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Anatomy 101

Take a quick course in "Fence" to learn some words and terms you may hear on site.  Think of it as a lesson in the language fence contractors speak so you can follow along. 

Hand on a Top Rail of a Fence

SUBMITTED:       Pro Fence Design

POSTED:               October 2022

Your fence design engineer may start using terms which may be as foreign to you as a new language. Here is a basic "Fence" course to become conversationally fluent when a contractor starts speaking in this tongue. 

What to learn ahead of time;

  • "Posts" and "Post Caps"

  • "Sections" or "Panels" and their "Toppers"

  • "Top Rail", "Pickets" and "Bottom Rail"

  • "Line" and "Grade"

Fence and Railing Posts and Their Caps

Whether your fence or railing is wood, vinyl, aluminum, chain-link, or cable rail, you are sure to hear about "POSTS".  In fact, a fence or railing cannot live without them as these verticals hold up their horizontal sections. When you hear "posts" think about that thicker perpendicular piece to the ground, deck, or other flat plane onto which a fence or railing section will be attached.

 There are some conjugations of the word "post" which you may also hear.

  • An END POST is the first (or last) post in the fence or railing line which can be the same size as the "line" posts or slightly larger as they will stand alone. "End Posts" can also be referred to as "terminals".

  • LINE POSTS are those between the ends and connected to sections on both sides.

  • A CORNER POST does exactly what the word says as it allows sections from one side to exit or continue on a perpendicular line.

  • A GATE POST is important since it usually has a swinging unit attached to it. A gate post is either the "hinge" post, or "latch" post. The most important of these two is the "hinge" post as that will be subject to the most stress. For this reason, "hinge" gate posts are normally reinforced with more material and set deeper into the ground. 

At the top of a post (which may be wood, vinyl, aluminum, steel or other) CAPS finish the job.  Post cap styles include; Pyramid, New England, Ball, Gothic,  Teardrop and Coachman to name a few.​ Posts may also have their own design cut into them such as chamfered or Virginian. 

End Post

Line Post

New England Post Cap

Virginian Post

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Sections, Panels and (When Specified) Toppers

The areas of fence or railing spanning each post are called SECTIONS or PANELS.  These may come complete or in their components of rails and pickets to be assembled on site. Sections will be installed between two posts either in a straight line or a corner. Vinyl and aluminum sections will fit slightly into each side of their respective posts while wood sections will be secured directly to the side sides of each post. NB - the exception are being wood split rail posts that also past through each side of a post.

Sections can be made in vinyl, aluminum or wood and be privacy, semi-privacy or picket. As for privacy panels, certain models include a TOPPER that accentuates the top 1/5th of the fence.  These "toppers" can be configured in picket or lattice designs and provide some semi-privacy display. 

A vinyl section

A wood (picket) section

An aluminum section

A cedar lattice topper

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Top and Bottom Rails and Pickets

Rails are what hold vertical pickets in place. These horizontal members span between posts and provide purchase to which pickets are nailed (for wood fences) or channeled vinyl into which pickets are set. 

Pickets are the members that normally run vertical from the bottom of the fence to the top. When put together side by side they essentially create a solid panel. When slightly spaced, they create a semi-privacy section.  When more widely spaced, they produce a picketed section. In horizontal fences, the cross members between posts are also referred to as slats versus pickets. 

Top rails

Bottom rail


Line and Grade

A major concern for fence design is the grade of your property.  "Grade" can be referred to as;

- NEGATIVE GRADE which slopes down 

- POSITVE GRADE which slopes up 


"Grade" will dictate how a fence is installed along its "line".  The line of the fence is a combination of its outward trajectory - normally straight - and upward/downward top line.  Fence lines are;


- LEVEL TOP with a dead-level top line 

- FOLLOWING THE GRADE where the bottom line of the fence conforms to the grade of the property

- STEPPED where the top lines step up as the grade climbs, or steps down away from the property

Negative grade from home

Following the grade

Stepped up the grade

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For more information like this, click below to go to our posts.
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