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1st-time DIYer here. I am putting a 4 feet picket fence and planning to join rails to post in-between (as opposed to outside). I will be putting 2 rails between 2 posts. The posts are 8 feet apart and will have approx. 17/18 1"x3.5" pickets (1.5" spacing). Do you think toe-screwing 3 screws (3 inch) per joint would be secure enough or should I use the rail hangers? I am avoiding rail hangers as I don't like the their look.

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That should hold just fine, assuming you do a good job. Pilot and countersink the rails so the screws are aligned well and get set to the right depth.

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