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Charming Yard and Garden Gates | How to build a functional gate that will last

Updated on April 11, 2013
Counter weight automatically closes gate.
Counter weight automatically closes gate.
Example of the Colonial style cannon ball weight.
Example of the Colonial style cannon ball weight.
Farm gate strap hinge and stud bolted into post
Farm gate strap hinge and stud bolted into post
Pocket holes drill into one side
Pocket holes drill into one side
boards are clamped and screwed using special pocket hole screws
boards are clamped and screwed using special pocket hole screws
Makes a strong joint
Makes a strong joint
Perfect for building barn doors and gates
Perfect for building barn doors and gates

As more people are seeking self sufficient living, the functionality of a good garden and yard fence is once again becoming even more popular.

Today gates are used for for outside décor and to keep neighbor kids and dogs from invading your yard.

Just as they were used years ago, yard fences and gates are also becoming popular to keep the free range chickens and other small livestock in the yard, while garden fences and gates keep them and other critters out of the garden.

Whether you’re looking to enhance your property with a charming picket fence or you’re just wanting to protect a garden from critters a yard or garden gate will be a necessary means of egress.

A garden or yard gate is like the front door to a home. It needs to be built solid to withstand repeated opening and closing while standing up to the outdoor elements.

Considerations during the planning and design elements should include the size of the gate, the weight, the hinges, the latch system and the post structure.

Gates can vary from 36” wide up to 48” wide. To determine the size, consider all the things that you will use the gate for.

Such things as rolling in wheelbarrows, garden carts, lawn mowers, hauling in sacks of groceries, and moving large items such as furniture into the home, may require a wider gate than the sidewalk size

Gate post do not have to be right at the edge of the sidewalk either, they can extend out past the sidewalk leaving a buffer area allowing the gate to be wider than the sidewalk itself.

This will come in handy when toting a wheelbarrow full of potting soil bags through the gate.

You may want to actually consider two gates, one for walking and one for bringing in large equipment such as a tractor or mower.

The walking gate will allow quick and easy access while the larger less used gate will not be as easy and quick to open.

Our garden has the 36” gate on the front and an 8’ gate on the back so that we can back in a load of compost or bring in a tractor.

For gates over 48” you might want to consider a double gate. Unless you will be making them from metal, or metal reinforced wood, wooden gates much over 48” tend to sag unless they are built with a metal frame.

Most people will totally underestimate the weight and construction of even a simple wooden gate.

It seems simple enough, throw some post into the ground then take a top and bottom runner nail some pickets on it, maybe add a cross brace and then slap on some cheap hinges.

This leads to a gate that just won’t stand up compromised by undersized mounting post, hinges and latches.

What was to be a charming gate ends up to be a dreaded dragging and tugging because the gate, hinges, or post have allowed the gate to tip into the ground or drag on the sidewalk.

By far a metal gate frame attached with farm gate hinges with the hinge post bolted or lagged into a sturdy post structure will stand up for years of use. Pickets can be either bolted to or screwed to horizontal runners that are also bolted to the metal.

We have actually re-purposed welded chain link fence gates, both in single and double sizes. By removing the chain link fence wire we attach 2 x 4 wood runners fastened at the top and bottom using screws drilled in from the, sides, top and bottom. These boards make perfect runners to screw fence pickets to.

We leave the hinge part on the gate, but purchase the farm gate hinge stud bolt or lag used for farm gates as they can be fastened to a post. The chain link fence hinges are made to clamp on to a metal post.

You might want to also consider a vintage iron gate, they can be found at antique stores and architectural salvage stores. Yes they might cost a couple of hundred dollars, but considering the time and materials building your own gate they might end up being a bargain.

We have seen vintage iron gates in conjunction with a white picket fence, so no rule seems to apply regarding if they should only be used with an iron or wire fence.

If you don’t have metal frames available then the old vintage style gates as pictured can still be built solid. The secret is to not skimp on the frame and runners. Even then adequate cross bracing and screw and bolt fasteners will help prevent the downward sag over time.

In the pictures you will see a variety of gate framing, some have built a box out of 2 x 4 material while most use the traditional two board runner system with bracing.

In building new gates where the boards will joint flat edge to each other, we really like to use our pocket hole drill guide and screw the boards together.

This is much stronger joint than trying to screw on flat metal corner brackets.

This system known as the “Kregg Jig, or Pocket Hole Jig “ was designed for cabinet making but we have found the superior strength combined with rust resistant screws make wonderful strong joinery for all types of outdoor projects.

With this type of construction your frame can consist of either 2 x 4 or 1 x 6 top and bottom runners butt jointed on each side with vertical boards to make a picture frame and then attach the pickets.

In sizing be sure to account for the hinge distance from the post and where you want the gate to meet with the non hinged post.

Unless you are using an already built gate, it’s always better to build and set the post first and then build the gate to fit instead of trying to dig holes and align for the gate.

Some will double up the frame and then add cross bracing like the pictures of the unpainted cedar gates. Cross bracing can be added into the design much like the X style used on barn doors.

Whether you do an X or just the diagonal cross brace board, one solid board needs to extend from the top hinge side down to the bottom non hinge side.

This will act as a lift up arm to help keep the gate from sagging. The other boards to form the X can be added as decorative fillers.

You really don’t need to be a mathematical carpenter wizard to figure out the angles either, just build the outside frame and lay the board across diagonally to mark the cuts on each with a pencil. Do the same for the decorative X boards.

Use only coated deck or rust resistant coated screws to fasten the boards together. Purchase the right length of screws to penetrate into the second board deep enough to not allow the screws to project out the other side to cut into hands and arms. These screws are hard and don’t file or grind off very easily.

Any screw or bolt that is not rust resistant will quickly bleed through the paint.

We actually like to use a combination of ¼” zinc plated carriage bolts and screws. By adding a couple carriage bolts on each corner and spaced out along the diagonal cross bracing, we know that the gate will likely stay square.

Strap hinges bolted on top and bottom with carriage bolts can take the place of other bolts on the hinge side.

Once you have the basic frame, you can be as creative as you wish with design, again just keep in mind the overall weight.

The pictures show all types of gates both vintage and new using various pickets and board designs.

Mounting post can be as simple as a 4 x 4 or round post to a fancy capped 6 x 6 post or complete masonry post.

In building our Colonial style picket fences we like to duplicate the vintage gate post by using 6 X 6 treated post capped with a tired stack of 1-1/2 square boards. Some quarter round trim under the bottom board just seems to finish it all off.

For these post to stay stable on a gate we bury and concrete down 2’ deep, 3’ deep if we are doing a long gate like 8’.

Hinges again are an important part of the gate’s structural integrity, large strap hinges add charm and character but are sometimes hard to fasten to the post side because the length surpasses solid material to bolt to unless your fence is using vertical boards.

Barn door strap hinges or the “T” hinge that has one long strap side to bolt to the gate and one square plate to bolt to the post side work very well. You can always use three to add more support.

Small door hinges should be used on doors and not gates. They are typically just too small and have smaller screw holes that don’t adapt well to gate building.

Gate latches also vary widely from a simple hook and eye fastener, to a fancy thumb latch typically used on barn doors.

Being able to push open and close a gate without having to hand operate a latch mechanism can come in very handy when your arms and hands are loaded down with groceries and garden supplies.

One of the oldest gate closures utilized in Colonial times incorporated a round cannon ball weight on a chain hooked to the gate and another post.

The gate can be pushed open with the waist and as soon as the person clears the gate the weight closes the gate behind them.

Any type of weight can be used including a coffee can filled with concrete and an eye hook. One end of the chain can be hooked on an open eye hook to allow the chain to be lifted off when leaving the gate open is desirable.

For more ideas on building a strong Colonial style picket visit my hub How-to-build-a-Colonial-Williamsburg-style-solid-picket-fence

Pictures are courtesy of Cottage Craft old fashioned style online back to basics general store.


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    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      This looks thorough so it should be useful to any gardener with handy skills. I'll be showing it to my husband and pinning to Gardening: Projects… board. Thanks!


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