Wooden fences are the most popular option for residential fencing in the United States, and there are good reasons for it: reasonable cost, privacy, and attractiveness have helped to make wooden fences widespread. In addition, wooden fences can have a long life span if properly treated, maintained, and built. It is essential to start with a firm foundation in any building project, and the foundation of a fence consists of its posts and their footings. Nothing else you do makes up for poorly installed fence posts, and you will ultimately be faced with a sagging, falling and breaking fence should this step be neglected. Below is a guide to installing wood fencing posts for privacy fences so they are strong and secure for years to come:

Materials and tools you need

  • Sharp-edged gravel – choose a material such as a crushed limestone that contains sharp edges. Do not use pea gravel, river rock, cobblestone or other materials with rounded edges. Round stones will not "lock" together and hold fast over time.
  • Soil – use a dark, loamy soil mixture, and avoid clay soils that tend to expand when wet and shrink when dry. Clay soils can cause the post to warp, break or even push up out of the ground over time.
  • Premixed cement – you will need one 60 pound bag per fence post.
  • Wooden four-inch by four-inch fence posts
  • Oil-based primer
  • Five-gallon bucket
  • Powered post hole diggers – these can be rented for less than one hundred dollars per day from most equipment rental dealers, and they will save you time and a significant amount of labor when compared to a manual digger.
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Tamping tool
  • Garden hose
  • Carpenter's level

Installing the posts

1. Mark off the locations where you plan to install fence posts – wooden privacy fence posts should be no farther than 8 feet apart to prevent sagging. They can be as close to each other as you desire, but keep in mind where you want to install gates and be sure the gaps are sufficiently large for them.

2. Dig the fence post holes – using a post hole digger, dig to a depth that is at least one-third greater than the above-ground height of the fence post. For example, if you desire your fence post to be 6 feet high, then you should dig a hole that is no less than 2 feet deep.

3. Tamp the holes – with your tamping tool, firmly pack down the bottom of the post holes so the surface is flat and smooth. Remove any tree or shrubbery roots that might protrude into the hole.

4. Pour the concrete pads – mix one 60-pound bag of premixed cement with approximately one-half gallon of water in the wheelbarrow.  After mixing, pour the contents of the wheelbarrow into the first corner post hole. Repeat this step for each hole, and allow the cement to cure for at least 24 hours before moving to the next step.

5. Paint the bottom of each pole – the pole bottoms are going to be exposed to moisture and insect attacks, so adding a primer will increase durability. Paint up from the bottom of the poles so you cover approximately one foot with the primer.  Set the poles aside to dry.

6. Place the poles – after the primer has dried on each pole, lower the fence poles into the holes so they are resting on the concrete pads you previously poured. Move the fence pole around  inside the hole so it is perfectly vertical; use your level to verify.

7. Fill the hole around the poles – ask a helper to hold the poles in their vertical position, and begin shoveling in sharp-edged gravel and soil in an approximately equal amount. After filling a foot of each hole, use the tamping tool to push the pieces into place so they are "locked" together. Continue the process of filling and tamping until you reach the surface of the ground.

8. Settle the poles in position – using the garden hose set to a low level, run water into the gravel and soil mix you placed around the pole. As the water runs, periodically tamp the gravel and soil down and add additional materials if it begins to subside. Once there is no visible settling, then your poles will be ready to attach to cross supports and fence boards.