A picket fence is a type of fencing most notably described by long singular flat staves dominated on top by a point or crown. Typically painted white, these knee high fences have been the most prolific image to denote the American dream and suburban way of life. While commonly thought of as an American innovation, it in fact was first used throughout Europe during the Victorian Era. The term “rattling the pickets” comes from fans literally rattling the picket fences that surrounded many cricket fields in the early 1780’s.
Today’s modern picket fences come in a huge variety of styles, shapes and sizes allowing a wide variety of choices for the average consumer or fence installer to choose from. Pickets can come premade in a wide variety of styles but also a wide variety of materials, ensuring you get the right style for your design as well as the right material for your budget. But before you hire any fencing contractor to install a picket fence in your yard, you may want to consider sorting through the long list of styles and materials to make sure you and your fencing contractor are on the same page when it comes to the height, style and materials of your new picket fence.
Basic construction techniques of a picket fence are easy to understand and employ in most environments. As long as the ground is free and clear of obstructive plants and isn’t too steep in grade, a picket fence can be installed. By setting posts into the ground using tamped earth or poured concrete as a base, stringers or stretchers are attached on the face of the posts—both on the top and bottom—the same distance apart from each other. Pickets are leveled horizontally and attached to the stringers according to the picket spacing pattern.
A picket panel is usually a flat ¼-½ inch panel typically 3 ½-5 ½ wide. Height is nominally 36-48 inches but can vary to suit owner’s tastes or their deed restrictions. The top commonly tapers to a point, but custom variations by the score have been created in custom made wooden, vinyl and metal panels around the world. Prices range from the $1 per factory produced picket to the custom made vinyl picket in the $20 per picket price range and up.
There are three basic types of spacing for picket placement on the stringers. These placement patterns create unique effects that can change the entire look of a picket fence. They are as follows:
Standard Spaced: The most common type of spacing seen in picket style fencing. Nominal 3-4 inch spacing between pickets creates and open yet defined space.
Shadowbox: This effect creates a private picket fencing that still allows spacing between pickets. Pickets are attached on alternating sides of the stringer, with no spacing between panels but what the width of the stringer provides.
Solid: The most private of all picket fence styles, pickets are butted up against each other as they are attached to the face of each stringer.
A picket fence can be arrayed in a wide variety of layout styles that employ your favorite picket cutout onto the stringer in a unique pattern. Picket styles are attached to two or three stringers at differing heights between posts to create multiple effects. Because these extra stringers create waste and require extra materials, it can significantly increase/decrease costs for each particular style. By understanding these basic picket styles, you can best determine what picket style best suits your tastes and your budget.