Guide to Fences, Gates, and Bridges from 1892

To keep critters out of the garden, we’re going to have to erect a fence. Any good fence requires good fence posts. Today’s standard for installing these posts is as follows: 1) dig a hole with a post-hole digger or gas auger, 2) drop a pressure-treated (read: chemical-laden) post into the hole, 3) plumb the post so it is straight up and down and secure with braces, 4) pour concrete into the hole, and 5) remove braces when concrete is set.

As we’re aiming to reduce our fossil-fuel inputs here on the institute grounds, we’re going to be putting in posts the old-fashioned way. We will avoid using a gas-powered auger by driving the posts directly into the ground, or, if we must dig, we’ll do so by hand. We won’t use pressure-treated lumber to avoid the fossil fuels used in transportation and the chemicals inherent in this type of wood. Instead, we’ll use black locust trees that are already present on our property. Black locust is naturally rot resistant and can last up to 100 years if properly installed. When we can’t just drive the posts in, we’ll use stones and gravel to wedge the post into the hole instead of concrete. This avoids the carbon dioxide emissions from setting concrete and creates drainage around the post to help keep it from rotting.

Illustration from Fences, Gates, and Bridges.

Much of the work we’ll be doing is detailed in the 1892 book Fences, Gates, and Bridges: A Practical Manual from George A. Martin. This treasure trove covers dozens of types of fences and gives practical instruction on building them from scratch. You can find Fences, Gates, and Bridges on or in the Low Tech Library, Section 3.1.

Of course we’ll chronicle our fence build here on the blog. Stay tuned.

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