A chain-link fence is the opposite of a privacy fence in that the wire mesh offers no visual privacy at all—but that's also a good thing because it provides very light resistance to the wind, so there's little chance of the fence blowing over. If you want visual privacy, you can weave privacy slats through the mesh once your chain-link fence is erected.
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Before starting work, check your property lines to be sure you aren't encroaching on a neighbor's property and check setback requirements for your community to be sure the fence is the correct distance from the property line. You should also check with planning authorities to make sure the fence doesn't violate any building codes and that you get any building permits that might be required. Also, don't forget to call 811, a free, nationwide service provided by utility companies to map out the location of underground utility lines so you don't cut through anything while digging.
As with any DIY fence project, a chain-link fence installation begins with laying out the fence lines and marking the positions of posts. You then dig a hole for each post deep enough to set it in concrete, which is at least 2 feet for a 4-foot fence, or you can dig shallower holes for post anchors, an alternative to concrete demonstrated by DIY Landscaping.
Once the posts are secure, you install the top rail and optionally a tension wire, which takes the place of the bottom rail you use for other fences. The tension wire is recommended if there's a gap between the bottom of the fence and the ground because it secures the mesh and prevents small animals from passing.
You unroll the mesh, which comes in 50-foot rolls, join sections to make it long enough to extend between the terminal posts on one side, attach it to one terminal post, stretch it, attach it to the opposite terminal post and secure it with the hardware that comes with the fence kit. Finally, you attach the gate hinges to the gate posts and hang the gate, which is prefabricated, so you don't have to worry about actually building it.
Broadly speaking, a chain-link fence kit contains the following components, according to Diamond Fence Co.: mesh fencing made from heavy-gauge wire, posts, top rails, tension wire, a gate and mounting hardware, including hinges. The posts are typically 2-inch tubes made from galvanized steel, and the rails are 1 3/8-inch galvanized steel tubes.
Most kits contain all this hardware plus some extra hardware, including:
- Tension bars, which feed through the links at the ends of the mesh and provide a solid, straight edge that can be clamped.
- Tension bands, which are the metal brackets that fit around the posts and hold the tension bar.
- Brace clamps, which are similar to tension bands and are used to attach the tension wire.
- Rail end fittings, which are used to secure the top rail to the terminal posts.
- Outside sleeves are metal couplings used for joining sections of top rail.
- Post caps, which slip onto the tops of the posts. There are round caps for the end posts and loop caps for the line posts to hold the top rail.
- Tie wires to secure the mesh to the top rail and line posts. These are usually made of aluminum.
- Hog rings, which are C-shaped lengths of wire for securing the bottom of the mesh to the tension wire.
- Gate hinges, which are clamped to the gate post and have vertical posts on which the gate can pivot.
- Nuts and bolts for the tension bands, brace clamps and hinges.
Things You'll Need
Have a friend assist you with the project, as chain-link fencing is heavy and difficult to maneuver alone.
Step 1: Set the Terminal Posts
Designate the post locations for the corners and ends of the fence with marking paint, ensuring the fence lines between the marks are set back the required distance from the property lines. Use stakes and string if necessary. Dig a hole for each end post that is one-third as deep as the total length of the post using a post-hole digger or an auger.
The hole for a 4-foot-tall fence post should be 2 feet deep (the post itself is 6 feet long), and it should be three times wider than the post diameter or 6 inches for a 2-inch post. The holes should splay out at the bottom to prevent heaving in the winter. The hole for each gate post should be a little deeper than the rest so you can pour more concrete for better stability.
Plumb each post in both directions using a 2-foot level and keep it plumb while you fill the hole with stiff concrete mix to a depth of 4 inches below ground level. Readjust the post as needed while you pour to keep it plumb and check it once more when you're done. You'll probably need one 60-pound bag of concrete per post.
Step 2: Set the Line Posts
Stretch a layout string between each facing pair of terminal posts. If the posts aren't stable yet, attach the string to stakes set directly behind the posts. Mark the positions of the line posts along the string, spacing them according to the gauge (or measurement of thickness) of the mesh fencing. Spacing for light-gauge fencing can be as close as 6 feet, and for heavy-gauge fencing, it can be as much as 10 feet.
Dig a hole at each mark and set a line post with its outside edge touching the line. Plumb each post and fill the hole with concrete. Before the concrete sets, it's a good idea to observe the entire line of posts from behind one of the terminal posts to ensure all the posts are aligned with one another. Let the concrete cure as directed by the manufacturer.
Step 3: Cut the Posts
For a 4-foot fence, the terminal posts should be cut at a height of 50 inches above the ground and the line posts to a height of 46 inches to allow for the loop caps. This is easiest to do with a pipe cutter, but it's a two-person job because one person should hold the post with a pipe wrench to prevent it from turning while the other person does the cutting. You can also do this job with a hacksaw or, as Hoover Fence Co. suggests, with a portable band saw.
Step 4: Place Tension Bands, Brace Clamps and Post Caps
Slip a brace clamp onto each terminal post followed by the tension bands. The rule of thumb for the number of tension bands, says Home Stratosphere, is to subtract one from the height of the post, so for a 4-foot fence, you need at least three. The tension bands have a flat side and a curved side, and the flat side faces the outside of the fence. Follow this by one more brace clamp to hold the top rail and then slip a round end cap onto the top of the post.
Fit a loop cap onto each of the line posts. The loop has a slight slant, and the cap should be installed so the slant is toward the outside of the fence.
Step 5: Install the Top Rail
Slip the top rail through the loop clamps on the line posts, joining sections of rail with outside sleeves if one section isn't long enough, and slip rail end fittings onto both ends of the rail. Cut the last section of top rail as needed using a pipe cutter. Slide the top brace clamp up the terminal post until it is 2 inches from the top and attach the end fitting using one pair of the nuts and bolts supplied with the fencing. Tighten the clamp securely with a socket wrench.
Step 6: Install the Tension Wire (Optional)
Slide the bottom brace clamp up the post until it's the same distance below the top brace clamp as the width of the mesh and then secure it with a nut and bolt. The bolt should be facing the opposite end post. Wrap one end of the tension wire around it and loop the end several times around the wire using pliers. Cut the end of the wire with the pliers or a wire cutter.
Unroll the wire to the opposite terminal post and cut it about 12 inches longer than the distance between the posts. The heavy gauge wire can unwind quickly by itself, and because it's stiff and can cause injury, America's Fence Store recommends gloves and goggles for this task.
Feed the end upward through the bolt on the brace clamp and insert it into the end of a T-bar, which is a length of pipe with a handle used to install tension wire. Rotate the T-bar toward the post until the wire is tight, as demonstrated by John Willman, and then wrap the T-bar two or three times around the wire. Remove the T-bar and continue wrapping the wire with pliers. Snip the end with wire cutters.
Step 7: Prepare the Mesh Fencing
Unroll the fence fabric on the ground on the outside of the fence line. If you have to make the fabric longer, pry up both ends of the last link with pliers and remove the entire link by basically unscrewing it. Butt the next section of fabric, screw the link back in to join the two sections and then bend the ends back down. Stand up the mesh and lean it against the outside of the fence posts.
Step 8: Connect One End of the Mesh to an End Post
Insert a tension bar into the end of the fencing fabric by weaving it through the mesh. The bar's length should be the same as the width of the fencing. Space the tension clamps evenly on the post, insert the tension bar into the clamps and tighten the nuts and bolts on the clamps with a socket wrench.
Step 9: Stretch the Fencing and Connect It to the Other Post
Pull the fencing as tight as you can by hand and then insert a tension bar about 2 feet from the end of the fabric. Hook one end of a come-along to the tension bar and tie the other end of the come-along to the end post. Crank the handle of the come-along until the mesh is tight enough to resist depressing it by more than 1/4 inch with your fingers.
Remove the fence link nearest the post to separate the excess mesh using the same technique you used for joining sections. Insert a tension bar into the last link of fabric and clamp the tension bar to the tension bands on the post. Release the come-along and remove the tension bar that you used with the come-along.
Step 10: Secure the Top and Bottom of the Fence Material
Tie the top of the chain-link fabric to the top rail and line posts with aluminum ties, wrapping the ties and tightening them with pliers. Secure to the bottom of the fence to the tension wire (as applicable) with hog rings and close each ring with hog-ring pliers.
Step 11: Install the Gate
Chain-link gates have two holes on the hinge side for the hinge posts, and it's best to set the top hinge so the post is facing downward to prevent removal of the gate. Set the bottom hinge on the gate post at the proper height to allow the gate to swing smoothly and then tighten the hinge. Set the gate on the bottom hinge and have someone hold it while you slide the top into position and tighten it. Double-check the swing of the gate and make sure the latch engages with the opposite gate post.
- YouTube: DIY Landscaping - How to Install Chain Link Fence
- Diamond Fence Co.: These 7 Chain Link Fence Parts Are the Most Common When Doing Your Own Fence Repairs
- Hoover Fence Co.: Chain Link Fence Installation Manual
- YouTube: John Willman - Fence Video On How To Install Tension Wire For Chain Link Fence
- Family Handyman: How to Repair a Chain Link Fence
- America's Fence Store: Chain Link Tension Wire Installation
- Home Stratosphere: How To Install A Chain Link Fence From Start To Finish (in 13 Steps)
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.