How to install fence pickets on a wooden fence

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A step-by-step guide on how to install fence pickets on a wooden cedar fence. 

Your backyard is your personal retreat from hectic days. 

It’s where you soak up the rays of the sun, plant your seeds for summer salads and watch your kids dig up worms from under little rocks you never noticed before.

But during all this time you spend outdoors, there’s one thing that you try to avoid looking too closely at. 

Your faded, slightly shaky, and definitely outdated wooden fence.

Well, it’s time to give your fence a facelift!

And if you’re already calculating how much it will cost you to replace the entire fence, stop right there. 

You can easily and affordably renew your fence by installing cedar pickets on the current fence! 

Our backyard fence has had a big transformation over the past months; the difference is like night and day.

How to rebuild a fence before and after

Before the repairs, our fence was a sad sight and sections of it were falling apart. We finally decided to rebuild the whole thing. 

I shared the process we used to rebrace all the rails of our fence previously and today, we are adding the pickets. 

In the following weeks, I will be sharing tutorials on building a gate with a pergola over it. 

To start, here is a list of the supplies and tools we used.

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Install fence pickets



SIDE NOTE: Maybe you have a local lumber store that has different sizes of cedar planks. We found this out towards the end of our project when we needed some 10 ft boards. 

Before we start, let’s show you how we fixed that problem with the bowing pickets.


When we started this project, we planned to keep the same fence structure as before. Unfortunately, a few weeks after we were done, we had to come back and fix all the pickets. Yes, ALL of them! 

After installing all the pickets, we started to notice that a lot of them were bowing away from the fence. So we decided to add another rail to the fence, right in the middle, to prevent the pickets from bowing. 

We even had to remove some of the pickets to add this new rail, so PLEASE save yourself some time and install a middle rail before the pickets! 

We installed the middle rail the same way as the other two rails.

We braced the one end of the post with several 5″ 2×4 pieces (we cut two blocks for each rail). Since we’re adding a middle brace, we have to brace the middle rail to the vertical post or boards. To help brace the rail, we used the 5” block.

After adding one 5″ piece, we cut a 2×4 board to be the middle rail and measured from post to brace. We then set the middle rail into place, took our level and adjusted the board until it was straight. 

We marked the bottom where the other side of the middle rail hit the post (or brace). This is the mark to place the other 5″ 2×4 brace piece.

We secured the 5″ piece with screws (just like before); then, we attached the middle rail and secured with two 3.5″ screws. We continued this rail from post to post (or post to brace in our case) for the whole fence. 

Here is an example of what I am talking about.

supporting wooden fence

After rebracing and installing the rails, we were ready to install the pickets. We decided that we did not want our pickets right by each other. Some of the pickets are not as square as you would hope so we chose to leave a little gap in between the pickets. This would give us some wiggle room and we liked the look better.

We decided on a 1/4″ gap between each board. To make things easy, we used a scrap 1/4″ strip of MDF we had on hand from our kitchen cabinet project

Another thing I would suggest is to leave at least a 1/2″ gap (I liked it more between 1″-2″) at the bottom of the pickets to the ground.

To install the pickets the process was simple but to make it even easier, you will need two people. We placed the 1/4″ board as a spacer between the boards. 


  • After your first or second picket, take your level and make sure the boards are level as you continue. We had to fix a big section because we didn’t do this and it does NOT look good. And don’t just do it once – make sure to check the level about every ten pickets. If they are not level, adjust the space between the boards and if you really need to adjust, do this gradually (over a couple of pickets).
  • Another challenge was trying to keep the top of the pickets level. You could use a small piece of rope but our ground was sloping. What we did was eyeball it. When things started to slope, we gradually sloped with the ground (about a 1/4″ pre-picket). 
  • There were some places where we added some dirt to even out the gap between the pickets and ground. 
  • Also, we never moved our boards up; instead, we would cut the bottom of the picket if it was too long.


To install a picket, we would place the 1/4″ spacer against the last picket and then place the next picket right against the spacer. One of us (me) would hold the picket into place, while the other would check the level (ground space and top of the picket). My husband did this because he is taller than me! 

When everything looked good, he took the drill with a drill bit and pre-drilled two holes into the top rail and two into the bottom rail. Then, he added 2″ deck screws into the pre-drilled holes, being careful about not drilling too far into the picket with the screw.

spacing for cedar pickets on fence

Next, we moved to the next picket, repeating the same process. Don’t worry about the middle rail just yet – you’ll have plenty of time to do it later.

We found that we needed to cut some of the pickets to fit in the end of the space. To do this, we measured the gap and subtracted 1/2″ (sometimes the top and bottom gap can be different so measure both). After we marked a picket with the measurement, I took a circular saw and cut along the line. This gave us our adjusted picket.

Once all the pickets are installed, have one person pre-drill two holes along the middle rail for all the pickets. Then, have someone else follow by drilling the 2″ screws into place. We did this in sections but it made adding the screws so much faster!

screwing cedar pickets into place

And that is how we re-braced our wooden fence and installed new cedar pickets. What do you think?

How about a before and after again?

old wooden fence makeover
install cedar pickets for fence

The difference is amazing, right? Stay tuned for how to build a simple pergola over a gate, build a wooden gate, stain/waterproof a fence, and the cost break-down

Anyone else need to redo their fence?

screwing cedar pickets into place

Install fence pickets

Yield: fence
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 30 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Cost: $$$

Are you wanting to install a wooden fence? One of the steps in building a fence is installing pickets. This is the process on how to install fence pickets.


  • cedar pickets (we used about #320)
  • 2″x4″ cedar boards
  • 3.5″ deck screws (we purchased 2 of these big boxes)
  • 2″ deck screws (we purchased 3 of these big boxes)
  • scrap 1/4″ board


  • miter saw
  • circular saw
  • level
  • drill
  • pencil or pen
  • safety glasses
  • face mask (for dust)
  • ear protection


  1. Make sure the framing of the fence is stable and it has a top, middle, and bottom rail to attach the pickets into place (see how to build the framing of a fence with the link).
  2. Install the pickets by attaching each board to the top. middle, and bottom rail with two screws at each rail.
  3. Pre-drill the holes then attach the pickets with 2" screws.
  4. Use a 1/4" spacer board to give you the gap between the pickets.



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