This article outlines a unique method for wood gate construction which will greatly decrease the time spent, and improve the fit of a gate of any size.
Over the years, I have built dozens of fences in several different configurations. Without a doubt, the most time consuming few feet of any wooden fence is the gate. Not only does the gate have to be sized, built, hinged, and latched, the end product of a lack of care in any of these stages can lead to years of dealing with an ill-fitting, poorly operating point of entry and exit. As a professional contractor, I was often called upon to repair a poorly operating gate, and I seldom left without wondering if my repair was going to “hold up.”
In constructing my own personal fence recently, I happened upon a construction technique that seemed far too simple to have not been obvious, yet I have never seen this method documented. Although many products exist on the market to build square gates, and adjust improperly fitting gates, this process does not require special hardware and will work for those tricky (and common) non-square gates that follow a sloped landscape.
Begin by laying your posts out, and setting them, as you would any fence project. Naturally, your gate will only be as wide as the posts which form each side, and, of course, the wider your gate, the more prone your gate will be to warping and settling.
Once your posts have set, install two or more horizontal rails to the posts, depending on height and strength demands. Normally, a fence builder stops each rail at the post where the gate will be located; leaving a space for the fabricated gate to be installed after the fence is complete. This point is where my secret (until now) new technique is employed.
Continue your rails without interruption across the gate opening. Do not cut the rails yet. You may elect to cut a middle rail off in the gate opening if you are using three rails for the fence. The rails that cross over the gate area should extend all the way to the next post on either side of the gate.
Now, you can install your vertical pickets, or dog ears, or planks onto the rails, being careful to adjust the vertical boards so there is a seam at the edges where your gate is planned. Once you have finished installing boards across the gate section and a few feet on either side of the planned gate, you can install two or more strap hinges. (CAUTION: Don’t forget that if your gate follows a slope, you need to hinge it on the lower side so your gate will swing open without hitting the ground.) Position your strap hinges so the hinge pin is directly over the board seam and edges of the planned gate. Install your hinge hardware over where the rails run so the screws will go through the finish boards and into the rail lumber.
Once this is done, you can move to the other side of the gate and install a diagonal brace and/or cable and turnbuckle to give further support to the gate and limit its shifting out of alignment over time. Once your supports are installed, you can cut the rails directly behind the hinge pins. (See inset picture) You can use a handsaw or a power reciprocating saw to cut all the way through all rails crossing the gate. (A power circular saw will not get close enough to the post to make the cut.)
Now, simply move to the latch side and cut each rail crossing the planned gate. Angle this cut slightly so the rail across the gate is a bit shorter on the open face than it is on the face with attached fence boards. This will allow for a natural swing of the gate without binding. Once the cuts are complete, your gate should swing free. If the rails bind a bit, but you can open it, use a rasp or sandpaper to give the gate rails a greater bevel and gap. If you did not angle the latch side cut enough and the gate is stuck, you can easily pull the pins on most gate hinges which will let you pull the gate free and open up and bevel the latch gap a bit more as mentioned above. You should not have to adjust the gap at all on the hinge side.
Now, you can mount your latch according to the style and directions for installation. I hope this saves you as much time as it did for me on your next fence project. Good luck. – D.B. Sweet, ©2010.