H braces provide the strength and stability to keep your fence strong and in place. Learn how to build a fence for your hobby farm with this step by step blog series. First step: plan the fence line. Second step: how to build an h-brace
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Welcome to step 2 of the how to build a farm fence series. If you have not already read Step 1: Plan the Fence Line, go back and read it first here. After you know where your fence will be and have cleared the fence line, H-braces are next on the list. H braces bookend all sides of the fence and are what provide the strength and stability to stretch and pull the wire and hold up gates.
How to Build an H-Brace
When you planned your fence line, you marked with stakes and string where your H-braces will be at each end of the fence line and on either side of each gate. REMINDER: For one straight length of fence, your formula for how many H braces is --> # of H-braces = 1 (for the starting edge of your fence) + (# of gates x 2) + 1 (for the end edge of your fence. Or, more simply:
# of H-braces = 2 + [(# of gates) x 2]
You can buy or make pre-fabricated welded H braces or make them with large wooden posts like us. That's what this blog will tell you how to do. To make them out of wood, each H-brace will need:
(3) 8 ft round posts (6' diameter)
(2) brace pins
(1) in-line strainer
10 gauge wire (allow for about 40' of wire for each H-brace)
(2) barbed staples
(2) crimping sleeves
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In addition to the materials that will be a part of the actual H-brace, you will also need the following additional materials:
In-Line Strainer Handle
Cordless Drill & bits sized to the holes you will drill for the brace pins in your H-brace.
Auger (hand or gas powered), Shovels, Post-hole digger, and -- if you are unfortunate enough to sit on rock like we do -- a jackhammer
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STEP 1: DIG HOLES & SET POSTS
For one H-brace, you will need to dig two holes that, when the posts are set, will be 8' apart. I recommend digging decently wide holes so that you have room to level your vertical posts and keep them 8' apart. Don't stress too much about this, you can always chainsaw a bit off your horizontal post so that it fits, so when in doubt, you want the horizontal posts closer rather than further than 8'.
The most important part of this step is to make sure the posts are perfectly in line with your fence line (that's where the orange string from Step 1 comes in handy). If the angle is off, you will not be pulling parallel to your H-brace, therefor the horizontal post and twitch wire will not be able to sufficiently do their job to stabilize the fence and wire. The orange string represents the fence line and, more importantly, where the actual fence wire will be. You want the wire on the side of the fence where the animals will be (or where the biggest animals will be). For example, for our stretch of fence separating our backyard from the goat pasture, the wire is on the goat side. For our stretch of fence separating the goat pasture and the horse pasture, the wire is on the horse side. Dig the holes on the orange string line so that when you level the vertical posts they line up with the orange string so that it just touches the edge of the post -- where you will tack the fence wire to the vertical H-brace posts.
For an 8' wooden post, you want 3' of the post to be underground to make sure it has enough strength to stretch the wire. I recommend digging one hole and setting one post at a time. Once your 3' hole is dug, place the post in and level it on all sides, making sure the edge lines up with the orange string. You can fill the hole with concrete, but we chose to fill it with the dirt from the hole so that there was sufficient drainage to keep water from seeping in and rotting the wooden post. If you are filling the hole with dirt, all of the dirt that came out of the hole should fit back in around the post. While the post is being held still in place leveled on all sides, shovel a few inches of dirt into the hole and then tamp down the dirt so it is tightly packed in the hole and around the post. Repeat this a few inches at a time until the hole is filled and the post is set. Measure 8' from this post and dig your second hole for the H-brace with the above method.
STEP 2: ATTACH THE HORIZONTAL POST
Now that your vertical posts are set, you are ready to attach the horizontal post. First determine the height of your horizontal post. Basically you don't want it too high or too low but don't need to stress too much about this height. Anywhere between 75% and 85% the height of the top of your fence wire should be great. For our 48" wire that sits about an two inches off the ground (we added a string of barbed wire below) the horizontal H-brace post is at 39" above the ground. 40" / ~49" = ~80%
Next, determine which direction the twitch wire (the wire that holds tension in the H-brace to keep it nice and strong). The wire will angle from the bottom of one vertical post up to where the horizontal post is attached on the other. The bottom side of the wire should be on the outermost post where you will be stretching the wire from and the post where most of the tension will be pulling.
If you consider this slash the angle of the twitch wire [\] the formula would be:
wire being stretched, (inner) post \ (edge) post
To attach the horizontal post, you will use a 10" brace pin on either side. On the inner post side (where the twitch wire will start at the horizontal post), the brace pin will go all the way through the vertical post into the horizontal post so that one inch stays sticking out opposite the horizontal post. This one inch of brace pin is what the twitch wire will thread over on this side. On the edge post side (where the twitch wire will be at the bottom of the post), the brace pin will be fitted into a 3" drilled hole on the vertical post (not passing all the way through the vertical post. The twitch wire will be thread under barbed staples at the bottom of the post on this side.
As mentioned above, if your vertical posts are a bit too close together, you may need to shave an inch or so off with a chainsaw. If you do this, remember to use a wood sealer to protect the freshly cut edge of the post.
Now drill the holes for the brace pins. At the height you have determined above, drill a hole straight through the inner vertical post parallel with the fence line. Place a brace pin partly into the hole. On the edge vertical post, drill a 3" hole at the same height into the side facing the inner post where the horizontal post will be. REMINDER: the horizontal post should be level with the ground so remember to measure the same height from the ground at each post. If your ground slopes, so will the horizontal post. On the horizontal post, drill a 4" hole into the center of one flat end of the post and a 7" hole in the other end. Place a brace pin in the 7" hole. Lift the horizontal post and work the brace pin sticking out of one side into the 3" hole in the edge vertical post. Once that is in, line up the other end of the horizontal post with the hole on the inner vertical post. This may slip right into place or require some coaxing with a rubber mallet. Once it is in place, knock the brace pin into the hole drilled in the horizontal post until only one inch is sticking out of the edge of the inner vertical post. Be careful not to knock the pin in too far -- you will need the inch sticking out the thread the twitch wire over.
STEP 3: STRING THE TWITCH WIRE
Time to string the twitch wire! On the edge vertical post near the bottom of the outside edge (opposite side of where the horizontal post is), hammer a barbed staple in but leave room to slip another staple over the top of the staple (about half an inch). This second hanging staple, will keep the wire from digging into the wooden post.
Start threading the 10 gauge wire around the H brace. It will go over the brace pin sticking out of one post and under the staple on the other post. Once you have strung it around two times, stretch it as tight as you can by hand and attach the end of the in-line strainer to the wire. The strainer should be on the opposite side of where the fence wire will be so that the fence doesn't get caught in the strainer.
String two crimping sleeves on the wire, stick it through the hole at the end of the strainer, bend the wire and thread the end back through the crimping sleeve. Crimp it a few times so it is nice and tight. Then cut the other end of the wire so that you have several inches of slack to thread through the in line strainer. Thread the cut end of the wire through the bottom of the in-line strainer wheel perpendicular to the angle of the twitch wire (if the hole in the wheel is not lined up perpendicular, turn the strainer a few notches until it is). Once strung through, bend about an inch of the wire in the opposite direction that the strainer turns to tighten so that it stays in place as you use the in-line strainer handle to tighten the wire. If you have more than an inch, trim the slack so it does not get in the way of the strainer wheel turning.
Before beginning to tighten the wire with the in-line strainer handle, make sure that the wire does not cross at all on the strainer side, or at each place it is threaded around the post. For example if the strainer is attached to the wire underneath where the solid wire is like in the above picture, that wire should be on the bottom when threading around the brace pin and threading around the staple. NOTE: Because this is one long stretch of wire wound around the H-brace twice, it will have to cross once. But make sure that it crosses on the side opposite where the strainer is attached. Tighten the wire with the strainer handle, pausing every few turns to ensure the wire has not crossed while tightening. Do not overtighten but enough that there is only about a 4 inch give when you pull it out away from the H-brace. You can always tighten it more later.
Bekaert Fencing has a wonderful YouTube video on how to build a wooden H-brace that I definitely recommend!
Woo we are halfway done!