Differences Between Steel Fences

From the street most ornamental steel fencing looks the same but there are a few differences amongst the various products out there. These differences impact a fence’s construction, longevity, and ease of installation. Most local fence contractors don’t talk about the different steel fences available when they come to your house. Instead they just provide what’s readily available at their dealer. Here’s some info to help you get smart if you’re adding a steel fence to your backyard.

  • The horizontal pieces of an ornamental steel fence are called rails and the vertical pieces are pickets. These items are welded together or secured with fasteners to create a fence panel that can be mounted to posts using brackets, bolts, and screws or in some cases be welded to the post.

  • The gauge (thickness) of the steel and dimensions of the rails and pickets have a direct correlation to the fence's strength. In the US, a lower gauge number indicates a thicker steel than a higher gauge number. Typical residential steel fences utilize half-inch square or 5/8 inch square pickets that are 18 or 20 gauge steel. The rails are usually one inch square and made of 16 or 18 gauge steel.

  • Welding the rails and pickets together creates a sturdy panel but can create aesthetic and corrosion issues. From a style perspective, pickets are usually welded on the side of the rail creating a “railroad” track appearance. The panels are also typically welded to a post. The welds may be strong, but they also introduce an easy place for corrosion to start. Look at the fence in your neighborhood, chances are that if it is rusting, it’s rusting at the welds. However, one of the biggest differences between welded and non-welded fence is that a welded fence is not rackable.

  • A rackable fence is one that adjusts to the contour of the land. This creates a smooth look to the fence as the panel follows the slope of the land but the pickets still run vertical to the horizon. A welded fence is unable to rack, so they must be “stair stepped” down or up the hill. This creates openings at the bottom rail for small animals and is generally a less desirable look.

  • Steel fences that are not welded typically connect the rails and pickets with screws or with a fastening system inside the rail that hides the fasteners. The latter provides a very clean look and reduces the steel’s exposure to corrosion. For example, at Betafence we use a proprietary design to connect our rails and pickets inside of the rail. There are no welds, no visible fasteners, and the panel is rackable up or down very steep grade.

  • The last major part of a steel fence’s construction is the steel’s galvanization and coating. Galvanizing steel is the process of applying a thin coating of zinc to the base steel. The zinc shields the metal from corrosion, but it doesn’t last forever. Metal galvanization on steel tubes typically has a rating like G20 or G60. The G is easy – galvanized, but what does the 20 or 60 mean? The number indicates the amount of zinc coating per square foot. In this example, G20 means 0.20 ounces of zinc per square foot. More zinc is better so the higher the number, the more corrosion protection and durability you have.

  • The paint or powder coat applied on top of the galvanized steel seals the metal off and provides the finish you’ll see for years to come. Most steel fences are installed for over 20 years so it’s important to have a high-quality coating if you want your fence to look good a couple decades from now. At the low end is spray paint and at the high end is polyester powder coating with zinc primers.

  • Most people only install a fence once in their lives and leading fence manufacturers recognize this by creating products built to last. If you don’t see at least a 10-year warranty on your fence, it’s probably not made from great materials. Getting high-quality steel fencing may cost 1.5x to 2.5x more but it will look great and last a lifetime.