The Ultimate Wood Fence Style Guide
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Given the customizable nature of wood and how long wooden fences have been around (just ask Tom Sawyer!), there is quite a wide variety of fence styles to choose from! At Mike's Fences, we classify different wood fence types into three main categories: Traditional, Horizontal, and Custom. In this guide, we break down each type into more detail and provide some pictures for reference. Please note, Mike's Fences only works in Southern California at the moment, which impacts some of the styles and types of wood you will learn about below.
Traditional fences are the most common wood fence, for good reason. They are a great functional design and are usually going to be your most affordable wood fence option. Dressing up these fences with a coat of paint or stain will make it really stand out. The main styles are: Dog Ear, Cap & Trim, and Picket (for front fence).
Traditional Fences Styles:
Dog Ear: The tried and true wood fence. The Face of the fence will show only the dog ear planks, the backside will show the 2”x4” framing/rails. Many homeowners will opt to have the fence be “Good Neighbor” if they are splitting costs with a neighbor, which means the sections of fence with the Face/framing will alternate (making it more of a fair deal for each neighbor).
Cap & Trim: This is the upgraded traditional fence that has become much more popular over the past couple of decades. Having a cap and a trim board make the fence appear more “finished”. Also, a huge advantage of this fence is that it will look very similar on both sides, which makes negotiating with neighbors much easier. One side will have the 2”x4” rail on top and bottom, and the other will have the 1”x4” trim on top and bottom; and both sides appear "finished".
Picket: Generally only used for front, short fences. Picket fences are surprisingly customizable. For example, you can have the pickets all be the same height or you can have each section have a scalloped or arched pattern. Most common planks/pickets are 1”x4” or 2”x2”. Some customer’s opt to stain picket fences, but the most common method is to paint the pickets white.
Other Styles are popular in places outside of Southern California, including Shadow-Box, Split Rail, and Grape Stake.
Elements of Traditional Fences:
Planks: The planks are the vertical boards that make up the bulk of the surface area of the fence. At least in Southern California, these are usually Fence Grade Redwood or Cedar planks. The standard plank will be nominal 1”x6”x6’ (1 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 6 feet long), with a 1”x8”x6’ or a 1”x4”x6’ option occasionally available.
Rails: These are the horizontal 2x4’s that constitute “framing” of the fence. There will usually be two rails for redwood fences and three rails for cedar fences. Cedar 1"x6" boards are a little less stable (meaning they want to warp more), so we generally recommend a 2”x4” in the middle of the fence to prevent excessive warping and tighten up the fence. The typical wood type for a 2”x4” is either redwood, cedar, or pressure treated. The go-to for most contractors is pressure treated, which can be a stark contrast with the planks (especially cedar) so it is important to understand which 2”x4” you are getting and whether it aligns with the look you want for your fence.
Posts: Posts are the foundation for the fence. Usually will be 4”x4” pressure treated, redwood, or cedar; or can be a metal variety. Most contractors will use 4”x4” pressure treated for posts unless the customer requests something else. For more info on posts, we dedicated a section to it below.
Cap: Caps are only put on Cap & Trim fences (not Dog Ear) and are more of an aesthetic feature than structural. Typically the caps will be built with 2”x4” or 2”x6”. 2x4’s will be flush with the posts (which are also 4” wide) and 2x6’s will have a little bit of an overhang on both sides. As with posts and rails, the most common types of wood to use for a cap are pressure treated, redwood, or cedar. The prices of 2”x6” can vary quite a bit between woods and contractors will generally go with the most affordable option (usually pressure treated) so it is wise to ask which type of cap is being used and make sure that is the look you are going for.
Trim: Again this is generally only used for Cap & Trim Fences. The trim is usually a 1”x4” that gets placed on the top and bottom of the fence. The trim is a nice architectural feature and actually hides the top/bottom of the planks, which is nice in case any of the planks weren’t cut or aligned perfectly! Usually going to be redwood or cedar (rarely pressure treated).
Horizontal wood fences have a unique modern look which have made them quite popular in Southern California. As with many fences, horizontal fences also have two sides: one with the posts exposed and the other with only the horizontal boards exposed. Front fences usually have the horizontal wood facing outwards towards the street and back fences usually have the horizontal boards facing in towards the backyard. Some customers opt to build these fences with wood on both sides, especially if splitting costs with neighbors. Check out this gallery for more some horizontal fence pictures and learn more about the different elements of a horizontal fence below:
Elements of Horizontal Fences:
Planks: The planks are the horizontal boards that make up the bulk of the surface area of the fence. The standard plank will be nominal 1”x6”, with a 1”x4” or 1”x3” option occasionally available. These are usually built with redwood, cedar or tropical hardwoods (i.e. Ipe, Mangaris, Mahogany). The type of wood plank you choose for the fence will drastically impact the look of the fence. Feel free to check out our website for the different wood options we offer at Mike's Fences.
Posts: Like traditional fences, posts are the foundation of a horizontal fence. Posts will usually will be 4”x4” pressure treated, redwood, cedar, or metal. Most contractors will use 4”x4” pressure treated for posts unless the customer requests something else. We would definitely recommend considering how each type of post will impact the look of the backside of your horizontal fence because they are quite visible from one side.
Top Cap: Top caps are an optional item for horizontal fences. Top caps are usually a 1”x6” that is installed flat on the top of the fence to cap it off. Generally speaking, we recommend top caps for shorter fences so you don’t see the top of the post. Top caps are a matter of style preference for tall fences, since hiding the top of the post isn’t an issue (it is too high to be visible).
Gap: Small gaps between horizontal boards are standard for horizontal fences and impact the final appearance of the fence. Generally, we will use gaps between ¼” and 1”. If you want no gaps between boards, we would recommend using a tongue and groove board. We would recommend having your contractor mock up a few different gap sizes so you can see how big these gaps look in real life. It is also worth considering that wood will shrink and expand so you can expect the size of the gap to fluctuate throughout the year.
There are quite a number of styles of fences we would consider "Custom". Common styles are X-Fences, Hogwire Fences, Cable Rail, and Custom Vertical Slat Fences. If you want a custom style fence, we would recommend collecting a few different pictures (online search or simply cool fences in your neighborhood) and sending them to your contractor to see if they have any experience with this type of fence. Many of the same rules of Traditional and Horizontal Fences apply to custom fences: you will want strong posts, use quality wood, and make sure everything is plumb and straight.
Common Styles of Custom Wood Fences:
X-Fence: Can be applied to either modern or traditional looking homes. We would suggest a nice stain if you want the fence to really pop; or a coat of white/black paint for a more classical look. We will usually build these fences with redwood or cedar 2x4's and 4x4's.
Hogwire: Hogwire fences are quickly growing in popularity for their nice aesthetic and open feeling. This is a particularly great wood fence option for dogs; or if you want some nice vines intertwined with your fence. The type of wire will usually impact the cost of the fence quite dramatically.
Cable Rail: A super popular option for deck railings, the Cable Rail design is gaining popularity for fencing as well. Usually built with wood or metal posts and stainless steel cables, Cable Rail fences offer great visibility/transparency and a classy touch to any home.
Custom Vertical Slat: Creating similar aesthetic to horizontal fences, Custom Vertical Slat Fences is an up and coming modern style that we foresee gaining a lot of popularity in the coming years, especially for homes near the beach. These are usually built with tropical hardwoods or high quality redwood/cedar, using a thin (1"x3") or standard (1"x6") board.
Thanks for checking out our style guide for wood fences! Feel free to check out the rest of our website at mikesfences.com and feel free to reach out with any questions!