Mel Dickinson – When homesteading or farming with livestock, fencing is arguably one of the most important considerations with regard to the containment and safety of your animals. Whether you’re planning fencing for chickens or cattle, H-brace construction is an important part of the permanent fencing process.
An H-brace is the support system in your fence line. They are located at corners, gates, direction changes, in the middle of long stretches of fence line, and at points of elevation change. H-braces add strength to the fence line and are used as stable points to pull, stretch, and secure wire fencing. To avoid homestead fencing mistakes, planning is key. When designing your permanent homestead fencing project, determining how many H-braces you will need in addition to determining how large of an area will be fenced, what type of wire fencing will be used, marking lot lines, gathering all the needed supplies, and figuring out costs are all things to consider.
It is also necessary to decide whether a single or double H-brace construction is needed. Double H-braces are primarily found at corners and direction changes in the fence line. We also use them on longer fence runs at points where the slopes are more prominent.
Determine how many H-braces you need, mark where they will be placed, and purchase all the necessary materials you will need to build the H-braces. (Tip: It is easier to build H-braces with two people.)
Here is a step-by-step process for H-brace construction.
1. Have your supplies and tools ready. For each H-brace construction you will need:
(2) 8 ft treated posts at least 5 inches in diameter for vertical posts
(1) 6-8 ft post at least 4 inches in diameter for horizontal brace
(2) 10 inch nails
(1) 12-14 ft of 12.5-gauge barbless wire
(1) 2-3 ft piece 2×4 board
- Substitute a cedar, white oak, locust, etc. log from your land for a horizontal brace. A rot resistance species would be ideal, but a 10-12 inch log of any species can work.
- Replace 10 inch nails with 3/8” rod cut in 10 inch pieces.
- Substitute 2-3 ft. 2×4 board with a sturdy stick.
In addition, you will need tools to dig holes for each of the 8ft treated posts, a hammer for the nails and staples, a wire cutter to cut the barbless wire, saw or chainsaw to trim the middle post, drill with 3/8” drill bit, and masons line to help make a straight fence line.
2. Determine where you will set the first post of the H-brace. Dig a hole and place the first treated post 3-4 ft into the ground. Once the first post is set, place the horizontal brace post on the ground to determine where the next vertical post of the H-brace construction will be set. When deciding the distance to dig the second post hole, it is better to place it a little closer than needed because you can always trim the brace post if necessary. Dig a second hole and place and set the second treated post 3-4 ft into the ground. Fill in any spaces around the posts with dirt and tamp to create a solid post foundation.
*Homestead tip: Hole not straight? Posts not lined up 100 percent? Posts wobbly? Use rocks, chunks of wood, or sticks to wedge between the hole and your post. Pound them with a sledge hammer and shore up your posts.
3. Place the horizontal brace. To do this, first double check to make sure the horizontal brace fits snuggly between the two vertical posts. If it is too long, cut the post as necessary to get it to size. If it is too short, you will need to dig a new post hole, or find a longer horizontal brace. Drill holes through each of the vertical posts about 4 inches from the top of each post using a 3/8” drill bit. Pick up the horizontal brace and drive the nails through the holes and into the brace to secure it.
4. Place the staples for the diagonal tension wire. One staple will be located about 4 inches from the top of one post while the other staple will be placed about 4 inches from the bottom of the other post. If the H-brace is on a corner or a gate, it is important to place the top staple on the post that is towards the fence run. If the H-brace is in the middle of a run, place the top staple towards the longer run of fence.
Once it has been determined which vertical post will get the higher and lower staple, partially hammer each one into the posts leaving enough room to run wire through it.
5. Next, run the wire through each of the staples, encircling the H-brace and connecting the two wire ends at the center of the H-brace by folding over each other. Pull the wire as tight as possible before folding over. Wrap the excess wire back on itself.
*Homestead tip: Getting the wire as tight as possible in this step is critical in tensioning up your H-brace with the twitch stick. Too much slack and the wire will have to be twisted too much and could potentially twist off.
6. Place the twitch stick between the wires and begin rotating the stick to add tension. The tension wire should be firm. Not too tight, not too loose.
*Homestead tip: The twitch stick should be placed with enough length to catch the H-brace (to prevent unraveling) but not too long that it cannot be easily rotated past the H-brace. Resist the urge to make the wire banjo string tight, as there is a fine line between super tight and a twisted off wire that has to be redone!
7. Finally, snug up the staples on the wire and move on to the next brace!
Your first H-brace construction project may feel a little overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come out perfect. As you continue your fencing project, your skills will continue to improve, and by the end of your fencing project you will be a pro! If need be, you can always go back to the first couple braces and make adjustments. We have pulled and redone H-braces on more than one occasion. It may not be ideal to go back and redo your work, but solid H-braces lead to stronger fences which in turn should mean fewer fencing issues through the years.
Good luck and happy fencing!