A Fencing Manual

Nick Smolinske

About This Book
Through some combination of sweat, hard work and perserverence you’ve wound up in a position to lead an ACE fencing crew. You’ll find that with the right attitude, fencing is one of the most fun things that we do. The logistics challenges are unparalleled, and the daily decisions of a single supervisor can make a massive difference in the efficiency of the work. I’ve titled this book A Fencing Manual, rather than something like A Fencing Bible or The ACE Fencing Manual to emphasize that what I write is a work in progress. I’ve built a lot of fence and done plenty of research, but I’ve still only been doing this for about a year. Learn what you can from what I’ve written here, but take an experimental attitude to the field. Trying new things and learning by doing are what’s made fencing fun for me, and I hope that it works as well for you.


1 A Brief Introduction to Fencing 2 Ecological Impacts of 2.1 Forests . . . . . . . 2.2 Deserts . . . . . . 2.3 Riparian Areas . . Grazing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 9 10 11 12 14 15 16 18 19 22 26 36 38

3 Surveying Fenceline 3.1 Sighting Posts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 Methods for Putting up Sighting Posts . . . . . . 4 Braces 4.1 Brace Planning . . 4.2 H-Braces . . . . . . 4.3 Installing H-Braces 4.4 A-Braces . . . . . . 4.5 Deadman Braces .

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CONTENTS 4.6 4.7 Change of Direction Braces . . . . . . . . . . . . Brace Installation Techniques . . . . . . . . . . .

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5 Line Posts 5.1 Placing Posts . . . . . . 5.2 Installing T-Posts . . . . 5.3 Installing Wooden Posts 5.4 Avoiding Rocks . . . . . 5.5 Removing Posts . . . . . 5.6 Trees on the Fenceline .

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6 Washes and Deadman Anchors 6.1 What’s a Deadman? . . . . . . . . 6.2 Placing Deadmen . . . . . . . . . . 6.3 T-Post Deadmen . . . . . . . . . . 6.4 Rock Deadman . . . . . . . . . . . 6.5 Other Deadmen . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6 Under and Overfencing . . . . . . . 6.7 Floodgates and Breakaway Fences 7 Working with Wire 7.1 Tying off Wire . 7.2 Rolling Wire . . 7.3 Using a Stretcher 7.4 Wire Tension . . 7.5 Clipping . . . . . 7.6 Installing Stays . 7.7 Splicing . . . . . 7.8 The “Bread Tie”

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CONTENTS Removing Old Wire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 88 89 90 90 92 93 94 100 101 102 106 108 110 111

8 Running a Stretching Crew 8.1 Stretching Steps . . . . . . . . 8.2 Tying off and Rolling out Wire 8.3 Communication . . . . . . . . . 8.4 Stretching . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.5 Clipping . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.6 Tricks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Using the Pionjar 9.1 Parts of a Pionjar . 9.2 Daily Maintenance 9.3 Running a Pionjar 9.4 Chiseling Holes . . 9.5 Drilling Posts . . . 9.6 Stuck Drill Bits . .

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A Snow Damage 113 A.1 Wooden Posts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 A.2 Floaters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 B Stoppage Time C Expectations D Sample Tool List 119 121 123



E Further Reading 125 E.1 Ecological Impacts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125 E.2 Technical Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 Bibliography 127

Chapter 1

A Brief Introduction to Fencing
In conservation work, we build barbed-wire fences to stop cattle. Most likely, one side of the fence will belong to an agency that doesn’t allow cattle grazing (i.e. the Park Service) and the other side to an agency that does (i.e. Forest Service, BLM or private landowners). The bottom wire of the fence will usually be smooth (without barbs), in order to avoid snaring native animals in the fence. What actually stops the cattle is the tensioned barbed wire. The objective of fencing is to string up wire that will hold tension and stay at the correct height above the ground. In order to hold the tension of the wire, we need braces every so 6



Line Posts



Figure 1.1: Diagram of a typical section of fence. often. Braces are the only part of the fence that can handle the pull of tensioned wire without being bent over. Next, we need to install line posts and deadman anchors. These are installed between the braces and are needed to keep the wires at the right height and the right distance from each other. Once braces, line posts and deadmen are installed, wire can be stretched between the braces. The wire is then tied off to deadmen anchors and clipped to the line posts. As a final step, stays are installed to maintain wire spacing between the posts. You may have noticed that fencing has a certain order to it. Generally, braces come first, followed by posts and deadmen, and then wire. What does this mean for you, the fencing supervisor? It means you have a lot of chances to screw up! For example, you could wind up running out of posts to pound, but unable to stretch wire because you’re waiting for concrete to dry on your braces. Or you could walk out to the job site only to run out of materials halfway through the day and only need a

8 CHAPTER 1. A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO FENCING few people to go get them, leaving the rest of the crew out of work. Thus comes the challenge of running a fencing crew. As an ACE supervisor you’re responsible for your corps members. It doesn’t matter how experienced they are; you need to stick together as much as possible. Unless you have an assistant supervisor, you can’t split your crew up over huge distances because there’s not enough work in one area. So you have to plan ahead to avoid these situations. Each project will have it’s own unique challenges, and this is what keeps fencing fresh for me. There’s always room for a supervisor to make a difference and ensure that everyone has work to do. Even an experienced crew can wind up out of work if nobody is looking at the big picture. You are the only thing separating your crew from work shortage and frustration.

Chapter 2

Ecological Impacts of Grazing
I am now convinced that livestock do not belong in arid deserts. If it gets less than 10 inches of rainfall, cattle do not belong there. I am here to say the presumption that grazing is the dominant use of our public lands is an artifact of a distant past and must be replaced. — Bruce Babbit Since most barbed wire fences are cattle-exclusion fences, I’d like to spend a few pages looking at the effects of cattle grazing. Grazing by livestock is the most common land use in the western United States, occupying about 90% of federal land west of the Rocky Mountains [4]. Contrary to popular belief, bison were never widespread west of the Rockies, and were never in Arizona 9



at all [4]. In addition, cattle have access to human-developed sources of water, such as stock ponds, allowing for larger herds than native species could support. Thus, the presence of large herds of heavy grazing animals in these areas is not a natural condition. In the southwest, overgrazing in the late 1800’s had lasting effects on vegetation [4]. Continued grazing to the present day has entrenched these changes. In many places, land has been continually grazed for over 200 years. This has made it hard to tell what impact cattle have had, because of the scarcity of areas left ungrazed. Fortunately, there have been enough studies done on the few existing ungrazed plots to have an idea of how different environments react to the removal of cattle grazing. I’ve roughly divided these into forests, deserts and riparian areas. For further reading, see Appendix E.



In forest habitat, grazing by cattle in the understory can produce long-term impacts in the level of tree cover. In much of northern Arizona and other western states, pre-settlement ponderosa pine forests were characterized by large trees, lots of space between each tree, and significant grass cover in the understory. Modern forests are characterized by dense stands of small trees, with little to no grass cover. By preferentially eating grasses over tree saplings, cattle have been a significant part of this transformation (logging and fire suppression being



the other significant factors) [3]. The understory also provides cover and habitat for wildlife. In ponderosa pine forests of northern Arizona, grazing has reduced the nesting success of ground-nesting birds by 75% [4]. Densities of garter snakes, small mammals, raptors and many other species are also reduced in the presence of grazing livestock [3].



A desert is an area which receives extremely low amounts of precipitation. Desert ecosystems are highly specialized and fragile. Desert plants tend to have shallow and wide root systems, and be spaced far apart from another. This leaves a lot of empty room. In a healthy desert, this is filled with biological crusts. Biological crusts (also called “crypto-biotic crust” and other variations) are important in many facets of desert ecosystems. They fix carbon and nitrogen, nutrients that are used by other plants. Nitrogen concentrations are low in desert soils compared to other environments [2]. Biological crusts also slow the runoff of water, allowing more to infiltrate the soil. They protect against erosion from both wind and water. However, biological crusts are extremely fragile. Trampling by cattle or other heavy livestock easily destroys the crust. Destroyed crusts leave the underlying soil vulnerable to wind erosion, which can kill adjacent crusts by burying them. Long-term grazing by cattle can lead to desertification of large areas. Studies have been done at Chaco Culture National Historic



Park on various desert environments. They show that the effect of grazing on grasses and bare soil cover is highly dependent on the specific environment. However, at all sites the removal of cattle caused significant increases in biological crust cover [5]. In addition to impacts on boilogical crusts, cattle affect wildlife in deserts. They impact the desert tortoise through removal of critical forage and damage to burrows and shrubs [3]. Cattle can also have an effect on bird species, by concentrating in washes. Even in deserts that lack riparian areas, dry washes support 510 times the bird densities and species diversity of surrounding areas [4].


Riparian Areas

Riparian areas are the interface between land and a river or stream. They are the most important wildlife habitats in the American West. Despite occupying a very small percentage of land, they are habitat for more birds than all other types of land [4]. Over half of birds in Southwestern deserts are completely dependent on riparian areas. Migratory birds also use them in large numbers. Unfortunately, livestock also tend to hang around riparian areas, and have dramatic impact. Unlike native animals, which use streams but do not spend most of their time there, cattle will remain in a riparian area indefinitely. Cattle forage on young shoots of willow and cottonwood trees, over time converting forests into stands of even-aged older trees [4]. Since these trees are not long-lived, this quickly leads to destroying forests in



their entirety. Livestock grazing has also contributed to the loss of native fish in the West. Cattle remove vegetative cover and trample overhanging steambanks, which increases water temperature and destroys streamside pools. Cattle also facilitate the spread of invasive species. They do this directly by dispersing seeds, and indirectly by damaging native vegetation and opening up habitat for new species to enter. Grazing has contributed to the replacement of cottonwoodwillow forests with invasive tamarisk forests. Tamarisk grow in monoculture stands with less variety of species than native forests [4] Fortunately, though livestock can have dramatic impact, their removal results in quick restoration. For example, in a few years after the removal of livestock from Capitol Reef National Park, cottonwoods quickly recolonized long-since deforested sandbars. In several western streams, increases in native wildlife and fish populations have been reported less than a decade after grazing has stopped. The San Pedro river in southern Arizona was severely damaged by the 1970’s, but within 20 years of the removal of livestock vegetation and bird populations recovered substantially [4].

Chapter 3

Surveying Fenceline
The first step in building new fence is to find out where to put it. On some projects, a corridor will already be brushed for you, and you just need to find as straight of a line as possible through it. In this case it’s pretty obvious where the fenceline will go, and you can teach corps members how to put up sighting posts and refine them until the line is good. On projects where you will do the brushing yourself, finding a good line can be difficult. Make sure to find out from your project partner how they want you to find it. Most park boundaries are along section lines, with survey markers every quarter or half mile. In my experience, these markers are not in a perfectly straight line, but they’re usually pretty good. If you are marking the fenceline with a GPS, you’ll have to accept a little inaccuracy too. Finding an exact line takes very 14



expensive surveying equipment and a lot of time. On a good day, a normal GPS will still have an error of about 10 feet. So make sure to ask your project partner how they want you to deal with this. You may need to give yourself enough room to guarantee that your fence doesn’t stray across the boundary. This error also means that your fenceline might not be perfectly straight. Assuming a 10-foot accuracy, one brace could be as much as 20 feet off the line from the last one. But 20 feet over a quarter mile isn’t going to effect the strength of the fence, merely the looks. So if you don’t have the time to walk up and down the line with binoculars to get it looking perfect, don’t worry! The fence will still work just fine.


Sighting Posts

Once you’ve found the fenceline, you need to flag it so that your crew can work. The best way I’ve found to do this is by putting up t-posts every hundred meters or so, with pink flagging on top of them. Staying ahead of the crew to put up these sighting posts can be pretty hard, but it’s necessary or work will grind to a halt. The first thing I usually do is put up sighting posts at the braces, with a GPS, survey markers, etc. After I decide on brace locations, I set up sighting posts in between them with other methods. Finding a reliable member of your crew and training them to set up the in-between posts will help immensely. In heavy brush or hilly terrain it can help to make a doubleheight sighting post and top it with flagging. My usual method



for this is pretty easy to figure out and involves two t-posts and a roll of duct tape.


Methods for Putting up Sighting Posts

If you can see from one brace to the next (flagging and a monocular help a lot), you can stand at one brace and have someone walk to the middle. Then point them left and right with your helmet until they’re in the right spot. This is by far the most accurate method, so use it whenever possible.


By Compass

If you can’t see from one brace to the next, walk to the middle and find a spot from which you can see both braces. Set a compass bearing on one, then turn around and point the compass at the opposite bearing. If you’re pointed at the other brace, great! Otherwise, move over and try again until you get it right. Resist the temptation to eyeball it without a compass. Trust me, it isn’t accurate.


With Two People

Walk out to the middle of the line with another person. Get spread out as much as possible so that each person can see past

3.2. METHODS FOR PUTTING UP SIGHTING POSTS 17 the other to the farther-away brace. Line the other person up with the brace. Then have them line you up. Then repeat. Then repeat. Then repeat. Etc. It goes a little faster if you over-correct a bit after the first couple rounds. This can be reasonably accurate. It’s better the farther apart the two people are, and if you hold t-posts for more precise sighting.

Chapter 4

Braces are a critical part of any fence. A brace is the only part of a fence that can hold wire tension. If a brace fails, your fence will not be able to withstand pressure from livestock. There are many kinds of braces, but they all work by transferring the force of wire tension to the ground in some way. This force can be as much as 1,500 pounds during normal conditions, and contraction in the cold or pressure from livestock or fallen trees can raise this to as much as 2,500 pounds [7]. Knowing how your particular brace design works is essential to ensuring that it can maintain wire tension. 18




Brace Planning

The planning for braces is as important as their installation. A perfectly built brace can fail if it isn’t suited to the soil conditions. Even a brace that would work fine in one section of a fence might fail in another.


Placing Braces

Braces should be placed at least every 1/4 mile (1320 feet or 400 meters). In an ideal fencing world of flat ground, you could place them this far apart. However, most conservation fencing is in some pretty tough terrain. So it’s best to keep most of your braces a little closer together. If there’s a big wash or somewhere else you expect a lot of pressure, put a brace on either side of it. Be sure to ask your project partner about the standards for your specific project. Also, try to place your braces on the high ground, to keep them out of potential water flow. Braces are only strong when pulled along the fenceline. They are little better than the rest of the fence at resisting pressure perpendicular to the fenceline, as you can see in Figure 4.1.


Choosing Brace Designs

H-Braces do a good job of transferring force horizontally to the soil. If the soil in your area is not strong, build double H-braces instead. If you do not have the opportunity to build double Hbraces, you can augment a regular H-brace with a deadman on



Figure 4.1: This is what can happen when you put a brace in a wash.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



either side (See Section 4.5 for more information on deadman braces). A-Braces have the advantage of no flexible parts, making structural failure of the brace less likely. However, they require more concrete to prevent end post pull-out. In rocky ground, concrete bonds with the rock, so pull-out is less likely. In poor soil, use a lot of concrete for the end post.


Inline, End and Corner Braces

In addition to soil conditions, the placement of a brace along the fenceline affects installation. In particular, it matters whether a brace is an inline brace, and end brace, or a corner brace. An inline brace is one in the middle of a straight section of fenceline. Because inline braces are pulled equally in both directions, they are the least likely to fail. End and corner braces pose more problems. End braces are those at one end of a fence. They are only pulled in one direction, so the end post is the only one subject to serious forces. This means that your priority should be on the end post. If installing H-braces with concrete, for instance, you should use enough concrete to fill the end post hole up completely. The brace post requires little to no concrete to function properly. Corner braces are those at a bend in the fenceline. For 90 degree corners, the situation is much the same as with end braces. However, the end post is subject to greater forces, making corner braces the most likely to fail. If using H-braces and the soil is at all questionable, build double H-braces at corners if possible. If you don’t have the materials for building double braces,



or if you are using A-braces, augment the corner with two deadman braces, one for each fence direction (See Section 4.5). For corners that are not 90 degrees, see Section 4.6.



H-Braces are the best general-use brace design. They are simple to install and are strong enough for a 4-wire fence in most soil types. H-Braces transfer wire force effectively to the ground, so when installed correctly in good soil they require relatively little concrete to function. Wooden H-braces, traditionally installed with no concrete, are equally strong if built correctly. For weak soils or fences with additional wires, double H-braces can provide additional strength (See Section 4.2.2). An H-brace consists of two posts, a horizontal rail, and some sort of tensioning mechanism (See Figure 4.2). I will use the convention that the end post is the post where wires will be tied off and call the other post the brace post. The rail connects the two posts near the top of the fence, and the tensioning mechanism runs from the bottom of the end post to where the brace post meets the rail.


How an H-Brace Works

In an H-brace, the wires are usually tied off on the end post. The wire tension then transfers through the rigid rail from the end post to the brace post. The tensioning mechanism attached to the brace post then transfers the force to the bottom of the



Figure 4.2: Parts of an H-brace.



Load Across Rail

Wire Tension

Load Transferred Back To End Post Near Ground
Figure 4.3: Forces in an H-brace.

Wires Pulling On Middle Post Half Of Load Across Rail


Load Transferred To Both End Posts Near Ground

Figure 4.4: Forces in a double H-brace.

end post, where it is strongest.


Double H-Braces

In softer or less cohesive soils such as sand and clay, it’s a good idea to use a double H-brace. This puts the fence load on two end posts, rather than one. Double H-braces can handle almost twice the load capacity of a single brace [7]. Building them is as simple as building two H-braces that share one post. Each H-brace should have its own set of diagonal wires. When tying off a double H-brace, it’s important to tie off to the middle post. Figure 4.4 shows the forces resulting from a



middle tie off. If you tie off from the far end of the brace, you risk the brace buckling. By tying off to the middle post, wire tension can actually re-align the brace [7].


Installing H-Braces

When building H-braces, it is critical to construct them with good proportions. An H-brace relies on the strength of the soil to work, so an H-brace that does not properly transfer force to the ground could fail. First, the rail should be about twice as long as it is high. Otherwise, the tensioning mechanism will put too much vertical force on the end post, and it could pull out of the ground. Secondly, the rail should be between the top two wires of your fence. A rail that is above the last wire increases pull-out force without providing any benefit. A rail that is too low will put stress on the end post. It is also important to line up your braces correctly. The posts should not lean to either side of the fenceline. Feel free to use a level for this. However, do not level the rail. The rail should match the terrain. A brace that is level when the terrain is not will be subject to end-post pullout on the downhill side. Figure 4.5 shows a corner brace that looks pretty strange, but is in fact correct.



Figure 4.5: Correctly installed corner brace. Both braces match the force wire will put on them.
—Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2011



(a) Dig two holes, deep enough so that the diagonal rods start just above ground level.

(b) Insert the brace into the holes and make sure it lines up with the fence.

(c) Stabilize the brace with as few rocks as possible.

(d) Mix concrete and pour it into the holes.

Figure 4.6: Installing a welded steel H-brace.
—Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2011




Welded Steel H-Braces

One-piece welded steel H-braces are among the simplest braces to install. They are lightweight and require only a little concrete when installed properly in strong soil. For weak soils, they may not be appropriate because it is difficult to construct a double H-brace with them. Welded steel H-braces have threaded diagonal rods which are tightened with a wrench. Below the tensioned rods, there is a thin bar connecting the two posts. This is to prevent bending during transit, and should be removed before installation by hitting it with a rock bar near the posts. Try not to bend the bar much while removing it; they are great for rolling out wire. To install a welded H-brace, start by digging two holes about 2 1/2 feet deep and as thin as possible. See Section 4.7.1 for tips on digging deep and thin holes. They should be deep enough that each of the tensioned rods should begin at ground level. When the holes are complete, insert the brace and stabilize it with rocks. Then mix concrete and pour it into the holes. When mixing concrete for an inline brace, use two 60-pound bags per hole. However, if the soil is rocky and strong, and the holes were dug thin enough that one bag of concrete fills it to the top, this is sufficient. This is good incentive to dig thin holes. Conversely, if the soil is weak, dig bigger holes and use more concrete. For a corner or end brace, the end post is by far the most important. It should be filled all the way to the top with concrete. The other post(s) need half a bag or less if you fill them well with rocks afterwards.



When finished, cover the concrete with plastic and wait at least 24 hours for the concrete to dry. Then tighten the nuts on the diagonal rods. The brace is now ready to be used.


Wooden H-Braces

Your project partner should tell you the exact materials and specs for your braces, but there are a few general guidelines. The posts should either be treated wood, or made from a rot resistant wood like juniper. The rail doesn’t need to be treated [7]. The diagonal wires should be made with smooth wire if possible, but barbed works in a pinch. Start by installing two wooden posts (See Chapter 5 for details). They should be at least 6 feet apart, but farther if you have a long enough rail. Each post needs a flat spot cut into it for the rail to rest against. Making several horizontal cuts and then breaking off the in-between pieces with a pair of fencing pliers is a good method. The rail should be cut slightly larger than the gap it will fit in, so that you have to push the posts a little bit to get it to fit. The rail can be attached to the posts with nails, but bear in mind that these shouldn’t be load bearing; the brace should hold itself together without them. See Figure 4.8. Once the posts are in place, you can begin installing the tensioned diagonal wires (Figure 4.9). If your brace will only be loaded from one direction, then only one wire is necessary. In the more likely scenario of an inline brace, you will have to create two independent diagonal wires. Each wire should be wrapped around the brace twice. It should go around the bottom of the



Figure 4.7: A typical wooden H-brace, made from juniper logs.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



(a) Make several horizontal cuts in the post with a hand saw.

(b) Using your fencing pliers, knock out the cut portions of wood.

(c) Clean up the cut and make sure it’s even and the correct size.

(d) Insert the rail into the cuts on both posts, and secure it with nails.

Figure 4.8: Cutting a notch and attaching a rail to a wooden H-brace.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



(a) On the upper side, place the wires near the top of the rail, but not above it. Secure them with a staple on each side. On the other side, place them as low as possible.

(b) Insert your twist stick and turn until it’s nice and tight. If you are doing two diagonal wires, make sure that the second is independent of the first and not wrapped around it.

Figure 4.9: Attaching diagonal wires to a wooden H-Brace
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



end post and around the brace post where the rail connects. If the wraps are too high or too low around the brace post, the post will receive undue stress and could break (see Figure 4.10). Tension the wires as tight as possible by hand, then splice the wires together so they form a loop. Now its time to twist the wires to add tension. Begin twisting by hand, with two people; one at each end of the brace. When you can’t twist it any farther, take a sturdy stick (or piece of rebar, or doubled-up stay) and insert it between the wires. Twist it until the wire is pretty tight. You should be able to push the wire over about an inch. When finished, place the twist stick so that it’s leaning against the rail, and nail through or around it to keep it from accidentally unwinding. If you’re building an inline brace, you’ll now need a second diagonal wire. The second diagonal wire should be independent1 , so make sure you don’t end up twisting it around the first one.


H-Braces from Metal Parts

You may have to build H-braces from metal parts. In particular, I’ve built a lot of H-braces from A-brace angle iron. This may occur when specifications change for a project, and old material is left over. I will focus on using angle iron, since it is a likely scenario. Regardless of the material, it is critical that you build
1 My sources differ on whether the two wires should be independent or twisted together. The consensus leans towards independent wires, and I can’t see twisting them together providing an advantage, so I recommend independent wires.



Figure 4.10: This can happen if you place the diagonal wire too high on a wooden H-brace.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



a tensioning mechanism, even if the metal does not have holes drilled for it. Since A-Brace rails have holes drilled on only one side, you will need to drill another one on the other side to bolt the brace together. If you have the opportunity, drill extra holes in the posts as well. Aim for them to be just above ground level, if the rail is at the top of the fence. Then bolt your brace together and install it as a welded steel H-brace (See Section 4.3.1). If you did not drill extra holes in the posts, you will need to create something for the tensioned diagonals to hold on to. Otherwise they will slide up the posts. I like to do this with metal stays, but wire works as well. Fold two stays in half for each post. While your concrete is still wet, stick them in the concrete next to each post so that the fold is a couple of inches above the ground. Once the concrete is dry, build a tensioning mechanism as per a wooden brace (See Section 4.3.2). Make sure to wrap your wires through the stays and around the post. The post should still be taking all of the horizontal force, so that the stays only have to prevent the wires pulling up. Attach your twist sticks to the rail with a bread tie (See Section 7.8).



A-braces work in the opposite way from H-braces, pushing into the ground rather than pulling away. They have the advantage of a very sturdy design with no flexible parts. A properly built A-brace can be less reliant on the soil than an H-brace. However,



Load Transferred Into Earth

Figure 4.11: Forces in an A-Brace.



A-braces are subject to post pull-out [7], and therefore require more concrete than an H-brace. In addition, inline A-braces require digging three holes, rather than the two required for an H-brace. An A-brace consists of a single upright post and a diagonal rail. Wires are tied off on the upright post. When wire pulls on the upright post, it pushes the rail into the ground. In the case of an inline or corner brace, two diagonal rails will be used. A-braces are usually made with angle iron and concrete. To install an A-brace, dig two holes (or three for an inline brace). Unlike an H-brace, it’s not very important to dig super thin holes. Just dig the brace as deep as you can. Bolt it together, line it up and and mix concrete. Each rail should have two bags of concrete in it, and the post should have three or more.


Deadman Braces

Deadman braces are simple to construct, and with adequate deadmen are very strong. The simplest version consists of a single upright t-post and a t-post deadman. Four strands of wire are tied between the top of the upright post, and as low on the deadman as possible (See Figure 4.12). The wires are twisted, as with a wooden brace, to provide tension. Rock deadmen can also be used for a brace, but they require a lot more work. Since the deadmen anchors have to be built for horizontal pull, using a rock requires burying it deep in the ground.



Figure 4.12: An inline t-post deadman brace.




Change of Direction Braces

Most of the time, fences make 90 degree changes of direction. In this case, a simple corner brace works well. Just built two braces that share an end post. For smaller changes of direction, corner braces are not effective. A corner brace with an inside angle greater than 120 degrees could lean over or fail completely [7]. There are two ways to handle smaller changes of direction. Two braces can be installed separately, with slack wires between their end posts to close off the fence. This requires a lot of work, however, and there are easier techniques. My preferred method is to build a brace which is lined up in only one fence direction. Then support the brace against pull in the other fence direction. For example, an H-brace can be augmented by installing a t-post deadman at a 90-degree angle to the brace, and tying it to the top of the brace. This way, the brace is there to support the main force of wire pull, and the deadman just resists sideways pull. With A-braces, use three rails instead of two. It will act like an inline A-brace, but with an additional bracing rail to prevent inward pull. You can also attach an A-brace rail to an H-brace, to provide the additional bracing. See Figure 4.13.



Figure 4.13: Supporting an H-brace with an A-brace rail at a small change of direction.




Brace Installation Techniques
Digging Holes

Digging holes is not as simple as it sounds. The best way to dig a brace hole depends on the soil type. In sandy soil, spade shovels are best, while post-hole diggers are more effective in clay. In my experience, conservation crews are most likely to encounter rocky soil or pure rock. In this case, a rock bar is the best tool for the job. I like to use teams of two to dig holes: one corps member with a rock bar, and the other digging out the loose soil by hand or with a small bowl. I remove loose soil by hand rather than with a shovel because this allows for thinner holes. This method also reduces the amount of tools necessary to carry out to the work site. If you’re digging two or more holes at once (likely for almost any kind of brace), you can pass a single rock bar back and forth between the two holes: one hole gets dug deeper while loose soil is removed from the other. However, even using a rock bar isn’t as simple as it sounds. Give most corps members one, tell them to make a hole deeper, and they’ll start hitting in exactly the wrong place: the center of the hole. This is a bad place to hit for two reasons. First, all of the loose dirt and rock dust from breaking up the soil will tend to pool in the middle, dulling the impact. Secondly, rock fractures when shock waves from an impact have a direct path to another side of the rock. If there’s a significant density change of the other side of the rock (i.e. open air), it’s even more likely to break. If you hit in the middle of a hole, you’re not giving



your hit much of a chance to break rock. If you’re hitting along the sides, you stand a much better chance of making progress. Another ineffective but instinctive tactic is to use the rock bar until you’re worn out, then let your partner dig the loose rock out of the hole. This is a problem because once you’ve broken up the top layer of soil, every blow you make has to go through all that loose soil to get to the hard stuff underneath. So all of this herculean effort is not very effective. Instead, I like to hit in a circle around the edge of the hole once, then let my partner dig out what I knocked loose.


Mixing Concrete

Mixing concrete is a common way to install metal braces. I’ll describe mixing with 60-pound bags of quick-setting concrete, because it has been the standard on every project I’ve been involved with. Tools need to mix concrete are a mixing bin, water containers, and shovels or a mixing hoe. The bin should be metal if possible, as plastic bins tend to crack after a few weeks of use. You’ll need about 1 gallon of water per bag of concrete. To do the actual mixing, shovels and mixing hoes work well. Begin mixing by emptying a bag of concrete into the mixing bin. Note the wind direction and avoid breathing in the concrete. Then add water and mix. It’s best to start with only a couple liters of water, and then add more slowly if needed. It’s very easy to add more water later, but not easy to remove excess water. Make sure to scrape down to the bottom of the bin to avoid



any dry spots. When the concrete is fully hydrated (it should be the consistency of a thick milkshake), it’s time to use. If using a plastic bin, pour the concrete with a shovel to avoid bending the bin and cracking it. Once the last bag of concrete is poured, clean out the mixing bin and tools with water to avoid buildup. Allow at least 24 hours for the concrete to set before using it. However the slower that concrete sets, the stronger it is. So I like to pour a little water on top, cover with plastic, and let sit for 48 hours.

Chapter 5

Line Posts
Line posts are either metal T-posts or wooden posts. They are traditionally spaced one rod (16.5 feet) apart. T-posts weigh about 8 pounds each and have a metal plate (called a “cat-face”). They are easier to install than wooden posts, more portable, and last much longer. However, they are not as strong as wooden posts and when installed in soft ground, they can sink several feet under snow pressure (burying your wire with them!). Because wooden posts don’t sink into the ground, they arge the best choice for soft ground in areas where heavy snow is expected. Wooden posts are normally made of a rot-resistant wood such as juniper. 1 The expected lifetime of a juniper wood
1 Junipers

are commonly called “cedars”. Cedar City and Cedar Breaks




post is 25-30 years. Posts made of untreated softwood such as ponderosa pine will last only 2-4 years [7].


Placing Posts

You should ask your project partner for the maximum distance that posts should be spaced apart. The standard is one rod (16.5 feet). This doesn’t usually need to be super exact; an error of a foot or so is generally acceptable. I prefer to skip the tape measure and measure the distance in paces. Posts should be placed at the maximum distance apart, unless the terrain dictates otherwise. If the ground is hilly, you will need more posts to make the wire follow it. See Figure 5.1 for two common mistakes and their solutions.


Installing T-Posts

T-posts have a flat side with knobs on it, for the wire to attach to. This side should be facing the direction of most expected pressure (on a cattle-exclusion fence, towards the cattle). Posts should be installed deep enough for the soil conditions. If possible, they should be installed to a depth of 4 to 6 inches above the cat-face [7]. In deep sand, you might need to install them deeper. In rocky ground, they may be sturdy when pounding just to the top of the cat-face.
National Monument are named for the Utah juniper.



(a) Problem: Because of the gently sloping hill, the wires will be too low between these posts.

(b) Solution: An additional post is installed to maintain correct wire heights.

(c) Problem: The wire will be too high between these two posts. In addition, the wire could pull the bottom post out of the ground.

(d) Solution: A deadman anchor is placed where the ground bends, to keep the wires at the right height and eliminate upward pull on the bottom post.

Figure 5.1: Placing posts: two common mistakes and their solutions.



They are installed with a tool called a post pounder, which is a metal tube with handles on either side. Post pounders come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and different pounders are better for different tasks. The best all-around pounders weigh 25-30 pounds and have long handles. Long handles give the operator more control over the pounder, and make it easier to use two people to pound posts, reducing back strain. Lightweight pounders, weighing 15 pounds or less, are better for installing sighting posts along a fenceline. Due to their light weight, they are not safe to use for serious pounding. People tend to compensate by pounding fast and recklessly. When installing posts in a section of new fence, a team of four people is best. I set up sighting posts at least every 100 meters along the fence before starting to pound. Then each crew of four works on one section at a time. Two people stand at either end of the section to line up the posts, and the others pound them in. Sighting from both ends makes for a straighter line. Once each post is sighted to the correct position, one person holds it in place while the other pounds it in. The person holding the post needs to have a firm grip to keep the post from twisting. Once the cat-face is mostly underground, the post is unlikely to twist and both people can help pound. See Figure 5.2


Installing Wooden Posts

Wooden posts should be installed 3-4 feet deep. I like to dig a hole just big enough to fit the post, and then pack material



(a) One person holds the post to keep it from twisting, while another person pounds it in up to the top of the cat-face.

(b) Once the cat-face is under the ground, pound it the rest of the way with both people.

Figure 5.2: Pounding a t-post.
—Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2011



Figure 5.3: Digging a properly deep hole for a wooden post (I never said it was easy). Note how it’s just wide enough for the post to fit into.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



around it to make it sturdy. See Section 4.7.1 for more information on digging deep, thin holes. After the hole is dug and the post is inserted, any empty spaces around it need to be filled in. Many people tamp dirt with the end of a digging bar. I come from a rock work background and I prefer to crush fill with a mix of rocks and dirt. The rocks provide a much more stable fill, and the dirt ensures that there are no air gaps.


Avoiding Rocks

Sometimes you’ll run into a rock that won’t break or move. In this case, you’ve got a few options. The most important thing is not to immediately reach for the pionjar. Most of the time it’s ok to move a post over a foot or two to either side. Try several spots and see if the post can be installed there. If not, your project partner may allow you to install additional posts. If you can’t get a post installed within a couple feet of its original placement, you may be able to install two posts, one on either side of it. See Figure 5.5.


Removing Posts

T-posts should be removed using a post popping tool (See Figure 5.6). It’s basically a giant lever, and is pretty simple to use. Just place it on the post and apply downward pressure to the handle. The popper will often try to push the post away



(a) Crush a mix of rocks and dirt with the end of a rock bar. Try to get every empty space filled. Pounding in rocks a little too big to fit into place by hand will result in a more stable post.

(b) When you near the top of the hole, use large, wedge-shaped rocks and a post pounder in reverse.

Figure 5.4: Crush-filling a wooden post.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



(a) This post has hit a large rock, and moving it a foot or two won’t help.

(b) Installing posts on either side of the large rock avoids the need for the pionjar.

Figure 5.5: Installing an extra post to avoid a large rock.



(a) Removing a t-post with the post popper. One hand is holding the popper onto the t-post and the other is jerking the handle. This is safer and more effective than putting all of your weight on the popper.

(b) Wooden posts can be removed by tying tight wires around the popper and the post. Only a single wire is shown here for clarity, but multiple wires should be used.

Figure 5.6: Removing t-posts and wooden posts.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



from you, so have a second person push it back so that your force goes into popping the post, rather than bending it. If the post proves difficult to remove, try to give the popper firm jolts, rather than steady weight. Even jolting it with a single hand is more effective than putting your entire weight on the handle. If the post still won’t pop, give up and dig around it with a pick. When you put multiple people’s weight on the post popper it becomes a dangerous tool. It’s just not worth the risk. Wooden posts can also be removed with the post popper, by tying wire through the popper and around the post (See Figure 5.6). Tying it like the wire on a bag of bread makes it easy to make a tight loop by hand. Always use two wraps of wire, and don’t re-use wire from one post to the next. Popping posts is pretty tough on the wire and it will break.


Trees on the Fenceline

On old fences, you’ll often see live trees used as posts. I don’t recommend doing this on new fences. It isn’t professional, and the tree will grow around the wire, leaving it embedded in the trunk. If a tree is on the fenceline and it is desired to keep the tree (i.e. a particularly large or rare tree), you can put a piece of wood in between the fence and the tree to protect it (See Figure 5.7).



(a) This alligator juniper was protected from damage through the use of a piece of wood. —

(b) This tree has grown around a wire that was stapled to it.

Walnut Canyon National Monument, 2011

—Private holding boundary fence, Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, 2011

Figure 5.7: Correct and incorrect use of live trees.

Chapter 6

Washes and Deadman Anchors
Chances are, any fence you build will cross a wash or dip at some point. This poses two problems. First, wire tension can pull posts up and out of the ground. Secondly, floods can wash the fence away. Deadman anchors solve the first problem, and breakaway fences and floodgates can mitigate the second.


What’s a Deadman?

The combined wire forces of a fence can reach 2500 pounds when the fence is stressed [7]. If the fence bends upward at a post, some of this force will pull upward. If the bend is sharp enough, 57



the post will pop out of the ground and hang in the air. A deadman anchor is anything that can resist this upward force. It can be a large rock, a t-post driven diagonally into the ground, or even a cairn. Any time that the ground along the fence makes a sharp upward bend, a deadman is necessary.


Placing Deadmen

Proper deadmen placement is difficult to discern. Deadmen should be installed before wire is stretched, so that they can be tied off to prevent posts from popping and to make stretching easier. Placing deadmen without wire in place requires some imagination and experience, but it is a skill well worth learning. The easiest way to find the proper placement of a deadman is to step well away from the fence and look at it from a side view. The wire needs to roughly follow the terrain, always being the same distance above it. Wherever the wire will need to make a sharp upward bend to follow the terrain, you’ll need a deadman. If the bend is slight and the surrounding posts were not pionjared, you can usually skip it (pionjared posts pull out much more easily than pounded posts). See Figure 6.1 for a couple typical mistakes and their solutions. Avoid teaching simplified versions of deadmen placement, because they are usually inaccurate. For example, the lowest point of a wash is not always the right place for a deadman. The correct spot is the point of sharpest bend. Some washes may need 2 or more deadmen, if the ground makes more than one sharp bend.



(a) Problem: Deadman placed next to the t-post, rather than where the ground bends. It will prevent the t-post from popping, but the wire will be too high where the ground bends.

(b) Solution: Deadman placed where the ground bends. This will keep the wire at the correct height and still prevent the post from popping.

(c) Problem: One deadman placed in a flat wash. This anchor does absolutely nothing to keep either post from popping, since it’s not placed where the ground bends.

(d) Solution: A deadman is placed at either end of the wash, so that there is one at each point where the ground bends.

Figure 6.1: Placing deadman anchors: two common mistakes and their solutions.




T-Post Deadmen

T-post deadmen are t-posts driven into the ground at an angle. When the ground is soft enough to install them, I prefer t-post deadmen. They are very sturdy and less likely than a rock deadman to get washed away in a flood. Unfortunately, their installation has resulted in a couple of recent accidents in ACE. Be extremely careful when installing deadmen, and always use a heavy post pounder with long handles. To install a t-post deadman, pound a t-post at a 45 degree angle and make sure the knobs on the post are facing downwards. The post should be driven in so that it sticks out of the ground in line with the fence, to avoid posing a danger to livestock or wildlife. Remove the cat-face from the post to reduce the risk of getting it stuck on a rock. Stuck deadmen posts are nearly impossible to remove and pose a danger to wildlife. Be very careful as the t-post gets deeper into the ground. The deeper it is, the easier it is to lift the pounder above the post. When the t-post is far enough into the ground that the pounder starts to hit dirt, reverse it and use it as a hammer (See Figure 6.2). Make sure your hands aren’t in a position to be caught between the handles of the pounder and the t-post, and go slow. There’s no need to be in a hurry installing a t-post deadman. Remember that in all likelihood, a properly installed deadman will be there for decades to come. When you have the post installed as deep as you can get it, the final step is to attach a piece of wire. You attach it much like tying off to a brace. See Figure 6.3 for details.



Figure 6.2: Reversing the pounder to finish installing a t-post deadman. Note the position of my hands, allowing for good control of the pounder without putting my fingers in harm’s way. Still, this is a dangerous activity.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



(a) Loop the wire tightly around the t-post once.

(b) Remove the wire loop from the t-post to tighten all of the bends in it.

(c) Push on the wires to temporarily widen the loop and place it at the bottom of the post.

(d) Make a tight vertical wrap, like tying off to a brace. Note how the loop is tight against the post, and how the knobs in the post will prevent the wire from being pulled off.

Figure 6.3: Wiring a t-post deadman. The extra step of tightening the bends in the wrap helps make for a tight tie-off. —Bryce
Canyon National Park, 2011




Rock Deadman

Rock deadmen have the advantage that they require less skill to construct. However, they are subject to floating during flash floods and can help water to pull a fence over. I don’t recommend rock deadmen for any wash in which you expect frequent water flow, unless you bury the rock very well. When installing rock deadmen, use big rocks. If one person can easily move the rock, it’s too small. Rocks that are longer on one axis are better than round ones, and a triangular shape works quite well. I find that it’s better to spend more time finding a good rock, rather than trying to work with a bad one. Once you’ve found your rock, it’s time to wrap it with wire. There are several good ways to do this, so I’ll just describe my favorite. First, cut off a piece of around 12 feet of wire. Make a bend in the wire so that one half is long enough to go around the rock with a little to spare. Place the folded wire under the rock, and roll the rock over on top of the wire. The bend should now make a loop on one side of the rock, and out the other side should be two wires. Put each of the wires through the loop and pull them tight. Now tie the shorter end around the other. See Figure 6.4. If you expect frequent water flow, bury your finished deadmen. I’ve seen a rock deadman move a couple of feet in a year in the Mohave Desert, and it was at the edge of a wash, in vegetation that didn’t receive much flooding. If the ground is too tough to bury your deadman, you can also pile other rocks around the deadman to protect it from water. Avoid the temptation to hang the rock deadmen from the



(a) Cut off a piece of wire approximately 12 feet long, make a bend in it, and place it under your rock.

(b) Place both ends of the wire around the rock and through the bend.

(c) Tie the short wire around the other.

(d) A finished deadman.

Figure 6.4: Tying off a rock deadman.
—Walnut Canyon National Monument, 2011



Figure 6.5: Hanging a rock deadman from the top of this post has accelerated the effects of snow in pushing it over.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



tops of posts. If something pushes the post over, the deadman will pull it down. Also, unless the post is exactly where the ground makes its bend, the deadman won’t really be in the right spot. Figure 6.5 shows the aftermath of tying rocks to a post in an area which receives heavy snow.


Other Deadmen

Get creative. Anything that is durable and strong enough to hold the fence in place will work. On steep side-slopes where a rock deadman could slip and take out the fence (or a corps member, for that matter), cairn deadman can be useful. I’ve seen molded concrete ones as well, and the Moore Fencing Handbook [6] describes burying a T made of two short sections of t-post. Just make sure you think it through; Figure 6.6 shows a concrete deadman that was insufficient for the task.


Under and Overfencing

An alternative to deadmen anchors in some situations is underfencing or overfencing. Underfencing is suitable when the fence goes over a small dip. Place a post on each side and stretch wire as normal. Then add a second smooth wire below the first, to lower the fence between the two posts. Underfencing should only be used when the t-posts will not be subject to upward pressure from wires, and therefore isn’t suitable for the bottoms of hills or for very deep washes.



Figure 6.6: Post installed with concrete, which pulled completely out of the ground due to lack of a proper deadman anchor.
—Walnut Canyon National Monument, 2011



Stretch wires straight across dip

Add extra wires just in dip

Figure 6.7: Overfencing.



Overfencing can be used for any sort of dip, and has the advantage of making it easier to stretch wire. To overfence a dip, place posts as normal. When stretching wire, run the tensioned wire straight across the dip, not clipping it to any of the posts in the dip. Then add additional wires tied off at each side of the dip and clipped to every post. If you haven’t installed deadmen, you can tension the additional wires loosely, to avoid pulling out the posts. See Figure 6.7.


Floodgates and Breakaway Fences

Sometimes a fence crosses a wash where large floods are common. There are a couple of ways to avoid or minimize flood damage in this case. If the wash is short enough, you can install a floodgate. Floodgates hang down into the wash and can be moved upward by water, preventing the fence from trapping debris. I have not built a floodgate, so I won’t describe them in detail. The Forest Service manual Fences [1] has lots of information on constructing several types of floodgates. If the wash is too large to install a floodgate, then a breakaway fence might be in order. To install a breakaway fence, begin by installing a brace on either side of the wash. The rest of your fence will end at these braces, and in between them will be the breakaway fence. The breakaway fence is build just like normal fence, but attached loosely or not at all to the braces. This way, if a flood washes away the fence, the damage is restricted to just the breakaway fence, and the braces are safe.

Chapter 7

Working with Wire
In this chapter I will go over all of the specific skills that go into working with wire. I’ve tried to put them in the order that they will be used when building new fence. The focus is on the pure technical skills. For more information on how to run a stretching crew, see Chapter 8. Fencing wire comes in smooth and barbed varieties, in rolls of one quarter mile each (one quarter mile is approximately 400 meters). 1 Smooth wire weighs about 70 pounds per roll, and barbed wire weighs 80-90. Both have a breaking strength of about 950 pounds.
1 There is also high and low tensile wire. ACE projects generally use lowtensile, so I won’t talk about high-tensile in detail; see the British Columbia Agricultural Fencing Handbook [7] for more information.





Tying off Wire

You can attach a wire to another object (i.e. a brace) with a tieoff. There are many methods of tying off, but the principles are very simple: wrap the wire around the object one or more times, then wrap the wire tightly around itself. Figure 7.1 shows my preferred method. It helps to have a second person pull tightly on the other end of the wire to keep the tension. If you are tying off to angle iron, start your wrap around the flat side rather than the sharp side.


Rolling Wire

To roll out a wire between two braces, begin by tying it off to your first brace (See Section 7.1 for details). Then you can place your roll of wire on a rolling bar and roll it out to the next brace. For a rolling bar, I’ve used scrap pieces of metal from H-braces, stout juniper branches, t-posts and shovels2 . When rolling, always use teams of three. Two people of roughly the same height hold the rolling bar and walk along the fenceline to dispense the wire. The third person follows behind them, and has three jobs: to get rid of kinks and loops in the rolled wire, to move the wire next to the posts, and to periodically pull on it to keep it hand-stretched. By doing the hand-stretching while rolling out the wire, you avoid having to
2 I don’t recommend shovels or t-posts unless you’re in a pinch. The knobs on t-posts will get caught on the spool, and shovel handles get pretty wrecked after a single week of rolling wire



(a) Pull hard on the wire and wrap it tightly around the post once. Have someone pull on the other end of the wire while you do this to keep tension.

(b) Make a second wrap. If the first wrap went above the wire, then make the second go below, and vice versa.

(c) With a pair of pliers, make a tight vertical wrap, just like when splicing.

(d) A finished tie-off.

Figure 7.1: Tying off wire. —Wupatki National Monument, 2011



Figure 7.2: Rolling out wire. Two people roll out the wire, while a third checks for kinks and defects.
—Wupatki National Monument, 2011



Push handle down to release tension

Move handle back and forth to increase tension

Clamp Wire Here

NEVER hold here!

Figure 7.3: How to use a typical wire stretcher.

do it as a separate task. Hand-stretching separately tends to be hard to coordinate effectively, and I don’t recommend it. When you’ve finished rolling your wire to the next brace, tie it off to that brace. The wire is now ready to be stretched. You can roll out as many wires as you want before stretching, as long as they are sufficiently far apart so that they won’t get tangled up. When it’s time to stretch each one, you can move it next to the fenceline.




Using a Stretcher

Wires are stretched using a tool called a wire stretcher (Often just called a “stretcher”). A stretcher has two clamps to attach wire, and a handle to increase and release tension. Moving the handle back and forth increases tension, and pushing it all the way down releases tension. Avoid the temptation to hold the bar of the stretcher for leverage. If you accidentally push the handle too far while increasing tension, the stretcher will release and the wire clamp will slide into your hand with force. Instead, put one hand on the wire clamp and the other on the handle. See Figure 7.3. With new wire, it is best to pre-tension your wire first, by stretching it as hard as you can by hand. Once that is done, release the tension and then adjust it until the wire feels firm, but not super tight. Now you can let your clipping crew know that you are finished and ready for them to adjust the tension. When you’ve finished clipping the wire, put on a new wire stretcher around the old one, and give it one click of tension. Then splice the wires together and release the stretcher(See Section 7.7). The new stretcher will give you as much room as possible to make the splice, and the extra click of tension will compensate for any tension lost when splicing.


Wire Tension

Correct wire tension is a matter of debate. If you’d like the short version, skip to the last paragraph. Otherwise, read on



for some interesting discussion. According to the Moore Fencing Handbook [6], you can’t really stretch wire too tightly. According to the British Columbia Handbook[7], low-tensile wire needs to be pre-tensioned and then relaxed when stretching (else it may become loose later). And according to a US Forest Service manual [1], it’s not even possible to tell correct tension with barbed wire. A look at the specs for wire will ease the confusion a little bit. Low-tensile wire will break outright at 960 pounds of force. More important is the elastic load limit of the wire. This is the tension at which the wire will permanently stretch, causing it to loosen when the load is lessened. This limit is approximately 75% of the breaking strength of the wire, which in the case of low-tensile wire means 700 pounds [7]. The BC handbook [7] recommends 250 pounds as correct wire tension, which gives the wire plenty of room to stretch before reaching the limit. Let’s look at what it would take to reach the elastic load limit of wire. A typical wire stretcher has a mechanical advantage of 8:1, so it takes nearly 90 pounds of force on the handle of a typical wire stretcher to make it reach the 700 pound limit. I doubt that very many people can put that much force on the stretcher handle with just their arms. So as long as you don’t put your body weight into the handle of your stretcher, you will be just fine. And now, the thrilling conclusion (finally, eh?). When stretching new wire, I recommend stretching as tight as you can with a wire stretcher, using just your arms and no body weight. This will approximate the pre-tension step recommended by the BC handbook. Then drop the tension a couple of clicks and refine



from there, until it feels firm but not super tight. There’s a fairly wide range of acceptable tension. So as long as it fits that description, you should be just fine.3



Clipping is attaching wire to each post at the correct height. This includes clipping to t-posts, stapling to wooden posts, and tying to deadman anchors. Each of these should be done when the wire is stretched to the correct tension up to that post. Tightened clips will prevent even smooth wire from moving through them, and staples and deadman tie-offs will catch at barbs.


Clipping to T-Posts

T-posts are clipped with wire clips, which have a short side, like a little hook, and a long side, bent into a loop on the end. The clip should be tight on the wire, but it doesn’t need to be wrapped around multiple times. In fact, wrapping a clip too tightly is the most common way to break wire. Methods of actually attaching clips vary; see Figure 7.4 for my preference. In a pinch, you can cut smooth wire into 6 inch pieces, separate the strands, and use each strand as a clip. Just bend them around the post and wrap them around the wire like a tie-off.
3 A notable exception is when an already stretched wire is pulled downwards or upwards to be clipped. If you have to use 2 people to pull a wire up or down, it will put excessive force on your wire.



(a) Place a clip over the wire, with the long side on your left (photo right). Reach with your pliers under the wire and grab the loop.

(b) Pull the loop around the wire until it makes one full turn.

(c) Grab the short side of the clip with your pliers.

(d) Twist around the wire until it makes at least a three-quarters turn.

Figure 7.4: Clipping a T-post.



Figure 7.5: Wire stapled to a wooden post.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011

These are actually easier to use than clips, but not as strong or professional.


Stapling to Wooden Posts

Wire is attached to wooden posts with U-shaped staples. These are driven in with the hammer end of a pair of fencing pliers.



They should be driven deep into the wood, but not so far that the wire can’t move freely [7]. Drive them in at an angle to reduce the chance of splitting the wood (Figure 7.5).


Tying to Deadman Anchors

At a deadman anchor, the wires should be tied to the anchor at the normal wire heights before the surrounding posts are clipped. This way, wire tension won’t pull them out of the ground. It’s important to emphasize to your crew that wires need to be pulled down to the correct height before being tied off. Otherwise, they will tend to tie off too high at deadman anchors. To tie to a deadman anchor, tie a knot in the anchor’s wire around the wire being stretched (See Figure 7.6). The knot should be tight, but not so tight that smooth wire can’t travel freely through it.


Installing Stays

Metal stays are installed by twisting them onto the fence, starting on the top wire and twisting onto each wire below. When twisting onto the lower wires, make sure that the stay doesn’t push the wire down or pull it up. Usually the stay will want to pull the wire up, and you will have to make one additional half twist before putting the stay onto the wire. If the stay forces the lower wires upwards or downwards, it will become extremely difficult to twist the stay. In this case,



Figure 7.6: A deadman wire tied to a tensioned wire.



Figure 7.7: When installing stays, make sure that each wire rests naturally in the stay, and that twisting the stay doesn’t force the wire up or down.
—Wupatki National Monument, 2011



you can use a pair of fencing pliers to help twist. This should be a last-ditch measure, however; if you install a stay correctly you should rarely need to do this.



Two wires can be attached together through splicing. A proper splice does not significantly reduce the strength of the wire. There are a couple of different ways to splice; Figure 7.8 shows my favorite. The most important thing with any method of splicing is to make your wire wraps tight. To ensure this, always use your fencing pliers, and keep them close to the wire being wrapped around. I like to tell my corps members to keep them within one centimeter of it. I also try to make my wraps right next to each other, although this is not as important as making them tight. What you don’t want is to have one wrap go on top of another. This process of wrapping one wire around another is called a tight vertical wrap.


The “Bread Tie”

Sometimes you’ll need to attach two things together tightly with wire. I have a method for this that I call “the bread tie” because it’s similar to how you close a bag around a loaf of bread. See Figure 7.9 for details. The trick here is to make your initial twist tight enough so that you can make a tight tie without breaking



(a) Place your two wires between the handles of a pair of pliers. Use the wire grips inside the handles to hold them tight.

(b) Bend both wires 90 degrees.

(c) With another pair of pliers, wrap one wire around the other. The closer you hold the pliers to the wire, the tighter your wraps will be. When you’re done, switch to the other side and wrap the other wire.

(d) A finished splice.

Figure 7.8: Splicing wire.



(a) Start by wrapping the wire around your objects and making a twist as tight as you can.

(b) Place your pliers around the wires. Double-pronged pliers work best.

(c) Tighten the twists with your pliers, being careful not to overtighten or the wire will snap.

(d) Add a couple of extra twists to protect against unwinding. Tighten them with your pliers and fold over or cut off the loose ends.

Figure 7.9: Using the bread tie method to attach a twist stick to a rail for an H-brace. —Wupatki National Monument, 2011

86 the wire.



Removing Old Wire

Removing old wire is simple enough, but there’s a little more to it than is obvious at first glance. Without specific instruction, your crew is likely to make a mess of the wire, simply due to inexperience. You’ll need to emphasize the importance of making your wire compact and easy to carry. Not only will this help your crew out by posing less of a safety risk and making hauling easier, it will also help your project partner. Most likely your wire will be temporarily be stored on the project partner’s property. Making it compact will be easier on whoever has to move it later. Also, sometimes your scrap metal is all of the fence that your project partner will see. If it looks safe and professional, it will make you look that much better in their eyes. To make compact bundles of wire, I like to remove stays and put them together in their own bundles, wrapped with wire. To bundle the wire, I like to roll up all the wires in the fence into big rolls, every so often cutting one of the wires so that I can wrap the cut end around my roll and keep it neat. To bundle smaller bits of wire, I like to make sharp folds so that it turns into a hot-dog shape, and then use the end of the wire to roll it up and keep it tight. See figure 7.10 for pictures of well-bundled wire and stays. And on a final note, insulated work gloves are great for bundling wire.



Figure 7.10: Compact and safe bundles of scrap wire and stays. In the upper left corner, small bits of wire are folded and wrapped. In the upper right, large sections of wire are rolled up. And at the bottom is a compact bundle of stays.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011

Chapter 8

Running a Stretching Crew
Stretching wire efficiently is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to do as an ACE supervisor. It’s not very demanding physically, but coordinating a crew and making sure everybody has enough work to do can be a big challenge. When I first started supervising fencing, ACE had a drought of experienced fencers, and the biggest complaints I heard about fencing were about stretching. Despite having stretched a few hundred spools of wire, I still don’t feel like I have it down. So, experiment! Try new things, and let your corps members know you’re doing it. This simple step can turn your entire crew’s attitude around. Instead 88



of being frustrated with inefficiency, they will become excited about trying something new and seeing how they can improve the process with their own initiative. Your guidance and ability to teach will determine how well your crew performs, and how much they enjoy your project. I’ll give a basic overview of the different steps in stretching, then describe how best to run each step. At the end of the chapter is a collection of different tricks and techniques to try. Different ones will work well depending on the terrain, the length of the sections, and the size of the crew.


Stretching Steps

Wire on a new fence is stretched in sections, from each brace to the next. The first step is to roll out wire and tie it to your braces. Once wire is rolled out, it is put on a wire stretcher and brought to tension. Then it is clipped to t-posts, stapled to wooden posts, and tied to deadman anchors. Finally, stays are installed between the posts. So, where should the supervisor be when this is all going on? Your role is to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible. The best place for you to be is on the clipping crew. You can recognize problems sooner, and you are with most of your crew, so you can select some to perform other tasks if necessary. The supervisor should never be running the wire stretcher.




Tying off and Rolling out Wire

Rolling wire is a critical step in stretching wire. Don’t underestimate the importance of it. If you finish stretching a section, and the next wire has not been rolled out, the entire crew has to wait while only three people have work. For this reason, always roll out wires ahead of time. Once you start on a section of fence, send three people to roll out and tie off the wires for the next section. Also, make sure to lay out stays between each post before stretching the final wire of a section. This way, you will never run out of work.



Before we talk about stretching and clipping, we need to talk about communication. Good communication between the clipping crew and the stretcher is vital to a well-run stretching operation. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting with a crew, unable to work because you’re not sure what’s going on on the other end of a wire. It’s pretty clear that the clipping crew needs a signal to tell the stretchers that they need more tension and less tension. What is sometimes missed is that the stretching crew needs a signal to say that they are finished using the stretcher. Every time the stretcher is finished being used, this signal must be given. There are a few different ways to communicate across a long section. Relays of people yelling works, but is hard on everyone’s



Figure 8.1: Hand signals for stretching crews.
(a) More tension required (Arms form an “M”). (b) Less tension required (Arms form an “L”). (c) We’re done stretching, is it OK?



voices and isn’t always understood. I’m not a fan of walkie talkies either. They can break, need to be charged, and need to change hands when people switch jobs. Hand signals are my preference. They are unambiguous, they can’t break, and corps members enjoy using them. See Figure 8.1 for the signals that I like to use.



A wire stretcher can be run by one or two people, depending on the section being stretched. If it is long and hilly, use two people. Hills mean a lot more work for the stretcher. Also, this way one person is not left alone for a long period of time. If the sections are flat or very short, you can use just one person. I like to stretch from the middle of each section. I’ve found that this makes communication easy, and reduces the effects of friction on wire tension. For shorter sections, you can tie off the wire to one brace only and place the stretcher on the other brace. To begin stretching a wire, attach it to the stretcher on one of the wire clamps. Then have another person pull as much wire as they can through the other clamp. This little handtensioning step will prevent a lot of unnecessary cranking on the stretcher. Close the second clamp and pre-tension the wire, as in Section 7.4. Once the wire has been pre-tensioned, give the “Is it OK?” signal to the clipping crew.





Clipping is where stretching can get complicated, and crews can get frustrated. The goal of clipping is to get the wire at the correct tension at each post. Unfortunately, just because the wire tension is correct in one spot doesn’t mean it is in another. If the ground is hilly, this can lead to big problems. As mentioned in Section 7.5, clips hold wire tension. Even if the wire tension feels right at two posts, clipping them could cause problems if there is a wash or hill between them. If you are unable to pull the wire down into the wash or up above the hill, you will have to either cut the wire and splice it, or unclip all posts between the problem area and the stretcher. Another problem that can occur is ground friction. Wire may feel tight at the stretcher, but be loose where the crew is clipping, or vice versa. This is why the clipping crew, and not the stretching crew, determines whether tension is correct. If friction is slight, the stretcher can probably compensate for it. If not, send somebody out to lift up the wire along the line, especially on the tops of hills. The easiest way to avoid tension problems is to use progressive clipping. Begin clipping at one of your braces, and clip towards the stretcher. When finished, walk to the other brace and clip back.1 Never clip a post if nobody is at the previous post, unless you are sure that the tension will be correct when it is clipped.
1 It’s tempting to split into two crews and clip from both braces at once. In hilly terrain, this isn’t a good idea, because the tension of the wire will be constantly changing and coordinating both crews is a hassle.



Call to the stretching crew to change tension as needed. When you reach the top of a wash, wait before the last post is clipped. Then call to the stretching crew to reduce the tension until you can tie the wire to any deadman anchors in the wash. Once the deadmen are tied off, clip the surrounding posts. When you come to a hill, wait until the last post is clipped, then call for less tension until you can clip the next one, and so on. With progressive clipping, your crew can still clip several posts at once, as long as the tension doesn’t need to change between them. So even on flat ground, it is effective and fast. For this reason, I recommend using it as your standard clipping method. Use it as the base that you can fall back on, and experiment with the techniques in the Tips and Tricks section.


Two Wires at Once

Stretching two wires at once doesn’t quite double your stretching speed, but it makes a big improvement. You can stretch one smooth and one barbed at a time, or even two barbed. The wires may twist around each other at some points, but it’s easy to undo the twists as you clip, so it’s not something to worry about. If the wires are in the air across a wash and one wire is hanging up on the other, just lower the tension on the tighter one, then sort out the tangle as you clip. If you tie off your deadmen anchors first (See Section 8.6.4), then you won’t have this problem in the first place.



If you are using hand signals to communicate, you’ll have to come up with a way to differentiate the wires. My favorite is to use the same hand signals I showed in the section on communication, but when referring to the top wire, rotate your hips in a circle (AKA “The Dirty Old Man”). Not only is this effective, but it keeps the mood of the crew light and everybody has a good time stretching. One more thing bears mentioning. Don’t try 3 or more wires at once. It’s a tempting idea to stretch all the wires on a fence at the same time, and finish a whole section in one go. But I’ve tried it and I know of two others who have and it’s never been worth it. The wires get twisted up in ways that just don’t happen with 2 wires, and it’s really hard to take out the tangles when they’re all tensioned.


Hanging the Wire

Hanging the wire refers to the practice of clipping every 5-10 posts (and at tops of hills and bottoms of washes). This way, the wire can get clipped as fast as possible all the way to the stretcher. If you have one person doing this from each brace towards the stretcher, it could take less than 5 minutes! Then the wire(s) can be tied off and the next wire(s) can be put on the stretchers before the rest of the crew even finishes clipping. In the extreme case, you can take a small crew of 3-6 people and just hang wires all day ahead of your crew. Then everyone just has to come back and clip the remaining posts. I don’t like to do this often, because it separates you from your crew and the speed gains usually aren’t worth it. But if you’re in a pinch



and need your crew to pound posts or install braces while you hang wires, it’s a good trick to know.


Clipping Backwards

This is related to hanging the wire, and works well in conjunction with it. When you are clipping in hilly terrain and the wire tension is too low, you will often raise it, only to immediately lower it to get the wire down into a wash or up a hill. By switching the order that you clip, you can avoid these tension changes. For instance, if you are above a wash, you could go down into it and clip a deadman. Then ask a corps member up top if the tension is good enough; if it is still too low, walk up the other side of the wash and hold at the height it will be clipped at. If the corps member reports that the tension is correct, you can clip your post and then clip all the ones behind it. If not, it’s best to call the stretching crew for a tension change. Once the tension is good behind you, you can move on and work on the next section. This way you can stay ahead of your crew and they can just keep on clipping. It takes some practice to be totally confident of what the tension will become when it’s clipped to all the posts, but once you can do it you’ll be able to speed up the stretching process significantly.


Tying off Deadmen First

Tying off your deadmen before stretching can prevent unnecessary tension changes and make it easier to pre-tension your wire.



Walk from each brace towards your stretching spot, periodically pulling the wire tightly to get rid of slack. When you reach a deadman, hand-tension the wire and then tie the deadman off. Make sure the wire can move freely through your tie-off. With smooth wire, the correctness of the hand-tension isn’t as important, because the stretcher can usually pull the slack through anyway. With barbed wire, you need to tie off in the right spot, or the tie off will catch on a barb and prevent you from achieving proper tension. I do this by having somebody pull the wire so that it’s roughly hand-tensioned. Then I tie off the deadman one barb towards the stretcher, so that it has plenty of room to be stretched. If a section has a lot of deadmen, it is best to only tie off the first two or three from each brace towards the stretcher. As you tie off deadmen farther from the brace, friction becomes more noticeable and barbes are more likely to catch on tie-offs.


Tying off to Posts

Sometimes it is useful to tie off to a post rather than to a brace. I do this a lot when tying the end of a fence into a natural obstacle, such as a cliff. It is safer to build a brace a few posts away from the obstacle, then build a short section of fence right up to it with only posts. To wire a short section of fence, tie off to the regular wire heights on your post. Then lightly hand-tension the wire. If you put full tension on a post, it will bend over. To compensate for the lack of tension, install additional wires and stays. I once watched a bull push itself between the wires of a loose fence like



this. The fence had only one stay between each post. If the section of fence to tie off is longer, you’ll need to do a little more work. First, make sure the last post is as deep as you can get it without lowering the wire heights. Then, instead of using the regular wire heights, tie off all wires to the bottom of the last post. If the post is into good soil, or pionjared straight into rock, you can now tension with a stretcher as though you had a brace. Then you can tie loose wires between the last two posts to close off the fence. See Figure 8.2.



Figure 8.2: Wire stretched off the bottom of a drilled post. This is as strong as most braces.
—Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2011

Chapter 9

Using the Pionjar
The pionjar is a Swedish-made, gas-powered jackhammer and drill. Weighing in at 70 or so pounds, it is reasonably portable. Bring one to every project unless you are absolutely sure you won’t need it. Pionjars can drill holes in rock to install posts, or chisel out larger holes to install braces. The use and maintenance of a pionjar are complex tasks that should be taught in person. However, this chapter can be a good companion to pionjar training, and a refresher while out in the field. In particular, I’ve put in a lot of good information on adjusting the fuel level to make the machine run well. 100



Fuel Dial Fuel Tank

Air Filter


Pull Cord

Figure 9.1: Top of a pionjar.


Parts of a Pionjar

The pionjar has a one-cylinder, two-stroke engine. The piston connects more or less directly with the driving mechanism for the bits. A manual needle valve controls the amount of fuel entering the piston. The top of a pionjar contains all of your controls (See Figure 9.1). The fuel dial controls a needle valve and is your primary adjustment when running the machine. The choke con-



tains the air filter and is normally left full open, except when starting in the morning. The throttle is a reverse, spring-loaded throttle, so pushing it reduces the amount of gas entering the engine. It is also called the “kill switch”, because holding it down is the preferred method of stopping the pionjar. The other important parts of a pionjar run down the left side (See Figure 9.2). The pull cord cover can be removed to access the spring. The spark plug and exhaust pin cover can be removed with a pionjar scrench. Below the exhaust pin is the power head, which contains all of the machinery for transferring the engine’s power to the bit. The mode switcher changes the pionjar between drill mode, chisel mode, and neutral. Turn it up for chisel mode, down for drill mode, and horizontal for neutral. The bit holder keeps the bit from falling out of the pionjar, but still allows it to move up and down.


Daily Maintenance

A clean pionjar is a happy pionjar! The majority of pionjar problems that I’ve had have been fixed with good cleaning. The first step in keeping a pionjar clean is daily maintenance. It’s best to perform daily maintenance at the beginning of the day, rather than at the end. This way the machine is cold and you don’t risk burning your hands. Tools you’ll need are a pionjar scrench, some sandpaper, and an exhaust pin cleaning tool. A spark plug gapper is also helpful, as is a piece of aircraft cable for cleaning drill bit holes.



Pull Cord Cover

Spark Plug

Exhaust Pin Cover Mode Switcher

Bit Holder

Figure 9.2: Left side of a pionjar.



(a) Remove the spark plug boot, then loosen the plug with a scrench.

(b) Clean off the tip of the plug with sandpaper.

Figure 9.3: Cleaning the spark plug of a pionjar.

Begin by removing the air filter and giving it a few good whacks to remove dust. If it is still very dirty, make a note to wash it off at the end of the day. Use soap and water, and let it dry overnight in a clean place1 . The air filter must be completely dry before running the pionjar. Now remove the spark plug and clean it with sandpaper (See Figure 9.3). If you have a spark plug gapper, check that the gap is between 1 mm and 1.5 mm. Screw the plug back in by hand to prevent cross-threading. When it is completely screwed in, tighten it with the scrench and reinstall the spark plug boot. Once the spark plug is reinstalled, it’s time to clean the exhaust pin (See Figure 9.4). Loosen the pin cover with a scrench and remove it, making sure to catch the pin so that it doesn’t
1 If

you’re in a hurry, use a car’s defroster



(a) Loosen the exhaust pin cover with a scrench.

(b) Remove the cover by hand, holding a rag in place to catch the pin.

(c) Clean the pin with sandpaper.

(d) Clean the exhaust pin hole with the hole cleaning tool.

Figure 9.4: Cleaning the exhaust pin of a pionjar.



fall onto the ground. Clean the pin with sandpaper and the hole it came out of with the hole cleaning tool. The exhaust pin cover has a small bearing in it that should be able to move freely. It doesn’t usually cause problems if it doesn’t, but it’s a good idea to clean it anyway. Shake it by your ear and listen. If you can’t hear the bearing rattling around, soak the cover for a few minutes in pionjar gas to loosen up any deposits. If you are drilling posts, it’s also a good idea to clear out the air holes in your drill bits at the start of the day. You can use a piece of aircraft cable for this, or simply a single strand of fencing wire.


Running a Pionjar

Running a pionjar effectively is an exercise in finding the right fuel/air mixture for the current conditions. These include temperature, elevation, barometric pressure and mood of the pionjar. Since the machine has no carberator, you’ll have to adjust for these yourself. Luckily, the process is pretty simple if the pionjar is in good working order. That said, the adjustments are counterintuitive and it took me a long time to learn. First, you’ll need to perform the start-up routine. This only applies the first time a pionjar is run during a day (or maybe again if it has been sitting for several hours). Turn the air filter to full choke (counter-clockwise) and the fuel dial to full, and pull the chord until the engine pops, runs a little, and stops. Once this happens, turn the air filter to full open (clockwise)



and don’t move it from this position until the next day. From now on, you’ll be making all of your adjustments with the fuel dial. Once the start-up routine is done, pull the chord and let the pionjar run for a minute to finish warming up the engine. Don’t worry much about how it performs; just let it do it’s thing. After one minute you can start to slowly lower the fuel intake to find the sweet spot.


Adjusting the Fuel Level

Pionjars run best when a little starved for gas. When running one, I’ll give it as little gas as it can handle and still perform well. A pionjar should run fast; in chisel mode, it should provide many effective hits per second, and in drill mode it should spin fast and easily. If you can’t adjust the fuel mixture to make it run this well, it needs a thorough cleaning in the shop, or servicing by a professional. A well-maintained pionjar will tell you when the fuel/air mixture is wrong, and what to do about it. When the pionjar gets the right amount of gas, the engine will run high and the bit will move really fast (if in drill mode, it should spin fast enough to blur). Sometimes it will jump up and down, much like an overly excited puppy. When the pionjar is getting too much gas, it will run slowly. The engine will sound fine and the bit will move, but everything will happen slower. If the engine gets higher pitched and the pionjar shakes, but the bit isn’t doing much, this is usually a sign of too little gas. The solution, however, is counterintuitive. First, feather the



throttle to lower the amount of fuel further, but not cut it off so much that the pionjar stops. This will break the machine out of the symptoms. Then treat the cause of the problem by giving the pionjar a bit more gas using the fuel dial. When making any of these adjustments, it’s important to be patient. The sweet spot between too much gas and too little can be very small at times. Make fine adjustments, and wait 15-30 seconds between each one. Sometimes it takes the pionjar a while to react to a change in fuel.


Chiseling Holes

Chiseling a hole with a pionjar is pretty similar to digging a hole with a rock bar. Try to chisel in a lot of different spots, in a circle around the edge of the hole. Chisel only a couple of inches deep in each spot. Digging the chisel bit deep into the ground risks getting it stuck. Once you’ve broken up the top layer of soil, stop chiseling and dig out the loose stuff. It’s important not to forget about your rock bar when you’re digging out the hole. Often the pionjar will break up a lot of rock, but then compress it so that it can’t be removed by hand. After a round of chiseling, you can often dig another couple of inches with just the rock bar.



(a) Operating the pionjar with two people reduces back strain.

(b) Periodically lift the pionjar to prevent stuck drill bits.

Figure 9.5: Drilling a hole with a pionjar.
Monument, 2011

—Wupatki National




Drilling Posts

Pionjars are great at breaking up rock. The difficulty in drilling a thin hole comes in removing the resulting rock dust. For this reason, drill bits have holes in the bottom that channel some of the exhaust gas into the hole to clear the dust. If everything is running well, the drill bit should be spinning very fast, almost fast enough to blur. Unfortunately, exhaust gas alone isn’t enough to clear all of the rock dust. Furthermore, even if it’s cleared from the bit head, it can build up along the sides of the hole above it, creating an obstruction even while the bit is spinning well. So we have to help out the pionjar by lifting it periodically until the bit head is at the top of the hole. This should be done every time that the bit is not spinning fast, and at least every ten seconds, to prevent buildup above the bit head. When in doubt, pull it out! Always use two people when drilling holes. This makes it easier to lift the pionjar and reduces back strain. The pionjar has four handles, so each person can hold two. One person is the leader, and starts and stops the machine and operates the controls. When the leader lifts the pionjar, the other person can feel it and help out. See Figure 9.5.


Drilling in Mixed Soil

Often you will have to drill posts in mixed rock and soil, rather than pure rock. Usually the pionjar will deal with this just fine. You will need to lift the bit more often than when drilling



into pure rock, but otherwise you can drill normally. There are two exceptions to this. If you have extremely loose soil, such as unconsolidated sand or cinders, you will need to clear it off first. I use my boot for this; anything you can’t clear off with your boot, the pionjar will have no problem with. It’s also important to dig out a flat spot rather than a crater, as this will make it harder to clear dust from the sides of the hole when drilling. The other exception is rock mixed with wet clay, or other soil that the pionjar has trouble clearing out of a hole. If you can, try to move posts to areas of pure rock instead. If this is not possible, you will have to dig a hole with a rockbar or chisel bit, as for a brace. Make sure that it’s as thin and deep as possible. When it’s a couple of feet deep, install the t-post and crush-fill it with rocks.


Stuck Drill Bits

If you’re using a pionjar, chances are you’re gonna get a bit stuck sometime. If this happens, the most important thing to do is to not jerk back and forth on the pionjar. The bit is connected mechanically with the engine, so you can wear down some pretty important parts by doing this. The correct thing to try first is to put the pionjar into jackhammer mode to lock the bit from rotating. Then yank the pionjar straight up several times to try to break it out. Rotate the pionjar in between yanks to try and hit different parts of the obstruction. If you can’t break it out by lifting straight up, you’ll have



to dig around the bit with a chisel bit. It’s important to be patient. Never drill a second hole with a drill bit, and when chiseling, dig a wide crater. If you accidentally chisel into the drill bit, you can get both bits stuck into each other and it can turn into a real headache.

Appendix A

Snow Damage
Even the strongest barbed wire fence can be completely destroyed if it receives heavy snowfall. Snow can push over tposts, snap them in half, and sink entire fences into the ground. Falling trees can destroy braces and stretch out wire. Even if the posts in a fence do not move, and no trees fall on it, snow can still stretch the wire beyond its elastic load limit, and it will become loose in the spring. So, what can you do to build a fence in an area which receives heavy snow? The best solution is a let-down fence. Let-down fences are put up in the spring, and laid down on the ground in autumn. They are built with short posts installed into the ground, which the rest of the fence hooks into. The extra work of putting the fence up and down is less than that of maintaining a fence which receives continual snow damage. 113



Figure A.1: Fence damage from two seasons of heavy snow.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to build a let-down fence, so I will not describe them in more detail. I can only show stop-gap measures which improve a fence’s ability to withstand snow. None of these will completely solve the fundamental problem of wire stretching past its elastic load limit. If you do have the option of building a let-down fence, you can find more information in the Forest Service manual Fences [1].


Wooden Posts

In wet meadows, metal t-posts can sink several feet into the ground. If snow is heavy enough, fencing wire can sink with them. The usual solution to this is to install a wooden post. Unfortunately, installing wooden posts takes a lot of time, and it is often infeasible to replace every post in a fence. For this reason, many fences consist of wooden posts alternated with t-posts. A spacing of one wooden post for every two t-posts seems to work well, except in very soft meadows. In this case, you should install only wooden posts, or build an all-wooden fence, as in Figure A.2.



While working in Bryce Canyon National Park, my crew and I devised a quick way to prevent t-posts from sinking. I have not been back after a harsh winter to see how it has held up, but it shows enough promise to include here.



Figure A.2: This fence sunk completely into the ground in a soft meadow. It was replaced with an all-wooden fence.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



Figure A.3: A “floater” installed on a t-post to prevent it from sinking.
—Bryce Canyon National Park, 2011



For a post that was sinking, we collected a 3-foot piece of wood from trees fallen on the fenceline. The wood lays horizontally on the ground and provides a larger footprint for the post. We attached the wire below the cat-face to prevent it from sliding upwards. See Figure A.3. We dubbed this solution a “floater”. Because we used local softwoods for the logs, they will likely rot much faster than a juniper post. However, floaters take so much less time to install that it is probably worth using them. I still recommend installing additional wooden posts, but floaters will help out those t-posts in between.

Appendix B

Stoppage Time
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day, you will never be stuck. — Ernest Hemingway Quit while you’re on a roll. That’s how I like to paraphrase the Ernest Hemingway quote above. Hemingway was talking about the writing process, but his words apply to pretty much any kind of conservation work, fencing in particular. When stopping work at any time, try to leave things halffinished rather than pushing to finish them completely. This applies to breaks, the end of the day, or the end of a hitch. That way when work continues, you can pick right up where you left off and everybody has work to do right away. When stretching wire, take breaks when you’re 1/2 to 3/4 119



finished with a wire. It’s tempting to push on until the wire is complete, but it’s actually counterproductive. If you quit in the middle, everyone knows what to do when they start working again (and you have a great opportunity to get people started on prep work for your next wires). At the end of the day, try to at least have the next day’s wires rolled and on the stretchers for the morning. This applies between hitches as well. Unless yours is the last hitch of a project, try not to push your numbers for completed fence. Preparation for the next week is always the priority. I’ve had projects where I got absolutely no wire stretched. One of those times, the next project had 40 people (which was bumped up to 75 for the last day). The 75-person day was a great success and the most productive I’ve ever seen. That would not have been possible if I hadn’t been focusing on prep work.

Appendix C

You’ve got 12 people on an 8-day project building new fence. How much can you expect to build? The answer depends a lot on the project details. Things that slow down a project include hauling materials, rocky ground, and inefficient stretching of wire. Things that speed up a project include good road access to the fence, easy terrain and an efficient crew leader. In the ideal case, all of your materials are in the right place already, or your fence is next to a road. The ground is flat and sandy, so pounding posts and digging holes is easy and quick. The stretching is run well and efficiently, consistently finishing 8 wires per day. In this case, you could potentially be able to get 2 miles done. I’ve never had the chance. In the worst case, you have to haul your materials a long distance to the work site. The ground is rocky and every post 121



must be pionjared. The stretching of wire is not efficient, finishing less than 3 wires a day. In this case you might finish 1/3 of a mile of fence, or even less. Most projects are in the middle of the road, and my goal is to get 1 mile of fence done, per crew, per week. I’ve only achieved this a couple of times, but it’s a good goal to have. Two thirds of a mile is a good reasonable expectation. If I got less than 1/2 of a mile done, I would take a really good look at how I managed the crew to see if I could improve.

Appendix D

Sample Tool List
The table below shows my recommended tools for a 12-person crew installing welded H-braces with concrete. This tool list is enough for an entire crew to build braces, pound posts, or stretch wire. I’ve avoided mentioning specific brushing tools, because it varies too much from project to project. My catch-all list for brushing would be 3 picks, a couple cutter-mattocks or pulaskis, 3 sets of loppers, and 3 hand-saws. But I’ve had to bring chainsaws before, so make sure to ask your project partner. 123



Necessary Tools Post Pounders (1 light survey pounder, 1 heavy long-handled pounder for deadmen, and 2 other heavy pounders) Post Poppers Stretchers Fencing Pliers (“babies”) Brushing Tools Shovels Rock Bars or Digging Bars Mixing Tubs and water jugs Wrench (for tightening steel H-braces) GPS if required (plus extra batteries) Metal bars for rolling wire Cache Haulers Pionjars w/drill and chisel bits Both small and large gloves Optional But Useful Permanent Marker Flagging (neon pink is best) Compass Binoculars or Monocular Whiteboard w/markers for teaching skills or drawing maps Extra Duct Tape (for making double-height sighting posts or hauling t-posts Nail Aprons Extra long-sleeve T-shirts


1-2 3-4 12 Depends on environment 3 3 3 1 1 2-3 3-6 1-3

1 1 roll 1 1 1


Appendix E

Further Reading
E.1 Ecological Impacts

Thomas L. Fleischner provided my primary sources for the chapter on ecological impacts. His article Livestock Grazing and Wildlife Conservation in the American West [4] is a great introduction to the topic and provides a general history of grazing in the west. Ecological Costs of Livestock Grazing [3] provides more information on specific impacts in different areas. Floyd et al’s research at Chaco Canyon [5] provides a lot of hard data regarding impacts in a desert environment. The USGS reference on biological crusts [2] is good reading on the role of biological crusts in a desert ecosystem. 125




Technical Information

The Moore Fencing Handbook of Basic Farm and Ranch Fence Construction [6] is a good resource for basic, practical fencebuilding. In particular, it has a great chapter on constructing gates. The British Columbia Agricultural Fencing Handbook [7] is more technically minded and was a great help in understanding the forces involved in fencing. The Forest Service handbook Fences [1] is a very comprehensive guide to fencing, with a lot of illustrations. It is particularly helpful for less common fence designs in which ACE has little to no experience.

[1] Bill Duffy. Fences. USDA Forest Service Technology and Development Center, Missoula, Montana, 1999. [2] Jayne Belnap et al. Biological Soil Crusts: Ecology and Management. US Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management, 2001. [3] Thomas L. Fleischner. Ecological costs of livestock grazing. Conservation Biology, 1994. [4] Thomas L. Fleischner. Livestock grazing and wildlife conservation in the american west. In J.T. du Toit, R. Kock, and J.C. Deutsch, editors, Wild Rangelands: Conserving Wildlife While Maintaining Livestock in Semi-Arid Ecosystems, pages 235–265. Blackwell Publishing, 2010. [5] M. Lisa Floyd, Thomas L. Fleischner, David Hanna, and Paul Whitefield. Effects of historic livestock grazing on veg127


BIBLIOGRAPHY etation at chaco culture national historic park, new mexico. Conservation Biology, 2003.

[6] Vern Moore and Kelly Moore. The Moore Fencing Handbook of Basic Farm and Ranch Fence Construction. Blue Dog Publishing Company, Forsyth, MT, 2005. [7] British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture. British Columbia Agricultural Fencing Handbook. 1996.

There are many, many people to thank for the production of this book. During my two years working for American Conservation Experience, I worked with hundreds of awesome people. I’ve learned from ACE staff, fellow supervisors, volunteers and project partners. Without all of their hard work, this book would not exist. In particular, I would like to thank Chris Roberts for being a wonderful project partner who recognized the great work done by ACE volunteers. I would also like to thank everybody who proofread the numerous drafts of this book. This includes Becky Fitzpatrick, Lindsey Falkenburg, Jordan Rolfe and Matt Roberts, among others.


A Fencing Manual

Nicholas Smolinske

This book is a comprehensive guide to basic barbed-wire fencing. It is written with the ACE supervisor in mind, but anybody who is constructing or repairing fence will find it useful.

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