Privacy Fence Demo – Lessons Learned

I recently took down the privacy fence around our property and in this article/video I’ll share a few lessons learned. 45 total posts for approximately 350 feet of fence. About sixteen hours of labor spread into 3 days while trying to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Our house was built in 2007 so the fence has a maximum estimated age of 14 years. About half of it was in OK condition and about half of it was in bad structural shape with several pickets missing or damaged.

My initial plan for tearing down the fence was to try and salvage as much of it as possible, starting with the pickets. I had the idea of using these to make a rustic play fort for my daughter, or something similar, so I started removing them one screw at a time. The screws used for construction were T-25 star head screws so they were removed easily. But it only took removing one or two pickets to realize it was a horribly time-consuming idea.

Plan B was to start cutting. A long blade reciprocating saw was the first tool of choice.

It worked well to cut the horizontal 2×4’s to separate the panels from the posts. My friend John came over to lend a hand and at that point, we tried using both the reciprocating saw as well as a circular saw. After a little bit, the reciprocating saw vibration was quite annoying on the forearms. The circular saw was much easier on the forearms but the dust it threw into the air was annoying to the face and skin. Being pelted with dust when you’re sweaty from the summer sun was a deal-breaker. So we put the circular saw away and took turns abusing our arms with the reciprocating saw.

After exhausting all of my batteries we switched gears to the posts. At this point, I wasn’t sure if concrete was used for each post. It was. Our first plan of attack was to use a farm jack to lift the post at one of the horizontal 2×4 connection points. I’d jack it up a little bit and John would push from the other side. Up and over, up and over, up and over. This worked for a couple of them but there was too much struggling with it. There had to be a better way. Also, the panels started to get in the way.

We switched gears again to start stacking the panels on my trailer. Because most of these panels were in such bad shape I thought my only option was to take them to the landfill. However, after recommendations on social media, I posted them for free online and two people ended up getting everything, including the posts with concrete.

Back to removing the panels after the batteries were charged.

When working on large manual labor projects like this I always think of a better or more efficient way of working when I’m near the end of the work. In this case, it dawned on me to use my chainsaw to cut the panels when I was on the last stretch of the fence. Much easier on the forearms. However, on the second panel, I grazed the side of a stray screw and dulled one side of the chain. This made the blade incredibly dull and rapidly drift to one side. I continued with the dull blade for a few more panels but it just got too hot and started smoking the chain oil. So…back to the reciprocating saw for the last little bit.

At this point, all of the panels were down and my trailer had one full load ready to go to the landfill. Back to the posts. We removed a couple more the hard way until John had to leave for the evening.

I thought about a way to remove the posts easier and with one person and what I came up with was to create a pivot point to get a greater mechanical advantage. I screwed two 8′ 2×8’s together to form a 14′ long beam. My idea was to screw this to two posts and use the farm jack on the overhang. This would give me a mechanical advantage to increase the jacking force while also getting the base of the jack out of the way of the large concrete ball coming out of the ground.

I continued for a few posts before realizing a couple of areas for improvement. First, there was no need to secure the beam to the second post. It could just lay on the ground, eliminating one attachment task. Second, the four 3-1/2” decking screws I used to attach the beam to the first post were starting to bend and eventually pulled out of one of the posts. I needed a better, and faster attachment method.

The only thing I had in the shop that I thought might work was a 12” piece of 3/4” threaded rod. I drilled a 3/4” hole into the beam and a 1” hole into the post. In this case, the beam can be quickly attached to the post just by sliding the threaded rod through. I didn’t worry about putting a nut on the back side because the threads would dig into the wood and prevent slipping. This worked surprisingly well so I went ahead and drilled holes in all of the posts before continuing.

This method was quick and effective. I was able to jack these posts out of the ground by myself much faster and easier than the two-person method we started with. By the end of day two, I had all of the posts out of the ground and someone had already taken all of the fence panels.

Day three consisted of getting most of the posts to a centralized location and loading them onto someone’s trailer. I was shocked that someone wanted to take these posts but I sure didn’t complain. He said he wasn’t sure what these would eventually be but the last fence he picked up for free turned into a chicken coop.

And finally, to wrap up day three and this project I used a garden hoe to pull as much of the residual dirt back into the holes while. I still need to come back with fill dirt and finish filling in the holes but this is all I had time for.

I had a three-day window before a lot of heavy rain in the forecast and I finished just in time. So the rest of this is cell phone images. A few takeaways from this fence demo. First, like most manual labor projects, the experience of actually doing the manual labor often results in thinking of smarter ways to get the job done. Creating a large lever to jack the posts out of the ground easily is definitely my recommended method for one-man post removal.

Second, by removing the fence we immediately gained about five feet of usable land in the back of our back yard. And, not shown here, we have already cleared about ten more feet of vines, weeds, and bushes to get a total of about fifteen more feet of continuously shaded area for a future play fort for kids. All of this is still on our property according to a recent land survey.

Lastly, we realized we prefer not having a fence in the back yard so we will likely not build another one. It just makes our yard feel larger and gives more of a community vibe when we talk to our neighbors outside.

So why tear down the fence in the first place? Well, because it was nearing the end of its lifespan anyway, and needed to remove at least some of it for a future outdoor entertaining area. It didn’t make sense to leave some of it up. Regarding the outdoor entertaining area, we’re contracting most of it out. The contractor will do the drainage work, the slab, and the pole barn style shelter. I’ll do the electrical, bar build, any furniture, half walls, and any other small stuff.

20 COMMENTS

  1. What a contrast to the way we live in Thailand, where “privacy fences” are concrete walls with spikes for added security. It would take a team of guys, a jack hammer or two, and a tractor-trailer to demolish and remove our typical moderate sized security wall. Our plans are to keep painting it for another 21 years or so. Needless to say our Siamese cats negotiate travel in and out of our property on a daily basis as if the wall doesn’t exist. I gave up trying to make it cat proof years ago.

  2. Yard looks fantastic Jay. If you make a tripod out of the jack and two 2×4’s, chain around the posts, you can jack the posts out without too much hassle, but your lever method looks cool too.
    Yeah, working in heat/humidity makes one creative ! Great work!

  3. You said that you aren’t building the covered structure but, it looks like you drew it up. Can you offer the plans for it?
    Any way, I really enjoyed the video. I look forward to seeing the outdoor living space.

  4. I salvaged a chain link fence once that was being given away. Fortunately, the owner had a loader tractor to pull the posts, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the concrete came off the posts with a sledge hammer. I don’t know if it would separate that easily from wooden ]outs, but with steel there was no problem whatsoever.

  5. Whoever built our backyard fence used landscape timbers for posts and concreted them a full 3 ft in the ground. Well built, but after 10 years, the posts started to rot off. So there was nothing easy to attach to. Sometimes there was enough good wood to drill a hole and put a bolt through it, other times, we had to dig up the top of the concrete slug, wrap a chain around the slug and pull it out with the jack from there. We’d replace them one or two at a time every few months and it was a beast of a job. If I had to do it over again, I’d borrow a tractor from work and pull them all with the front end loader. And we used steel galvanized pipe for replacements, then filed them with concrete. Wood in the ground just doesn’t work in our soil.

  6. One thing I’ve found is that a corded reciprocating saw doesn’t shake your arms near as much as a battery powered one.

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