Designing A Gate For A Fence

by Darwin Hall

metal fence gate

The design of a gate should be appealing — welcoming visitors to your home.

But since a gate is opened and closed so often, the two main important attributes are that it works properly and that it is wide enough.

Make a gate opening as wide as possible; 4 feet is comfortable, although 6 to 8 feet looks better for formal entryways.

Some gates, such as for driveways, can be as wide as 20 feet.  If the opening is 4 feet or less, a single gate is adequate.  If it is between 4 and 8 feet, there should be a pair of gates.  Double gates are no more inconvenient than single gates, since one side can be kept shut most of the time.

See also:  How to Install a Loose-Fill Driveway

Whether there is one gate or two, wide openings require special bracing, sometimes even a wheel, under the swing edge of the gate.

A gate should always swing inward toward private space, not outward toward public space.  The hinges can be placed on either side of a single gate.  If the gate will swing into a sloping hillside, mount the hinges on the downhill post.

If the gate is made to swing against a wall or section of fence, mount the hinges on that side.  If a pathway  approaches the gate from an angle, hinge the gate so that it opens toward the path, rather than blocking it off.

If none of these factors is an issue, hinge the gate on the right side as it opens toward you.

Three simple techniques will keep most gates from sagging or leaning:

  • Brace the hinge post so that it won’t lean toward the gate by building a diagonal wooden brace into the adjacent section of fencing or by attaching a cable between the top of the post and the bottom of the next fence post over.  Provide a turnbuckle for tightening the cable.  For tall or heavy gates, use 6×6 posts instead of 4×4 ones, setting them deep into the ground.  Wherever possible, hang gates from house walls rather than from free-standing posts.
  • Build diagonal bracing into the gate itself.  This can be a 2×4 brace that runs from the bottom hinge to the top of the latch side or a cable that stretches from the ctop hinge to the bottom of the latch side.
  • Attach heavy-duty hinges securely with lag bolts or long screws.

Materials and Design Of A Gate

A gate in the middle of a fence looks integrated when it is made from the same materials as the fence.  However, a gate design does not have to duplicate that of the fence unless you want the gate to blend in.

A gate is constructed differently enough for it to stand out at least a little from the rest of the fence.

If the gate is in a solid fence and privacy is not critical, a special touch is to space the gate materials so that they form an open grillwork instead of a solid facade.  The gate design will contrast with the fence, and the gate will be inviting by revealing a glimpse of the yard and house beyond.

Another way to vary the gate is to make it slightly taller than the fence by extending the infill up or by shaping it into a decorative pattern.  If the fence is painted, particularly when it is solid, painting the gate a different color provides an interesting focal point.

Using hardware, trim, or decorative objects gives a gate a distinctive character, although imagination must be tempered by sensitivity to the overall setting.

While gate for an opening in a masonry wall cannot be possibly the same material, the design should be complimentary.  Because walls are substantial, the gate should also have a feeling of strength.  Wood gates should be solid and made of large dimensioned lumber.

Gate Hardware

Choose the latch and hinges before you build the gate, so that you can construct the gate for proper mounting of the hardware.

Latches.  Latches come in different types and styles.  A deadbolt is the most secure type; it requires a key to open the gate from the outside.  A thumb catch is a good type of latch for entry gates because it has a friendly, inviting handle that can be operated with one hand.

Another type of latch has the same closing mechanism as a thumb catch, but opens from the outside with a small wire or string instead of a prominent handle.  A cane bolt holds one side of a double gate constantly steady.

It slips into a hole in the pavement and can be lifted out to open both gates.  A latch that is mounted on top of the gate and a slide bolt are two other kinds, not to mention homemade varieties, such as a simple loop that collars both the latch post and gate to hold the gate shut.

Hinges.  Gate hinges are as varied as gate latches.  Short gates, less than 4 feet tall, can hang on two hinges, but taller gates need three.  Plain butt hinges work for light gates, and can be mounted so that only the knuckles show.

Heavier gates need longer hinges, such as straps or tees.  Some hinges have a bolt instead of a leaf for mounting to the gate post or masonry column.

Constructing a Gate Out of Wood Planks

This type of gate depends of strong vertical members to hold it together.  If the infill material is small-dimensioned lumber or if it is to be spaced for a lighter effect, modify the frame so that 2x4s are on each side as well as across the top and bottom.

wood fence gateThe gate still needs a diagonal brace, either a solid 2×4 or a thin cable running in the opposite direction with a turnbuckle to adjust tension.

1.  Measure the opening.  If it is out of plumb, try to straighten the posts.  If you cannot, make adjustments in the gate itself.  Allow ½ inch for hinge clearance, and another ½ inch on the latch side for swing clearance.

Select straight, dry lumber.  Cut and lay out three 2x4s in as “Z” pattern, so that the bottom corner of the diagonal brace will be on the hinge side of the gate.  Nail the infill to this frame, using more nails than you would for fencing.

For a stronger gate, assemble the frame with lapped or rabbeted joints and nail it together before attaching the infill.

2.  Place the gate in the opening and check it for fit, setting it on blocks if necessary.  Take it down and make any adjustments to the gate.

3.  Attach heavy-duty hinges to the gate, screwing or bolting them to the horizontal frame pieces.  The knuckles should be centered around a ¼ inch outside of the gate, and should be in perfect vertical alignment with each other.

To conceal the hinges entirely, use the butt style and screw the leaves into the end instead of the face of each horizontal framing member.  This is not as strong as face mounting because you are screwing the hinge into end grain.

4.  Set the gate in the opening so that the hinges are positioned against the post.  Use blocks to temporarily steady the gate, making sure it has equal clearance all around.

Mount the hinges to the post with heavy lag bolts or screws, testing it for swing after one or two screws are in each hinge.  If it swing properly, install the rest of the screws.

Install the latch.  To save wear and tear on the latch, nail a wood stop to the post or onto the edge of the gate itself.  Use material that matches the gate.  It is also a good idea to mount a gate spring or improvise a weight-and-chain device so that the gate will swing shut automatically.

Dotted Line Post Separator

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