When it comes to understanding the world of cedar, there are few people we trust more than “Mr. Cedar” himself, Paul Mackie. He’s been with the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association—known as the “voice of the cedar industry”—for more than two decades, working to represent quality cedar producers and educate others on all things cedar. 

In this series, Paul shares everything cedar-related, from what exactly western red cedar is to the difference between kiln- and air-dried lumber to installation best practice. In today’s video, Paul discusses best practices for building a fence using western red cedar.

What are the common traits of western red cedar fencing?

Most cedar fencing is knotty, unseasoned (green), and rough on all sides. Lumber mills in Washington State tend to produce 5/8” thick boards, but other thicknesses are available. Other common thicknesses are 11/16” and 3/4”. The thickness of the boards you use is up to you, but if you use a thinner board, it’s a good idea to add a third fence rail for extra stability.

The most common height for fence boards is 6’, but they range from 4’ to 8’. You can always buy longer boards and cut them to length.

How should I construct my western red cedar fence?

The construction of your fence depends on if you’re using green or dry boards. Green boards will shrink a little as they’re exposed to the elements, whereas dry boards have already shrunk. If you want a gap between your fence boards and are using green lumber, you can install the boards butted edge to edge and expect to see about a 1/8” gap between boards develop over time. If you’re using dry boards, install them with the intended gap as they won’t shrink any further.

You’ll also want to install your fence boards with some ground clearance. If the boards are touching the ground, that will significantly shorten the life of your fence.

If you plan to stain or paint your fence, make sure you do so either before construction or quickly after. Sun burns the surface cells of the wood, so the longer your fence is exposed to weather, the more difficult it is to get primer, paint, or stain to adhere. 

Which type of fastener should I use with western red cedar?

You should always use stainless steel nails for a western red cedar fence. Galvanized nails that have thin zinc coatings don’t pair well with cedar and will quickly develop iron stains. Stainless steel nails will stay intact and prolong the life of your fence.

Stay tuned for more from Paul as we continue to learn from him on Dunn Solutions. In the meantime, be sure to check out the rest of our Mr. Cedar series with Paul, including what you should know about finger-jointed western red cedar, best uses for western red cedar, and the history of the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. Or, catch up with the full series.