Few things are more important than the design of a gate when building a fence. I would put it only second to proper depth and diameter of post holes when ranking my top priorities for building a wood fence. The reason is simple; out of an entire fence project the gate will be the most used and subjected to the greatest wear and tear of the whole project. It only makes sense to build with that reality in mind.
I can’t take credit for the information that I’m sharing here. My dad taught me this method and I remember building gates like this over twenty five years ago when I would help him as a kid. He continued to use this method throughout his career building custom wood fences. When I started on my own I saw no need to reinvent the wheel. I adopted the same method of building, along with a few things I’ve picked up in my woodworking endeavors. The result is a strong gate that rarely requires adjusting. What I’m going to outline here is that method including the reasoning behind it. Whether you’re thinking of building a fence yourself or looking for a better understanding of the process while planning your project, I hope that you’ll find value from the information shared.
I’ll start with the most important component of a gate; the hinge post. This is the post the gate itself swings from and it needs to be solid. To accomplish this I usually use a 6×6 post for my hinge post. At times, due to the layout of the fence, I may use two 4×4 posts close together. This acts as a counter pull to the weight of the gate. An example of such a scenario can be seen in the double drive gate picture below.
Proper depth of the hole for the hinge post as well as proper diameter is important for all wood fence posts, but especially so for a hinge post. This is not an area to cut corners. The gate will be the most used portion of the entire fence and will be subjected to unique stressors. The extra effort and cost is well worth the investment.
I use a standard Z-frame design on my gates. The idea being that any tendency of the gate to drop at the opposite side of the hinge, the latch side, is transferred back towards the hinge side. Personally, I like this design better than a picture frame design. In my experience it seems the corners of the of square in the picture frame design always want to come loose. Not to say it is the wrong approach or can’t be done, but for me the the Z-frame is a time tested approach.
I use cedar 2×4’s for my frame work on all my gates. The reason being is that cedar is much lighter than treated pine and it tends to move less. Exactly what you want when building a gate.
In most cases I use a strap hinge for gates. However, I upgrade the hardware that is used to attach the hinges to the post. The hinges come with lag screws that are less than 1.5” in length. Since they screw into the wood, over time they will loosen and the gate will lose its stability and cause issues. I replace them with carriage bolts that go all the way through the 2×4 on the gate and are secured with a nut and washer. The part of the hinge that attaches to the post gets two 5” lag screws that anchor the hinge and gate to the post. You can see the difference in the the hardware below.
After the gate is complete and ready to be opened I add one more touch. The framework gets carriage bolts through the individual pieces. This solidifies the gate and brings all the framing elements together. It’s just one more way to add strength to a wood gate.
A Word Regarding Gate Width
Regardless of how well a gate is built, problems will occur if the openings are too large. For a walk gate I try to keep the opening less than 48”. For a double drive gate I keep it at less than 96”. The reason being is that any wider begins to cause problems. There is only so far you can get away from the hinge posts before issues occur.
All the above is done to decrease the likelihood of having problems with a gate. It doesn’t guarantee there will never be problems. However, it is much easier to adjust a gate to compensate for wood movement than it is for design flaws.
Have a question about wood gates? Don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’m always happy to help.