Tue. May 21st, 2024

Once we had our backyard design locked down, I started to plan how the work would be done over the summer. Knowing that I would be doing much of the work myself or depending on contractors, and knowing that I needed to do some of the work around a building permit, I carefully thought through the order and what could be built and when.

Phase 1: North Fence and Gate
Phase 2: Garage
Phase 3: South Fence
Phase 4: Garage Canopy and Deck
Phase 5: Pavers
Phase 6: Floating Deck

Removing Old Posts

For the north fence, we started by removing the old fence posts, which turned out to be considerably harder than the internet had me believe it would be. I watched many videos around how to pull up old fence posts, but my posts turned out to be a whole other level of hell.

In our backyard, the previous owners put the posts 2 to 3 feet in the ground, put some random concrete chunks around the post to hold it in place and then filled the hole with concrete. It took a full day and a lot of brute force to remove the posts. Basically every inch or two of shoveling, we’d hit a new piece of concrete that had to be dug out. And not just concrete related to the hole, but random chunks of concrete used as infill. What a nightmare.

We dug down about 4′ to get below the frost line and it felt like forever to reach that depth. The other challenge we had was having to dig right against our neighbour’s walkway and being careful not to remove too much dirt below the walkway so we didn’t create future sinking problems. By the end of the first day, we had two holes but no posts installed.

We finished off the day by removing all the dirt from my planter box because it was in the way of digging for the next holes.

On Day 2, we decided to dig new holes for the next two posts instead of replacing the existing ones, as the original posts were more than 6′ apart. It turned out to be the right call because digging new holes was considerably easier than trying to replace the existing posts.

We then dig around the old existing holes just deep enough to cut the post off and cover it up with dirt. It was good too because one of the posts was way too close to our neighbour’s super sketchy, half buried electrical conduit.

Before pouring the concrete we had to prepare the holes. Since our holes were also larger than 12″ (so we could dig out the random concrete chunks), we decided to use sonotubes and backfill the rest with soil. It helped create a nice, clean hole for the concrete. I made sure to place the concrete tubes slightly below ground level so that our new pavers could sit on top and the post holes wouldn’t get in the way.

Installing New Posts

Once the holes were set up, we mixed the concrete and placed the 4×4 posts in the hole, making sure they were plumb and on the property line. To help hold them in place, I hammered some wooden stakes into the ground and used 2x4s to get the posts in the right spot.

Once the posts were set, we then had to leave them to cure a bit before we could do any further work.

My biggest concern was having to keep the backyard relatively open for two nights. We used our old fence pieces to block the walkway and locked up anything that could be stolen.

On Day 3 I was on my own. I started working on levelling out the ground around the fence posts. I couldn’t work on the fence yet, as I waiting for at least 24 hours before attaching anything to the posts (and I probably should have waited 48 hours).

I was digging a mix of rock and dirt, which was heavy and not easy to shovel. Once I got down a couple of inches, I also came across an old concrete walkway that had to be removed. I was pretty defeated at this point, but remembered the wonders a sledge hammer can do.

I was barely able to lift the sledge hammer over my shoulders (given I had been at this for three days already and my body was tired), but once I managed to get it up, gravity took over and I was able to smash the concrete into smaller pieces that I could easily lift off the ground.

Once I got the concrete removed, I filled in the gap with excess soil I now had from my levelling work.

Installing Fence Rails

In the afternoon I moved on to installing the fence rails along the fence. I worried that I should have waited a little longer for the concrete to cure, but I also had to get moving on securing our backyard.

I used rail brackets and secured them a few inches from the bottom of the fence, in the middle and a few inches from the top. I then installed 2x4s in the brackets to create a secure structure for my fence boards. I also painted the fronts of the posts and rails so they were black (not pictured).

Installing Fence Boards

On Day 4 I could finally install the fence boards. I carefully looked at where my finished ground would be and figured out how long each board should be. I decided on 83” – allowing for a 1” gap at the bottom of my 7’ fence.

To ensure I had a perfectly straight line at the top, I sacrificed one of the fence boards and screwed it into the fence posts, making sure it was perfectly level. I then installed each 83” board tight against the top board, making sure the first board was perfectly plumb.

Using the camo tool, I installed each board along the fence rails, checking every 2-3 boards to make sure everything was still plumb. The camo tool worked great, despite the fact that I wasn’t using 5/4” boards for which it was designed. The camo tool kept my boards evenly spaced.

It took me about 4 hours to install around 18’ of fence.

I still have about 30’ feet to go on that side of the yard, but some of that will be new garage, then new canopy and deck. And given how tough the holes were to dig, I’m thinking I’ll have the garage contractor dig those holes for me as part of phase 2.

Building a Gate

I had planned to build a gate on the same weekend as my fence installation, but the hardware I ordered had an issues with the hinges and I had to order a new one. It took a few days to arrive, so I had to wait until the following weekend to start.

I bought the Pylex Heavy Duty Gate Kit from Lee Valley. The reviews were decent, although some had issues with bent pieces. Even the second kit I received wasn’t perfectly square, but I found it didn’t matter too much once all the pieces came together.

I carefully measured the opening between my two gate posts and cut my pressure treated 2x4s accordingly. The gate hardware works for any gates up to 72″ wide and 72″ tall. My fence is 7′ and I wanted the gate height to match, so I’m going a bit beyond the height max. I figure it’s fine because my gate width is just over 3′ so nowhere near the max width. I cut an extra piece for the middle since I wanted it to be as solid as possible. I’m just hoping it’s not too much weight for the hinges.

Once all my pieces were cut, I painted them black and dry fit them together.

Once the gate was together, I had Alex help me hang the gate, making sure it was level and plumb.

It was then time to finish the gate. I had looked online for some good ideas and found a gate with 1×2 slats attached that I liked. I couldn’t find 1×2 cedar slats, so I bought some 1x6s and ripped them to width. Once all the pieces were ripped, I cut them to length (83″ – same as the fence boards) and attached them to the gate. I wanted a wider piece for where the lock sits so I ripped a 6″ piece down to about 5 1/4″ for the final piece.

We didn’t have a lot of great options with the gate lock we picked, mostly because we wanted a mechanical keyless lock in black. I don’t love the gate lock we found, but it’s similar to what was on our old lock so I’m sure I’ll notice it less over time.

Installing the gate lock was tricky. First I had to cut a 1″ hole in the 2×4 for the deadbolt. The hole itself wasn’t hard to drill, although I’m always scared I’m going to break my wrist when I’m using a hammer drill. The tricky part was that, per the instructions, I needed to actually create an oval hole to allow a small piece of metal to move above the deadbolt. When I was drilling up a bit, the hammer drill caught on some wood and the drill itself swung around and hit me in the face. It hurt like crazy and then I had a drill bit stuck in the door.

I ended up using a chisel to cut away some of the wood to allow the deadbolt to move freely in the hole. It was a painstakingly slow process, but it worked.

I then chiseled out where the deadbolt plate went so it would sit flush with the door. Once the piece was flush, I also repainted the hole to hide where the wood had been chiseled.

I then drilled a hole on the post where the deadbolt would enter. This step was easier, but lining up the deadbolt with the post was tricky. I also chiseled away at the post a bit so the plate would sit flush.

To keep the door sitting at the right spot, I also installed a piece of wood on the post so the gate would stop and not swing through. And, because my gate was slightly too wide (by around 1/4″), I also had to sand down the gate and repaint it so it wouldn’t get stuck on the post.

Installing the rest of the lock was relatively easy once I changed the code and figured out how to get the right direction on the handle. The instructions weren’t great, but once I spent some time with the lock, I was able to figure it out.

And despite the fact that I don’t love the lock, it looks pretty sleek against the cedar.

I then sanded the gate wood and applied Cabot finish to protect the wood.

I finished the gate trim with a piece of cedar that I cut to size and painted black. With the fence boards painted black on the other size, it will be a nice contrast against the cedar gate.

Reinstalling Fence Boards

A few days after I installed the fence boards, I noticed that the wood started to pull away from the fence rails. Turns out the camo tool really can’t be used for 1×6 boards because there isn’t enough wood for the screws to grab. And as soon as the wood starts to dry and warp a bit, it split around the screws and came loose from the fence structure.

So after some further research and chatting with our contractor, I decided to face screw them into the rails instead. This time I also reduced the spacing a bit since the boards were still shrinking and I didn’t want big gaps between the boards. The most annoying bit was undoing the camo screws, as some didn’t come out easily or got stuck in the boards.

Once I removed all the camo screws, I re-screwed the boards using 1 1/2″ deck screws and sunk the heads so I could later use some exterior wood filler to fill the holes. With 2 screws at each rail (so 6 screws total per board), they were securely in place.

Once all the new boards were in place, I installed some of the final pieces around the gate and also cut the posts to the right height. I can’t wait to get the rest of the posts and boards installed in the next phases!

Despite a quick demo of the garage, it took our contractor forever to start the garage construction so I got impatient and build another 12′ of fence.

This time, digging the holes didn’t seem so bad. I continued to hit random infill concrete and bricks, but once I got down 2 feet, it was just me and soil to overcome. But one of the challenges we had was removing the dirt from the bottom 2 feet of the hole, since it was so deep, so we used our shop vac to remove the dirt. It worked brilliantly and saved us a ton of time.

Once the holes were dug, Alex and I set the posts with sono tubes and concrete.

A few days after the posts were set, I added fence rails, painted the rails and posts black and installed the fence boards.

With a good length of fence in place, I then added a piece to the top to create a more finished look. I had to rip the pressure treated board to the right width (only 4″) and then installed it along the top with some blocking behind to hold it down in between the posts.

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