′ panel. One manufacturer does not endorse 30″ spikes for anything over 5′. We are going to use 6′ high panels. How high are yours, and what would your experts recommend?

  8. goddess said

    Hi Don!
    I verified with Mr. Athena that our spikes are the longest you could get so if 30″ is the longest you’ve found, then that’s what our we used. Our panels are 6 feet high. Also, we discovered that the problem with the wobbly panel (mentioned in comments above) is actually not spike-related. The post has started warping! So this is actually an excellent thing because the guys can remove and replace it much more easily than if it was in concrete. Hope that’s helpful!

  9. Don said

    Thanks for the info. We found that the 30″ spikes work great. As a tip on driving them in, we nailed a stake horizontally across the side/end of a 12″ piece of post. This was useful to keep the ‘stake holder’s’ hands well away from the sledge, and also to keep the post pocket lined up with the stringline (so it wouldn’t go in twisted). We checked the plumb every 6″ or so too, making minor adjustments as it went in. Compared to digging and pouring cement, if they can be used, the steel stakes are wonderful.

  10. Lou Dawson said

    Where do you get these post spikes, I dont find them at Home Depot, or Lowes. I would appreciate help.
    Thanks

  11. goddess said

    Lou, our spikes were purchased from Home Depot here in Canada. If you can’t find them, maybe they’re a seasonal item?

  12. kathy said

    Well I don’t have much to say on the positive side of these metal spikes. I had a 400 ft, 4 ft high board fence installed and 38 of the 52 posts heaved up to 7 inches after one Canadian winter! Should have gone with cement…

  13. Lawrence said

    *G*

    Wow… guess that’s one rant I’ll have to do soon.

    Fence spikes don’t make nearly as much sense as most people think. When they want to lay over that’s usually because there’s an obstruction–hydro or gas line, rock, brick, piece of wood, a root.

    Being in the fence business for more than 20 years I looked at numerous failures early on and decided that fence spikes just don’t make sense.

    I assumed everyone else would come to the same conclusion but to my horror–they are still selling them.

    Anyhow–

    Better luck with the concrete ones.

    To see our wild fences…(we build them upto 15′ high) http://www.gardenstructure.com

  14. Paul said

    We will be putting up a fence this summer, and our backyard is guaranteed to have extremely rocky soil (we learned this last summer when putting in our deck). Thanks for posting this, it’s made our decision much easier – we’ll have a bobcat drill the fence post holes and use cement. Thanks!

  15. Brian said

    Hi,

    I was going to use post spikes….

    but i just want to use them on a simple non-pannel picket fence… (as in, TWO 100mm X 20mm laths betoween each 1 meter high post) surely, using the technique used by Don above they would suffice for this type of low, non-panel fence…

    I would have thought also that this was the application for which they were designed… also, wood rots easily in concrete, am I right? many an irish Farmer has told me this…

    to spike or not to spike, not convinced either way yet!

  16. mark said

    Try OZ-POST they have a wide variety of post spikes, and you can drive them in to the ground with specially designed bits for a 60# jackhammer. Their motto is “done in 60 seconds” http://www.oz-post.com/html/

  17. Alex said

    Thank You

  18. Don said

    Well, here it is, spring at last in eastern Canada. We had frost this winter, big time. I built 2 sheds, attached to the free-standing, on-cement-slab garage last fall, and they heaved up about 3″! I’m happy to report that only 2 of my 18 or so spikes are still up about 1 1/2″ from where they should be. The reason is that they are on a part of the property that only sees direct sun for a couple of hours in the AM, and a couple in the late PM hours. One is at the junction of 2 gates, and the latch won’t go up far enough to open one because the reciever is on the heaved post. I’m betting it’ll drop within a week or so. If not, a couple of whacks with the sledge should do the trick. I believe the frost issue is very much dependent on your geographic location, the local soil conditions (even varying on your property), and the hours/direction of sunlight on the post(s).

  19. Joe said

    Found the blog, I’m now putting in my 3rd spike fense and wouldn’t concrete
    again. I’m now exmilitary and hopefully will not have to move again. I used 30 in spikes for a 5 foot and 36 inch spikes for an 8 foot privace fence. I do concrete the corner posts. I bought the level for the post at home depot and haven’t had any of the problems addressed above. I did one in PA, one in sand near the NC coast and the 3rd on my family farm in TN. I can put in horse fencing at about 3 acres a day bu spiking the posts and using horse band electric fencing. Takes weeks to drill and concrete the same area. The person who says go to Oz websire broke the code. Joe

  20. Kathy said

    I build a four foot board fence using spikes. A total of 56 of them. One winter of friot and the entire line heaved. I had to redo the entire fenceline putting posts into concete. That mistake cost me $5,000. I’ll never use another spike again!

    Kathy in Ontario

  21. Annie said

    We are are thinking of using the post spikes as the conservation board in our area will not allow us to use concrete. If anyone has any words of wisdom they would be appreciated.The fence will be free standing on a corner and will not have a gate.HELP!!!!!!

  22. Rik Hansel said

    I put up one 30″ spike for a flag pole. I did not dig the hole. What I did was to take the iron bar -one inch in diameter- of a weight lifting set with the ‘chrome’ sleeve, which is about 36 inches long. I put the sleeve vertically on the spot where I wanted to place the spike and I inserted the iron bar in it. Then all I did was to keep the sleeve in place while I lift up the bar vertically about 30 inches with about 6 inches still in the sleeve. I then drop it. The force of the compressed air plus the weight of the bar sank the bar about 5 inches into the ground. The sleeve remained put. It did not sink. After lifting and dropping the iron bar about 6 times, the hole was about 20 inches deep. I checked a couple of times ensure the iron bar was truly vertical. It was but if it wasn’t all I had to do was to force the bar to be perpendicular to the ground. I continued lifting the bar and letting it slide through the sleeve for a couple ot times and then checked the depth of the hole. It was 23 inches. I then placed
    the spike. I put a piece of wood in the socket and hit it with a sledgehammer. This time I checked the spike after every 3 strokes to ensure it was going in vertically straight. After about 10 blows with the sledgehammer I had it at the desired depth about 27 inches. I did not want the wooden pole to touch earth. It took me about one hour total but then I am an old man of 80 years and I was using sense rather than brawn. I was also lucky I did not meet any large stones or root.

  23. To_guy said

    I just built a fence with 9 post using the adjustable ground spikes. The hardest part, besides driving them into the ground, was keeping the post level. you’d try to level and then take the post out and move it from where it was supposed to be. Also the spike only had to bolts to keep the 4×4 tight and secure using only pressure. It would have been better if they had holes in it simmialr to the saddles used in concrete. I”m just waiting to see if the fence is gonna heave or fall forward. Something about the adjustable part of the ground spike I dont trust.
    Luckily it wasn’t my fence. Haha. it was my buddies I was helping with.

    On my fences I will definitly use concrete, alittle more money but way worth it for the headache it saves. Plus with the info above about the people who will dig the hole for $25 a post, why not use concrete.

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