Split rail fences were a practical answer to the pioneer need for fencing material.

Once constructed for their simplicity, split rail fences are now primarily installed for aesthetic purposes. This is probably particularly true of the original zig zag style of fence. One set of rails alternately support and are supported by another set. Each set is angled away from the other in likewise alternating directions. The result is that every second joint will be laid out to follow a specific line. This type of construction was ideal for the pioneers in heavily wooded areas.

The style was dictated by abundance of trees and lack of hardware. Nails were not mass produced in those days so the primary force for joining was gravity. The joints could also be strengthened by poles raised teepee style in the area where sets of rails met. 

American chestnut, a wood resistant to rotting was a first choice for fence rails during America's developmental years. Red cedar is now a favorite source of rail fencing material. It is also resistant to rotting. Imitation rails made of synthetic materials are also available.

A western style rail fence, however, does keep to a straight line path. Such a fence could properly be called a post and bar, or post and rail fence. Similar to the pioneer style hardware is not necessary as the ends of the rails are formed to fit in holes in the posts made for the purpose.

Is split rail fencing right for you? Consider these points:

  • This type of fencing is valued for the look it gives your property. It may be possible to contain livestock with a split rail fence, but there are probably better options for that.
  • These fences can define a boundary or section a piece of land. This is great for neighbors. If that's what you're looking for, split rail fencing is a very attractive choice.

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