Types of Rail Fences

A rail fence

A rail fence could be perfect for you if you’re looking to enclose a large area of land or simply want a rustic appeal for your home. Of course, different types of rail fences bring different aesthetics and benefits.

But before investing in a new fence, you’ll want to know which fencing material and design is best for your situation. Here are the important facts you need to know to make an informed decision and install the right rail fence for your property.

What Is a Rail Fence?

Instantly recognizable, split rail fences are made of two, three, or four horizontal rails connected to evenly spaced vertical posts. You can construct rail fences with various types of wood, vinyl, composite, or metal.

Decorative split rail fences in front yards are typically 4-feet tall, while ones used for containing livestock are 6 feet (and are sometimes called ranch rail fences).

Types of Rail Fences

Wood Split Rail Fence

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A wood split rail fence, also called a ranch rail fence or post and rail fence, is often used on farms to contain livestock and pasture. Many rural homeowners with large properties build ranch fences to mark their land boundaries because they’re beautiful and cost-effective.

Pressure-treated pine and high-quality cedar split rail fences are typically insect-resistant and impervious to rot. So if you choose these materials for your rail fence, you won’t have to paint your fence for as long as it lasts (about 15 to 20 years).

Wood Zig-Zag Fence

Wood zig zag fence
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A wood zig-zag fence, sometimes known as a snake fence, does what its name says: zigs and zags along your property boundary. Unlike split rail fences, zig-zag fences don’t need supporting posts since the timber rails lie on top of one another.

Because the fence line isn’t entirely straight, this fence type can be useful for navigating a fence line around trees in a wooded area.

Round Rail Fence

A round rail fence
Photo Credit: BLW / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Sometimes called western rail fences or post and dowel fences, round rail fences are built from two to three smooth, round posts and rails. Round rail fences usually have tapered ends which are used for attaching the rails to the posts.

You also can build round rail fences with pressure-treated wood that resists rot and decay – making them last for at least 15 years. Or, you can use vinyl to make your fence last even longer. If you’d like to add more security, you can attach a chain link fence to it, allowing you to keep your pets and children safe inside the fence’s perimeter.

Vinyl Split Rail Fence

Photo Credit: Ben Baligad / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Vinyl or PVC rail fences are also widely used because they’re low-maintenance and can last 20 to 30 years. They’re built the same as wood split rail fences but are usually an eye-catching white. Other variations include brown, black, and imitation wood.

With vinyl fences, you won’t have problems with rotting, mold, warping, and insects. You’ll also never need to paint them.

However, you’ll need to periodically clean your vinyl fence using a hose or pressure washer with a cleaning solution to prevent discoloration. It may be less feasible to do regularly on a large property. But the more often you clean your vinyl fence, the better chance your fence will have of remaining solid and pristine for years.

Composite Split Rail Fence

Composite split rail fences are an eco-friendly alternative to add a rustic fence around your home. Made from plastic and recycled wood, they can withstand the elements and resist mold, rot, and insects better than other popular types of fences like western red cedar. Like vinyl, they last around 30 years and require minimal maintenance.

Metal Split Rail Fence

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Aluminum and metal fences last longer than composite fencing. Steel, in particular, can last up to 50 years. You won’t have to stain or paint an aluminum and metal fence either — just clean it with soap and water.

Steel and aluminum are more expensive yet stronger than their wooden, vinyl, and composite alternatives, so they’re often used as decorative fencing or as a ranch rail for horses.

Wood and Metal Split Rail Fence

If you’re wondering which split rail fence option is the strongest, here’s your answer: wood and metal. This rail fence’s heavy-duty metal posts are 100% resistant to rot and insects. Plus, its stained cedar rails allow the fence to last for several years — longer than any other type of rail fence.

The combination of metal and wood gives the fence a contemporary accent in an otherwise rustic setting. Plus, you can attach chain-link fencing to this rail fence as an extra security measure.

As an alternative to wooden rails and metal posts, you can install a pipe rail fence instead. It uses two or three horizontal steel pipe rails connected to evenly spaced wooden fence posts. It’s low maintenance and provides a stylish way to contain livestock or outline a perimeter.

Pros and Cons of Rail Fences

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of rail fences:

✔ Reliable containment
✔ Affordable
✔ Easily contours
✔ Easy to install
✔ Low maintenance
✔ Rustic aesthetic
✔ Increases curb appeal
✘ Less privacy
✘ Can’t contain small pets
✘ Minimal security
✘ Limited style options
✘ Trickier lawn care

Cost of a Rail Fence

You’ll likely pay anywhere between $1,800 and $4,000 to have a professional contractor install a split rail fence on your property. But it will still depend on the size of the fence and chosen material:

  • Cedar: $11-$20 per linear foot
  • Pine: $11-$21 per linear foot
  • Composite: $14-$26 per linear foot
  • Vinyl: $18-$29 per linear foot
  • Steel: $20-$27 per linear foot
  • Aluminum: $25-$34 per linear foot

Nationwide, the average split rail fence costs about $2,850 or about $20 per linear foot.

How Do You Know if a Rail Fence Is Right for You?

The types of rail fences don’t differ massively in terms of use or appearance, and nearly all are low-maintenance. So determining the right rail fence for your property will mostly depend on your aesthetic preferences and allocated budget.

Your decision may come down to the following fence style choices:

  • Wood or white plastic vinyl
  • Two or three rails
  • Round or even railing

Some homeowners prefer vinyl because it’s more resistant to sun damage and won’t need staining, while others choose wood because they love its natural look.

FAQ About Types of Rail Fences

Is split rail fencing reliable for privacy and security?

No, split rail fencing is not suitable as a privacy fence. Its spacing is too wide to conceal anybody or anything. Regarding security, it can contain large animals but is not reliable for keeping unwanted visitors out or small children and animals contained.

What types of wire mesh can I use to increase my rail fence’s security?

You can add welded wire mesh, woven wire mesh, or vinyl-coated chain link mesh to your rail fence to prevent children and animals from wandering outside the property.

How much does a split rail gate cost?

Like the fence itself, rail fence gates don’t require a lot of materials, so they tend to be more affordable — around $250 on average. Some popular rail gate styles include double driveway, welded steel tube, traditional matching, and wood picket fence.

Do I need to treat or stain my rail fence?

If your rail fence is an untreated yellow pine or another untreated wood fence, you’ll benefit from staining it to prevent decay and mold. Many rail fences are made from pressure-treated pine, cedar, or vinyl and can withstand the elements with much less maintenance.

When to Hire a Rail Fence Expert

Installing a rail fence might be daunting if you have a large area of land to fence. You might be thinking it’ll take you days, maybe weeks, to get the fence installation done.

That’s where Fence Gnome can help. We connect you to the best fencing contractors near you. They’re just a click away, and you’ll get quotes in minutes on your rail fence project.

Main Image Credit: Pxhere

Zach Bridgeman

Zachery Bridgeman is a writer who grew up in Alabama and currently lives in Pittsburgh. He enjoys writing fiction, painting, and exploring the city in his free time.