Traditional H braces on the east coast were notched with to help support the horizontal post, and sometimes notched to provide the brace wires a channel to slide in. We want to compare the old way and the new way to construct H braces for farm fencing, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Traditional H braces
We all made H braces the way we had seen them made for many years, by notching the vertical posts to support the horizontal posts, and I also usually made a shallow cut on the low end of one vertical post and the high end of the other vertical post for the brace wire to slide in. There are some disadvantages to this, one is that it opens up more cut surfaces for water to enter and degrade the grain of the vertical posts, and another is the additional expense. Many times in the past we needed to buy larger diameter posts because after notching we did not leave much wood left for the horizontal post to push on.
Improved H braces
The improved approach is to not notch the vertical posts at all but to hold them in place with two spikes. You can use brace pins or I actually use hot galvanized 8,10 or 12" spikes from Lowes. I drill all the way through the two vertical posts with a 3/8" ship auger bit for the two galvanized spikes. It is easier at this step to have a helper hold one end of the horizontal post approximately lined up with the hole in the opposite post, while you place your ship auger bit back through the same hole you pre drilled, line up the horizontal post and drill into to the end of the horizontal post far enough for the spike to enter. Even with this pre drilling, you will still need to drive the spike in with a hammer due to tight fit.
Best Brace Wire
I have used, regular 9 gauge brace wire, doubled up strands of high tensile, and also barbless barbed wire, or barbless cable from Tractor Supply. It is half the cost because an 80 rod roll is 1320 feet long and costs 59.99 or 4.5 cents per foot, while the 171 foot rolls of brace wire are 15.99 which is 9 cents per foot. The barbless cable is two strands of 12.5 gauge galvanized wire, compared to one strand of 9 gauge wire so either one are plenty strong. Besides the barbless wire being half as expensive in initial cost, it is also less wasteful because with the many rolls you will go through making braces with the standard brace wire, there will be a wasted piece at as you come to the end of each roll that is not quite long enough for one more brace. If you use eight foot horizontal posts in your braces you will need around twenty or twenty two feet of wire per brace.
Recommended Horizontal Posts
I have read in USDA fencing guidelines that having a ten foot horizontal post in H braces makes them equal in strength to a double H brace using eight foot horizontal posts. I haven't spent any time to validate that point, but I do consider the point and use ten foot long by four inch diameter on the braces that will support a gate as often as I can. There is an increased cost involved as I buy my ten foot posts from a place called Barn Loft at fourteen dollars each, and for most H braces I use an eight foot long by five inch post which is around nine and a half dollars depending on where I pick them up.
David Watterson has installed farm fencing for many years. He still enjoys stretching that wire, making good H braces and hanging gates. He uses the latest gripple connectors, and makes improved style H braces without cutting notches that let water into the post. Fencing is a great compliment to Watterson Tree Farm in Lexington, NC. David's four sons help on fencing jobs. http://www.farmfencenc.com/