How can you build a wattle fence? Start here. We show how. But first, imagine creating a highly efficient and easy-peasy garden border, or a barrier for small animals, with little or no money and minimal physical effort.
Sounds too good to be true? Since Neolithic times, people of the land have known that it is true. That’s how long the concept of a wattle fence or coppice fence has been with us!
Only we, the modern humans, have gone a bit astray and forgotten that we could solve many homesteading, gardening, and farm challenges in a DIY style without the help of the marketplace or industry. And wattle fencing is the perfect example of what we mean.
So – if you’ve been wondering how to make a garden fence out of tree branches, then you’re in the right spot! This article will explain what a wattle fence is and how to make one yourself, step by step!
- What Is a Wattle?
- How Is Wattle Made?
- What Is Wattle Made Of, Exactly?
- How Long Will a Wattle Fence Last?
- Making a Wattle Fence – Step-by-Step Guide
- Weaving It All Together – The Conclusion
What Is a Wattle?
Wattle is an ancient term for frames, walls, fences, and roofs made by weaving together twigs and branches. These structures were so vital and ubiquitous that they have a noun (the one they share with loose facial skin in poultry, also called wattle, but that’s another topic).
The wattle and daub technique! That is, wattle, in combination with a natural sticky plaster made from earth, clay, sand, animal dung, and straw – was used to create even more complex structures – from baskets to houses. Even more interesting, this technique evolved seemingly independently throughout the whole world – Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
Fun fact: In Australia, Acacias were named Wattles by the early British settlers because they used the branches for building huts with the wattle and daub method.
But now, let’s get back to wattle fencing.
How Is Wattle Made?
We create a wattle by horizontally weaving thin, elastic branches – whole or split in two – between vertical stakes firmly pushed into the ground.
Sometimes, you’ll also see vertical branches woven into horizontal, ladder-like frames – although these designs require a hammer, nails, or screws and screw gun.
There are two basic types of wattle fencing.
- A stationary or continuous wattle fence is created onsite and fixed in place. Its size depends on your needs and the surface you want to enclose
- Wattle hurdles are woven panels that can be moved around and put where needed. They can get tied to other hurdles to create continuous but still mobile fencing.
What Is Wattle Made Of, Exactly?
As for the type of wood you can use for wattle fencing, there are no etched-in-stone rules. You can use any available branches, saplings, or suckers that are flexible and durable enough to bend and weave between stakes.
The stakes have to be straight. They can come from young trees or boards, usually upcycled (old, weathered fencing boards can look tremendously charming).
What Do You Use for a Wattle Fence?
Although you have free rein to choose your materials, some have been consistent favorites for the purpose, especially in Europe. These include the following.
Birch and maple are also noteworthy options, although they should be super-fresh.
Hazel as Wattle Wood
Besides providing us with delicious nuts, hazel has been used as coppice wood for centuries because its multi-trunk continuously regrows after being cut down. When these stems and trunks are young, they can easily weave into a wattle fence.
Depending on the diameter and length, you can use hazelwood for weaving or stakes.
Willow as Wattle Wood
Willow is another favorite because its wavy branches are naturally flexible and durable. Like hazel, it’s suitable for horizontal weaving and staking.
Another underrated perk of using willow, especially for stakes, is that the wood will often come alive months or even years after putting them into the ground, creating a live fence you can trim like hedges. How cool.
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Alder as Wattle Wood
In modern days, Alder is a much-underappreciated tree. It is considered a nuisance because of its ability to colonize land, but still, it has many qualities.
For example, Alder grows fast and enriches the soil in nitrogen. Like our previous wattle wood candidates, it has straight stems and branches with marked regrowing abilities, making it a good coppice wood.
Fruit Tree Wattle Wood
Fruit branches are often flexible enough and are abundant in many areas because fruit trees are commonly heavily pruned.
Raspberry canes that usually get burned, composted, or discarded at the end of the growing season can also make good weaving wood for wattle fences. They can’t be used as canes, though.
How Long Will a Wattle Fence Last?
How long your wattle fence lasts depends on many circumstances, such as material choice and environmental factors. Many resources (and our farming friends) cite that an average lifetime of a wattle fence is ten to fifteen years, although there are certainly wattle fences older than that.
Making a Wattle Fence – Step-by-Step Guide
Here is how to make an easy DIY Wattle fence – the stationary type – in three mandatory plus three optional steps.
Step 1. Gathering and Preparing Materials
This one is a no-brainer. Gather your crew of helpers (if there is a crew), prepare the tools, stockpile your wattle branches, and sharpen the ends of stakes.
The sources of branches can be multiple. If you have a property, you’re likely already producing your own, as there must be fruits, shrubs, hedges, or saplings that demand pruning. If not, scout around your neighborhood when the time is due – usually autumn and early spring – and see if your neighbors have branches they would discard anyway.
If that fails too, you can find them cheap on the garden market. I should repeat that although there are woody species that are more convenient for the purpose than the others, you can use any branches flexible enough to be woven into a fence.
Remember that the weaving material must get freshly cut to preserve the living wood’s elasticity. That way, you’ll be able to bend them without cracking and breaking, unlike the case with old, dry sticks.
If you’re using entire saplings already branching, choosing whether to remove the small branches is up to you. Perhaps it is better to do so if you want to make a neat fence. However, you don’t have to waste time if you need a simple utility fence. Just remove the lowest branches that will intervene with the weaving process.
Step 2. Putting In the Stakes
Note: If you want to make mobilized wattle fencing or wattle hurdle, this step is different – you’ll be driving the stakes into a log or a board instead of the ground.
Now it’s time to pound the stakes into the ground. The space between each stake depends on the fence design, but they should be at least a foot apart.
The stake length (height) depends on the desired fence height. But don’t forget to account for the part that will go into the ground!
How much you drive the stakes into the ground depends on the soil type. About 30 cm deep is enough for hard, clay soils. For softer, loose ground soils, aim for 45-50 cm. (The fence height also plays a role. We think around one-third of the total fence post length should get buried under the ground. However, this is merely our rule of thumb.)
If you’re making your fence during a dry period or a drought spell, you can soak the ground a few hours before stake installation.
When you finish the job, perform a stress test on the stakes by pushing them with moderate force. The point is not to try and push them out but to check if they’re secure enough to deal with the everyday pressures of their immediate environment (branches settling, winds, animals brushing against them, farmers tripping over them, etc.).
Step 3. Weaving Branches Together
The basic wattle weave is surprisingly easy. Put the first branch (wattle rail) near the top of your stakes, turning the thicker end of the tree branch towards the first stake. Then, begin weaving by alternating in and out as you pass each stake. Continue with the next wattle branch when you run out of length. But make sure it overlaps a bit with the previous one.
When finished, then push down on the rails until they’re in place near the ground. Continue adding rows.
After weaving two or three rows, push down harder on the branches to make the construction more compact. Repeat the extra pressure every few rows.
Step 4. (Optional) Securing the Wattle Fence
Securing the first and the last wattle rail is optional in the case of stationary fencing but is pretty much mandatory if you’ve opted for a mobile wattle hurdle since you want to create a sturdy frame.
To secure, nail, or screw down the first and the last wattle branch or rail into the end stake.
Step 5. (Optional) Making the Ends Neat and Adding Detail
Once everything is in place, the ends of your fence will likely consist of branches with unruly ends. With a simple but sturdy handsaw, cut away the ending about 3” past the end stakes.
If you want to make your fence more visually appealing and functionally taller, add some thinner arched branches in-between spaces that the wattle rails create.
Extra Step: Be Creative
Once you get the basics of wattle-making, you can experiment! Use unconventional materials that you find attractive, try to create an entire living fence, or experiment with constructions.
I’ve always loved the traditional wattle style in the Balkans called plot. The broad old hardwood fencing boards are used instead of stakes and wattle weaving only at the top portion of the fence (those several rows of wattle rails are keeping the entire thing together!)
And remember the decorative arches I mentioned in Step 5? Some like to put them directly into the ground and create a simple low, woven fence with rounded edges.
Weaving It All Together – The Conclusion
Congratulations! You now know how to make a wattle fence! Gardening and farming will become easier when you are empowered to create a physical border with bare hands and little or no funds.
But it’s not just utility – wattle has a unique rustic charm that will add a warm, old-timey, medieval feel to your yard.
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(And if you have questions about how to build a wattle fence – please ask! We have tons of experience with DIY fencing projects and happily share our thoughts.)
Thanks again for reading.
And have a great day!