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I want to purchase all the wood for my 6' privacy fence project but it will take me longer than a day to install. Also I'll be leaving all of the wood in my backyard which means it will probably get wet when it rains. My question is: Do fence pickets need to be dry before being installed?

I ask this because I know wood expands/contracts in different situations and I don't want to install my fence to have it bow later or be misshapen after I've finished.

The wood I'll be using is pressure treated pine.

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  • Filling them would be easier if you were to fill the gaps with a 1X2X6 either way you can have a great looking fence if you wanted to avoid all the hassle of bringing down the fence Nov 11, 2018 at 1:15

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That depends partly on the fence design. If you're doing something edge-to-edge, installing water-swollen pickets will result in gaps once the wood dries out.

Otherwise, it's more likely that the pickets will warp if left to dry quickly in the sun. The side that dries out first contracts, causing curvature.

That said, pressure-treated lumber is extremely wet to begin with, so it may not matter much. If you get any severely warped pickets you might just have to change them out.

I'd buy an inexpensive tarp and keep it all dry until it's up. Why make the project more challenging than it already is?

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I made the mistake of putting the fence pickets on straight from the store. I bought brown pressure treated wood at the local lumber yard. I put them tightly next to each other and in less than a month, during the fall mind you, the gaps between the boards grew to about 1/2".

That being said, I would recommend drying them for a few weeks either outside or in your garage.. somewhere where they can adjust to the local humidity in the air. Leaving them stacked on top of each other doesn't work either, you have to get air all around the picket.

I didn't have the room to dry them properly in the first place, but I could have just hung them on the panel frames with a single screw and wait for cutting and filling in the partial pickets later.

Now I have to go back and remove all the screws and bring the pickets together. Luckily I used deck screws and not nails, which allows me to do this pretty easily.

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If they are not dried the fence will end up having gaps of about 1/4 to 3/8 between the (6 inch) pickets. This is still enough for privacy but will not be 100% view blocking.

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  • This doesn't really provide any information that isn't already given in the other answers.
    – JACK
    Jun 8, 2023 at 20:20
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On the other hand, wood shrinking isn't the only wood movement you need to be aware of. As wood picks up moisture it will swell and expand with great force.

If you fully dry out the pickets and then install them butted against each other without any gaps, they're going to swell when they get wet or even when the relative humidity rises above where it is when they were installed. That will cause the pickets to bend, cup, or even separate from the fasteners as they're pushing against each other needing to release the force of the expanding wood.

It might be better to install the pickets "wet" and allow them to dry so that gaps do form between them. That would allow for expansion in the future. It's not likely that the pickets will ever be more wet than they are when you bring them home from the BigBox store.

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