How to Build a Shadow Box Fence

How to Build a Shadow Box Fence

Shadow box fences are unique in their appearance, which is the same when viewed from either inside or outside. This Gardenerdy article will tell you how easy it is to build shadow box fences.
Gardenerdy Staff
Did You Know?
It is prohibited by law to build shadow box fences of residential areas, taller than 6 feet, in some US states.
A shadow box is a composite wooden fence made up of a staggered arrangement of pickets or vertical wooden boards placed on two or three wooden rails. A few pickets are fixed on one side, while the others are attached on the opposite side, such that they block out each others' gaps. The average height of shadow fences is 6', but at times, they may be as short as 4', while other times even 8' tall.
Proper selection of the type of wood is key to building a strong and long-lasting fence. The type of wood used most commonly for building this kind of fence is cypress, fir, spruce, redwood, pine, red cedar, and white cedar. It is always a good idea to use heartwood, rather than sapwood, for making a fence. Heartwood is the wood from the interior of the stem, which is strong and has fewer knots. It won't decay as quickly as sapwood, which is younger wood removed from the exterior of a tree.
Shadow box fences have a number of advantages. They allow a variable level of privacy that can be modified depending on the owner's preferences. The materials used for building them are light and cost-effective, and besides, wood is biodegradable. These fences can also be customized to suit the owner's tastes. The only disadvantage of shadow box fences is that, they have short lifespans of 5 to 10 years, and require frequent maintenance.
Shadow box fence
Shadow box fences can be built by a variety of methods; by using either individual components or preassembled shadow box fence panels. The simplest procedure for installation of shadow box fences is given here.
Things Needed
  • 4×4 posts, pressure treated
  • 2×4 rails, pressure treated
  • 6" pickets, pressure treated
  • Preassembled shadow box fence panels (optional)
  • Power drill with drill bit
  • Handsaw
  • Power auger
  • String
  • Level
  • Screws/nails
  • Shovel
  • Concrete and gravel
  • Grade stakes
  • Trowel
  • Latex-based paint/waterproofing stain
Before We Begin
First delineate the boundary of your property, where you plan to set up the fence.

Check with your local building agencies to see if you need a special permit. Also obtain information about what size of fencing is allowed, and how far in should the fence be from the property boundary.

It is a good idea to inform your neighbors well in advance, to avoid surprising them after building the fence.
Setting up the Posts
Post setting
➤ Mark the corners and ends of the fence line by driving wooden stakes in the soil at each one.

➤ Drill a hole and fix a screw at the top edge of each stake. Tie a string joining the screws of all stakes, such that it is taut and perfectly horizontal. Each stake represents a spot where a post has to be fixed.

➤ Dig a hole using a post hole digger or a power auger at each spot. The depth of the hole should be ½ to ⅓ the height of the post above the ground, and three times the width of the post.

➤ First, fill 6" inches of the bottom of the hole with gravel, and place a tubular concrete form on it.

➤ Insert the bottom of the post into the hole. Using a level, check if it is plumb.

➤ Fill the hole with wet concrete mixture around the bottom of the post. Allow it to overflow, and using a trowel, create slopes on the top of the concrete.

➤ Allow the concrete mixture to cure, which may take anywhere between 2 - 3 days, before carrying out the further process.

➤ To keep the post in position, brace it at the bottom by diagonally fixing two wooden 2×4s that are fixed to the ground.

➤ Repeat the above process of fixing the posts throughout the fence line, after placing them 6 - 8' apart from each other.
Note: If using preassembled shadow box fence panels, skip the next two steps.
Fitting the Rails
Fitting the rails
➤ If required, modify the length of the rails for them to fit horizontally between adjacent posts.

➤ Each panel will require either 2 or 3 rails, depending on the height. A 6' tall fence will need three rails, while an 8' one will need four.

➤ Measuring a height of 6" from the ground, place a rail horizontally on two adjacent posts, in such a way that its wide surface faces outwards.

➤ Drill two holes through both, the rail and the post, while holding the rail in position. Affix two screws diagonally to attach the rail and picket together. Alternately, you can join them using lap joints.

➤ In the same way, attach a rail at the top of the fence, at a distance of 6" from the level of the post.

➤ Affix another rail in the middle, if required, by joining it to the centers of the two adjacent posts.

➤ Repeat the above steps until the rails are fixed between all the posts.
Attaching the Pickets
Attaching the pickets
➤ Before attaching the pickets, tie a thread connecting all the posts, at a height that you want the top of the pickets to be at. The thread should be taut and horizontal. This ensures that the top edges of the pickets are horizontal and in a straight line.

➤ Tie another string that connects the middle of the posts, which again, should be taut and perfectly horizontal. This is to ensure that the vertical surface of the pickets are level to each other.

➤ Take the first picket and place it flush against the length of one end post, such that it is about 2" off the ground, to prevent chances of rot. Fix it at each rail, by drilling 2 screws at each one.

➤ Take a spare picket and place it lengthwise beside the previously fixed picket. Then, fix another picket to the rails on the other side of the spare picket. Thus, the spare picket serves as a spacer.

➤ First, fix all pickets on one side of the fence. After this is done, fix pickets on the opposite side, but these should be fixed opposite the gaps between the pickets of the first side. Thus, the pickets on one side conceal the gaps between the pickets on the other side, and vice versa.
When Using Preassembled Shadow Box Fence Panels
➤ Preassembled panels come with pickets and rails already joined to one another.

➤ To fix them, first align them in proper position of the rails over the posts, and check if they are plumb.

➤ Holding them in place, drill two holes at each rail-post joint, and drive screws or nails through them.
Finishing and Care
Fence painting
➤ Applying the right finish to the fence will protect it from the elements. The proper finish to be applied depends on the type of wood used and the final appearance that you want.

➤ Before applying any finish, the fence should be allowed to dry for one month, followed by proper cleaning.

➤ A finish may involve either a coat of paint of waterproofing stain. You can apply a latex-based paint after applying an oil primer. This will conceal the color and texture of the wood.

➤ A waterproofing stain can be applied if you want to retain the color and texture of the wood grain, while at the same time coating and protecting the wood from damage.

➤ The fence should be checked from time to time for any damage. A new coat of paint is typically added every year, or at least once every 5 years. Damaged posts or pickets should be repaired or replaced, as necessary.
A shadow box fence is ideal for anyone who wants their share of privacy without walling off their compound from the rest of the world. On an average, the materials for building this fence could cost anywhere between $1,150 to $1,600, depending on the quality. While it's easy to build, one should always wear protective gear while working with wood, to avoid any chances of injury.