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Fence building with untreated wood

I'm building a 4' tall picket fence around my front yard. No more free-ranging this little toddler. He moves fast.

Wood options from the home improvement store are (1) old school pressure treated [arsenic] and (2) untreated. Since I'm using my yard for edible gardening, I do not want even a small amount of arsenic added to the soil.

So... My old library DIY books say that untreated wood rots in five years. What?! That can't be right. I know I can weatherproof and paint the bays (panels) and portion of the post above ground. I've heard about putting gravel at the bottom of the post hole to help drainage, and I'll be pouring cement around the base. What else?

How can I build my fence with untreated wood? How do you extend the life of the wood under ground?

I have dreams of making tea out of rose hips from yellow climbing roses that might one day weave and dance over the white pickets. No arsenic, please.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
Since I know nothing about this subject but was curious I did a quick search online. It seems that certain woods rot less easily--Cypress and Cedar and Redwood perhaps. Also, it was suggested that one might surround the underground segment of the wood with some antimicrobial material. It's a complex task you've set for yourself. Hope someone here is better informed than I.
Aug. 5th, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)
I *think* arsenic in PT wood was banned a few years ago, but I don't know for sure.
Aug. 5th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
I had to get on the phone with Home Depot and Lowes regional purchasing who-di-who to talk to them about which chemicals were used, and they said it was arsenate, because there was no demand for the other stuff. What a shame! Yeah, in the conversations they said that they had to make such small orders, the price of each bay went from $25 to about $50, and then no one would buy it.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 5th, 2009 08:57 am (UTC)
I agree, I was going to suggest cast cement.
Aug. 5th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
I wonder if there are metal posts that could blend in with the look of the wood-- That would be a great option.

I could just hide the metal posts on the interor side of the fence, I suppose, and once they're painted white, they wouldn't stand out.

And to compromise, I could use a couple treated posts just for the corners.

I read an article online that said that the chemicals in the treated wood don't migrate far, just an inch or two from the wood, which is low-risk??

I'll have to look around the store: May be there are some metal posts that are fabricated to look a little better than the ones on my chain link fence in the back yard. Hopefully!
Aug. 5th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it could still look traditional, somehow, while still using metal posts?
Aug. 5th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
Wikipedia says that arsenic treated residential wood has not been produced in the USA since 2003 (I'm just assuming that that's where you are from the way you write - no offense offered), so it's possible you have been misinformed about the wood offered in that store, and it mentions several other preservation methods, including some natural. They also offer a few links you might find useful.
Aug. 5th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's what the suppliers told me at Lowes and Home Depot, so maybe I need to talk to someone even higher up. Now, if it hasn't been produced, I wonder if that's different from it not being *sold*?

It would be wonderful if they were wrong and they had the water resistant copper treatment available.
Aug. 5th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
No, I didn't get the impression that it couldn't be sold, but six years in storage somewhere seems very long.

Saw your reply to the metal post suggestion: I know I've seen metal posts that are made in such a way that you just hook the picket fence segments onto them somehow, but I am not able to find them online - I guess I just don't know the proper term for them. The ones I've seen were square and painted white, with "pyramid" caps. What I have been able to find online are post supports in metal (and also in cement, but they look clumsy) that can be driven or cemented into the ground. They come in several sizes, and for both round and square/rectangular posts.
Aug. 5th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)
As someone who put in a non pressure-treated wood fence a few years ago, I can say for absolute sure and certain, it does rot. Even though we used wood sealer, we're still having issues. And not only that, the crosspieces (better term?) are starting to come loose. Ugh.

We're needing a new yard fence too, and we're actually considering decorative metal or vinyl fencing this time around. More expense, but dang it... it'll last!

I'm leaning more towards black decorative metal. I like the gothy graveyard look. :P
Aug. 5th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
Did you just use wood sealer, or did you paint also?
Aug. 5th, 2009 11:37 am (UTC)
It'll rot, and concrete can create a pocket at the bottom of the post that water can't drain from, making it rot faster. If you ensure your cross pieces are up off the ground it will help as they won't wick up water and will dry better after they get wet, so don't put soil around anything that doesn't need to be directly in the ground. Met posts might be a good alternative to wood, either for the post sockets or the upright posts themselves.
Aug. 5th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I know you want wood, but you might take a serious look at they plastic options. Many of them have a lot of recycled content, are garden safe and will not need to be painted to stay pretty. I know wood feels more natural, but the process of painting and the risk of rot means that you will have to mess with it a lot more to make it work and that the product will likely have a shorter lifecycle.

https://plasticlumberyard.com/Vinyl_Products.htm is a place to start if you think it might work for you.
Aug. 5th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Do you ever feel like the vinyl looks fake?
Aug. 5th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of different grades, yea the cheap stuff can look shiny and fake, but the higher end stuff I usually have to touch to be able to tell the differance and even then I have been fooled thinking it was just a really good paint job.
Aug. 5th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
I agree to look into this - there are a lot of different companies and qualities. Some look fake and some you can't tell the difference!
Ed Begley Jr. just put up a fence made from recycled milk jugs.
Aug. 5th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
you could always search online for a wood treatment that doesn't contain arsenic. then, buy the untreated wood and finish it yourself. maybe you could find an alternative you could order.
Aug. 5th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
you can surround the posts with small stone instead of cement in the ground. if you search online you can certainly read up on this method.

our garden has wood posts and they look fine, but I've decided to attach 6 ft pieces of "straight" branch around each post to make it look more rustic. i will probably use twine to attach the branches.

good luck.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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