Usually, I reserve this blog for industry issues of wide concern—policies, politics, industry arguments and the like. This week, however, let’s address an issue of far greater importance.
Like whether it’s best to use an X of crossed wires on your H braces or just one wire.
A reader called the other day and left a message with his thoughts on the subject. With May being the beginning of spring turn-out in many parts of cattle country, this is a question of immediate importance as you prep your fences.
I presume the reader was referring to the Fencing Guide in our April magazine. His thought is that one of the wires in the X is pulling the wrong direction. Instead, one wire pulling in the same direction as the fence pull is what is needed.
Related: 15 photos of fencing from start to finish
Veteran BEEF writer Heather Smith Thomas authored the articles in the Fencing Guide, using her son, Michael, as the source. Michael is a full-time custom fence builder.
Michael was, oddly enough, out building a fence when I contacted Heather. But she and her husband, Lynn, have been ranching their entire lives and have quite a bit of experience building, fixing and maintaining fences. Here’s her response:
“There are a number of ways to build braces. The reason we use the wire this way in an H brace is that the wires are twisted together and pull the posts toward each other—to stabilize the brace itself.
“We’ve built and been around barbed-wire fences all our lives and have seen what works and what doesn’t. We’ve seen some braces built the way your reader suggests and they don’t seem to last as long.
“As my husband Lynn points out (he’s built many miles of fences on our place—and on leased places and on our BLM range allotment over the past 52 years) the main thing is to have enough braces—enough frequency and in the appropriate places in terms of the terrain—to keep the fence secure.
“If you look closely at the braces Michael made, the pin is in the center of the twists, and the forces are all equal. The rebar pin is lodged against the brace pole so it can’t unwind, and it is stapled to the brace pole. The twist is pulling against the brace pole. This method has worked very well for us for a long time.”
READ: What's the cost of fixing vs. building a new fence?
Michael put down his hammer long enough to add his thoughts: “The one diagonal wire is physically functional, and mathematically sound, but the X-wire makes the brace itself a more solid stand-alone structure that can withstand pressure from either direction. The one diagonal wire brace is only designed to withstand load from one direction. To me, the one diagonal wire is a lazy man’s answer to a brace. Ironically, braces must be a real issue for folks. I have two urgent jobs this spring that involve building braces for people.”
My dad used the X-wire inside the brace as well as a brace pole on the outside of the H brace running at an angle to the ground and nailed to a ground-level post. This angled brace pole ran in the direction of the fence pull.
Maybe that was overkill, but his philosophy was that more is a lot better than less. This was abundantly clear when anyone besides him tried to change a tire after he tightened the lugs.
What’s your opinion? How do you build and brace a barbed-wire fence? What’s the best way to set posts in sandy soil? Rocky soil?
Electric fences are also widely used, so feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on those as well.
Here are some of the comments from our Facebook post on this article: