Using nails in the ground to install sideboards and boundary strings

Surfing the web, I could not find anywhere a set of instructions for how to install sideboards and boundary strings around a petanque piste (lane). So I wrote this one. Note that these instructions are for the traditional petanque method, which involves driving nails into the ground.

updated 2021-09-19

Installing wooden sideboards (arrêtoirs de boules)

Driving nails into the ground may seem strange to Americans, but it is the traditional petanque method. When you’re laying out a petanque lane, you drive nails into the ground to hold boundary strings and wooden sideboards (wooden surrounds) in place.

Here is a nice example— a postcard showing Fanny. Note that the sideboards are being held in place by big nails.

Although nails are the traditional fastener for sideboards, a popular modern alternative is rebar and safety caps.

Installing boundary strings

To install boundary strings, you will need a roll of nylon string and some nails. Four- or five-inch (10-12cm) nails should do the job. (This photo actually shows seven-inch nails.)

You’ll also need a long tape measure (for laying out the desired dimensions of the lane), a pocket knife or a pair of scissors (for cutting the string), a hammer (for driving nails into the ground), and a pair of pliers (for pulling nails out of the ground).

The basic technique for securing one end of a boundary string is to drive a nail part-way into the ground, leaving about one inch (3cm) exposed. Pull the string taut. Wind the end of the string around the nail four or five times. Then pound the nail all the way into the ground until the head of the nail is flush with the surface of the ground, or a little below it. (Pressure from the surrounding dirt will hold the string in place; it will not unwind.) Trim the end of the string, but leave a short, loose tail. (The tail won’t hurt anything, and it may help later, if you need to find the nail again, or to pull it up.)

Strings don’t last forever. Over time, exposure to the elements and being stepped on by players will damage a string until it breaks or goes slack. When that happens, it is easy to pull up the nails in order to replace or tighten the string. Brush away the dirt that has accumulated above the nail, exposing the head of the nail. Using a pair of pliers, grab the head of the nail. (An ordinary pair of pliers will do the job, but a big pair of pliers, or a pair of locking pliers, will do it even better.) Using the pliers, twist and pull. The nail should come out easily.

How to lay out the strings

Don’t install four nails (one at each corner of the lane) and then run the string all the way around the lane. If you do that, then when the string breaks the strings on the other three sides of the terrain may go slack, and you will need to restring all four sides of the lane.

Instead, install four separate strings, one for each side of the lane. This keeps the nails away from the dead-ball line, and (if the nails are installed close to the wooden sideboards) the nails are out of the way of the players.