What Is Wood Checking? A Helpful Guide To Checking in Wood Fences

Round rail post and rail fence with check in the post

“My fence post is splitting!” and “There are cracks in my fence!” are two things we hear every once in a while from new wood fence owners.

And it’s not just us! Wood fence installers throughout the country hear these concerns on a weekly basis.

But is that really what’s going on? Are “cracks” or “splits” in your wood fence really something to worry about?

Have No Fear – It’s Just Wood Checking!

What most people are looking at when they make these frantic calls are not structure-altering cracks or splits. Most of the time, these are natural wood checks – otherwise known as “seasoning checks.”

stacks of square wood fence posts with checks in them
Seasoning is just a fancy term to describe the wood drying process. Wood checks are just a result of that process.

The good thing is that there’s no need to worry about them! Why? Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of the wood checking process and what it means for your fence.

What is Wood Checking?

Wood is a natural fence building material and is subject to the elements. Wood checking is a normal process that does not weaken your fence’s structure. 

Wood checks are the most common type of crack that you see in various types of lumber, including cedar fence posts. The good news is that they’re completely natural!

Checking is a normal and pretty much unavoidable part of the wood seasoning process. The seasoning process is just a fancy title for the time is takes wood to dry out.

Why Does Wood Checking Happen?

All wood starts out alive and green. Over time, it seasons or dries. As the wood drives, it might start checking.

This natural, unstoppable process happens as the wood dries from the surface to the center. It’s important to note that wood checking happens in all types of lumber. If you live in a home with exposed beams, for example, you may notice checking on those beams as well.

As wood dries, the exterior surface (also known as the sapwood) dries much faster than the inner core (the heartwood). As the sapwood dries, it rapidly shrinks while the heartwood stays the same. This tension creates the checks so many new fence owners call about.

When Does Wood Checking Happen & Does It Stop?

Most new fence owners observe the wood checking process within the first few months of their fence’s life. Sometimes, wood checking doesn’t really heat up until the summer months when the sun dries your wood fence.

Two rail, rounded rail wood split rail fence in New Jersey installed by Artistic Fence Company

While wood checking typically stops when your fence completely dries out, that doesn’t mean it won’t get wet again. If it does get wet again, this can lead to increased warping of your fence.

Remember – wood fences are a natural material and do eventually weather and warp. But there are things you can to do keep them looking new longer.

Is Wood Checking Bad for My Fence?

Typically, wood checking is nothing to worry about when it happens to your wood fence posts.

Laboratory tests have shown that wood checks do not affect the structural integrity of wooden fences; however, it’s always a good idea to check on your fence every once in a while.

If a check grows very large or if you have concerns, you can always send your fence installer an email with a picture. A good fence contractor will review your photos and address your concerns long after they finish your fence.

Maintaining Your Wood Fence

Old man staining his wood picket fence

While checking isn’t something you should typically worry about, there are other problems that can impact your wood fence. As a natural material, wood fences require regular maintenance to keep them looking beautiful.

Eventually, all wood fences will grow old and rot, but there are things you can do to prolong the life of your wood fence, like:

  • Pressure wash your fence every few years to remove mold, mildew, and dirt
  • Do not cover the bottom of your wood fence with mulch
  • Scrape off moss
  • Stain or seal your fence

Is A Wood Fence Right for You?

While wood fences require more maintenance than other material fences, they are definitely the right choice for many New Jersey property owners! It all depends on your lifestyle and the style(s) of fence that you think look(s) best.

If you really want a wood fence, no amount of checking is going to deter you from your vision! Maintaining a wood fence is easier when you stain or paint it from the start and the regularly treat it. We can actually paint or stain your fence before we install it, which makes it a lot easier since landscaping can sometimes get in the way.

Wood fences are perfect for property owners that:

  • Want a fence that blends into its surroundings
  • Don’t mind maintenance
  • Want to change the color of their fence

Wood Fence Alternatives

But if you don’t have time to take care of your fence, PVC is another viable option. Otherwise known as vinyl or composite fences, PVC fencing is growing more and more popular throughout the New Jersey area. This long-lasting, low-maintenance fence material comes in similar styles to wood fences. You can do a white picket fence with PVC – no problem!

White fence outside of a yellow home in Haskell, New Jersey installed by Artistic Fence

While PVC is the closest-looking option to wood, you could also do an aluminum fence or chain link fence instead. While you won’t get privacy with aluminum fences, you can easily do an aluminum picket fence instead of a wood picket fence.

Chain link doesn’t have the same look, but you can add privacy with vinyl slats.

It all depends on your specific needs and style.

Not sure what fence is right for you? Try taking our fence material quiz to find your prefect match!

Click the button below to get started with our quick, 5-minute fence style quiz: