FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

INFORMATIONAL BLOG ENTRIES

Updated: Dec 3, 2021



PRESSURE TREATED PINE

Pine is an inexpensive, easily accessible soft wood that - when treated with chemicals - provides a reliable option for fence framing (posts and rails).

PROS:

  • Lowest cost, chemical provides rot resistance

  • Longest lasting softwood option

  • Recommended option for wood posts and framework (pieces that accept fasteners, like screws or nails)

CONS:

  • Susceptible to warping, twisting, and cracking - ranging from mild to severe. This is an aesthetic downside, not a durability/longevity flaw

  • Chemical treatments can pose health risks to small animals, children, and plants

  • Cannot be recycled after use

WESTERN RED & SUGI CEDAR

Cedar is the most reliable and sustainable species of soft wood used for fencing. It can be used for fence framing for a nicer look, and it's one of the best wood option for pickets.

PROS:

  • Contains natural acids that deter insects

  • Minimal shrinkage and lowest vulnerability to warping, twisting, and checking among coniferous lumber

  • Superior sound dampening due to cellular pore network

  • Cedar lumber trees are fast growing, and provide one of the most sustainable options for fence material

  • Can be recycled after use

CONS:

  • Will decay/rot naturally and require replacement sooner than treated or composite alternatives

A NOTE ABOUT WESTERN RED vs SUGI CEDAR

There's a lot of information out there about these two species, and many traditional voices tend to stand by Western Red Cedar as the best option for fence material, period. The physical characteristics of the two species are incredibly similar, though, and recent climate events in regions where Western Red Cedar is harvested have made Sugi a great alternative.

Our short, honest version of the comparison is that Sugi is harder, and therefore slightly more susceptible to shrinking and warping; two problems that are easily mitigated by proper fence design, something we're very good at. We're confident that either option will provide a great looking, long lasting fence, and both can be trusted as great options.

COMPOSITES

A mixture of recycled plastics and woods, composites offer superior looks, longevity, and manufacturer warranties.

PROS:

  • Made of 95% recycled material.

  • Up to 25 year manufacturers warranty against warping, cracking, and twisting.

  • No maintenance required.

  • Multiple color options available.

CONS:

  • High price compared to wood products

  • High manufacturing carbon footprint

  • Cannot be recycled after use

GALVANIZED STEEL

Steel provides the longest lasting post structure for any fence, particularly with the rust resistance offered by galvanization. We recommend steel posts for all clients who want their fence to maintain a nice, straight appearance long-term, or who plan to live in their home long enough to replace the lumber without the cost of new posts.


Reputable ornamental iron manufacturers use only galvanized steel as their base metal prior to powder coating.

FASTENERS (NAILS, SCREWS, ETC.)

See blog post below entitled "Why We Use Stainless Steel Ringshank Nails"

From technique to materials, there is a lot to consider in how to build your fence. With all the bad information and marketing gimmicks out there, it can take a while to find what truly works the best.

In each decision, we make things very simple: we do what works and looks the best, while staying within budget. A while ago, we switched over to stainless-steel ring-shank nails. Here's why.

"Bleeding"

We work with a great, but difficult material. Western Red Cedar is very tough on fasteners: the same natural chemicals that protect the wood from rot also actively corrode steel and most coatings, resulting in an ugly bleeding around and underneath each fastener.

There are a few different coatings on the market, but none of them claim to eliminate the cedar bleeding problem.

  1. Galvanization. Galvanization adds a layer of zinc around the steel. The zinc does corrode, but as it does it gives off an electrical charge that prevents the steel underneath from rusting. That's why this works great for posts and hardware, because even if the zinc coating is scratched the steel is protected by the charge. There are essentially two types of galvanization we see in the fence industry: "electro-galvanized" and "hot-dip galvanized." Electro-galvinized nails or screws have a very thin layer of pure zinc and no alloy layer of zinc-iron, which means you could see bleading as early as one month from installation, depending on rain and sprinklers. Most fence companies use these, because they are very inexpensive. Hot-dip galvanized nails are immersed in a molten bath of zinc, giving them a much thicker coating as well as an alloy layer. With these, we've still seen signs of corrosion early, with bleeding starting around 8 months. How early they will bleed depends on how thick the coating is, and that depends on the brand of nail, but eventually the zinc will be gone and the steel exposed.

  2. "Exterior" screws. Screws are necessary, they're just not the best for appearance areas of your fence. Every box of coated screw on the market will contain a disclaimer like this one, taken from a box of Grip-Rite Primeguard Plus, which have a "lifetime guarantee against rust:" "It does not eliminate corrosion and/or staining due to various conditions such as high humidity, salt spray, and acidity content of preservatives in wood (such as cedar, rewdood, or man-made materials). Tannic acids naturally in lumber can cause staining and streaking." This was taken three months after installation, using a coated screw. Granted, it was in an area where it received a lot of water, so most don't become this terrible so quickly.

Screws vs Nails

There is a common conception out there that screws are stronger than nails. In many applications that is true, but with pickets there is very, very little benefit to using screws, and there are a few large downsides.

  1. Screws don't take much longer to install than nails. There are screw guns on the market that preload for you, and it's quite easy.

  2. Stainless steel screws, in the quantity needed for most fences, are very expensive. I'm also unaware of any stainless steel screw on the market that comes ready for screw guns. That's why companies that use screws use coated screws, which will eventualy bleed.

  3. Screws tend to crack the cedar when placed near the edge of the board, as they must be on many styles of fence. Cracked boards will probably still stay on, but as the cedar shrinks the crack will grow, and it just doesn't look very good. Some cracking is unavoidable, but screws cause a lot more.

Of course, if you'd like us to install your fence with screws we can certainly do so.

Nails

Obviously the main perceived advantage of screws over nails is the holding power. Using the right kind of nail achieves a similar strength without the downsides above.

There are essentially three types of nails on the market: smooth-, screw-, and ring-shank.

  1. Smooth shank. There is no reason to use these.

  2. Screw shank. We use these in some applications, but not for pickets - cedar contracts and expands when wet, and it can cause these to actually unscrew themselves over time.

  3. Ring shank. We're proud to have always used these on our pickets. The rings grip wood very well, and the boards stay in. Many hot-dip galvanized rings are clogged during the hot-dip process, and are practically smooth-shank as a result. Our stainless steel nails are incredibly strong, and have great rings. The only downside is that they are very difficult to remove - so if we make a mistake on a section, it is difficult to remove the boards without breaking them. We think that's a good problem to have!

The Switch to Stainless!

We operate under a simple premise: we want to deliver what we promise. What we promise is to give you the best fence we know how to build. We believe that means making sure the fence looks great throughout its life, not just right after installation.

So when we found a way to make stainless steel affordable, we took it. For years now, we've been ordering stainless nails in bulk to get discount pricing, while looking for other ways to save, so we could upgrade our fasteners without upgrading your cost.

From hole-depth to fastener choice, from design to completion, we choose quality and aesthetics, because that's why you choose us. Feel free to contact us with any questions - we'd love to chat about your project! Also, come connect with us on Facebook and see more of our work.

-- Jeff --

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Somebody collected a check for the work done in the picture attached to this post. Well, let's back up one step - someone actually asked for payment for the work done in the picture above! That's the part that boggles our minds, but we see it all over Austin: Fences installed with terrible material and sloppy technique.

We want everyone in our city to avoid paying for a fence that doesn't only look bad...it's unsafe. Here are some of the things to avoid at all cost when considering materials and/or installation methods for your fence:

THIN PICKETS

The combination of blistering heat, humidity, and extensive exposure to direct sunlight here in Austin makes your pickets vulnerable to ugly warping. The pickets used on most wood fences are sold as "1x6" pickets, but they aren't anywhere near 1" thick.

If a company quotes you a 1x4 or 1x6 cedar picket, request the actual "dimensional" measurement. There are three common dimensions that get that 1 inch thick designation: 1/2", 5/8", and 3/4". We recommend going with the 5/8" or 3/4" option to avoid everything we mentioned above. Any company quoting an unbeatable price is likely selling you the thinnest pickets possible.

UNRELIABLE FRAMING

The frame of every fence is made up of the posts and the rails (also called cross beams, cross supports, runners). If the products used for the frame are low quality, or if they're attached in the wrong way, your fence won't serve its purpose for long, if at all. Austin Brothers Fence Co uses only the safest product for our frames and we construct them in a way that'll last. If wood posts are used on your fence, all rails should be attached with long, exterior coated screws, not nails.

We're not sure how they sleep at night, but most builders and some fence companies build their fences on landscaping timbers (they look like posts, but they have round edges). This particular lumber is meant to be used as a garden liner, or ground cover barrier, set horizontally on the ground. Landscaping timbers should NEVER be used to support the weight of a fence! Real fence posts should never be smaller than 4x4, and Austin Brothers Fence Company will never offer anything less.

Wood posts, in general, are less reliable than steel posts, and we recommend steel posts for all of our fences.

Another framing product to avoid is any support rail smaller than 2x4. Many companies use 2x3's as their support rails (which are actually 1.5x2.5 inches), including the big hardware stores.

LONG SECTIONS

No matter what type of fence you get (wood, iron, composite, etc.), if the spacing between posts is excessive you're going to see warping very early on; even the strongest rails can't handle the weight of a fence if they're not supported by frequent posts. That's why Austin Brothers Fence Co always keeps our sections at, or below, 8 feet long, even if that requires extra labor on our part. In fact, we recommend shorter sections for the fence styles we know demand more support even though it may cost more up front. We want your fence to look good for as long as possible, and we'll always avoid the shortcuts taken by other companies who just want to collect a check before your fence starts to fall apart.

LOW QUALITY LUMBER

There are many types of wood that can be used for a wood fence project, but there are certain types and qualities that surpass the others in Austin's climate and make all the difference when it comes to the resilience of your fence. The best softwood (though it's one of the hardest of the softwoods) is Western Red Cedar, and we only recommend #2 grade. Some companies sell and install #3 grade; this grade has a multitude of knots and many large knot holes. It's also less dense, since it typically comes from the exterior portion of the tree it was milled from. Because of this, it'll rot faster than #2 grade lumber.

SHALLOW POST HOLES

Digging in Austin is rough work. Our community is built on a few inches of top soil...and then ROCK. Lots of rock. If a fence contractor doesn't have the right tools for digging through that rock you'll end up with shallow holes, and that spells disaster for you and your family. Entire sections of your fence can collapse during minor wind storms, or even from normal use.

Austin Brothers Fence company has all the tools necessary to hammer our way through the rock and guarantee holes 18 - 24 inches in depth (or deeper for taller fences), and we promise we'll always do so.

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