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How To Build a Wooden Gate

Gates are often considered the most challenging part of building a fence. They have more components than other fence panels, are prone to coming out of square or racking because they are not supported as well as other fence panels, and experience far more wear and tear than other parts of the fence.

Many home stores and lumber yards sell pre-fabricated gates for this reason, but choosing a pre-fabricated gate can limit your choices of design and gate sizes. This can be particularly problematic if you need a larger than normal gate or a gate of an odd size.

There are also a variety of gate kits available. These vary widely in price and quality. If you choose to use a kit, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Gate posts must be plumb and straight or the gate will not operate correctly. It is highly recommended that you set gate posts in concrete even if the rest of your posts are not. If it is not possible to use concrete, metal fence spikes usually used in temporary fence repair can be used at the bottom of the hole for extra strength.

To build a gate:

Measure the opening. You will want to make your gate 1 to 1-1/2 inches smaller than the opening to allow for swing and hardware.

Cut four pieces of 2x4 so they have a 45 degree angle on each end with the tip of the angle on the same side of the 2x4. Two of these will be the vertical members of your frame and two will be the horizontal portions. Arrange the pieces so they form a rectangle and screw or nail them together. Check the gate frame for square, by measuring across the frame on an angle first one way, then the other, to form an X. If the measurements match the gate is square.

Install a cross member across the frame to keep the gate square. Cut one piece of lumber so that it crosses the frame at an angle from one corner to another across the gate. The ends of the cross-member should be angled so they fit flush with the inner part of the frame. This angle will vary with actual frame dimensions, so scribe the wood or use an angle-finder to determine the angle. Screw the cross-member to the frame.

If you are building a large gate, add cross-members to form an X across the gate to prevent racking. Cut two pieces so they fit between the first cross-member and the frame, forming a X with the first cross-member, and screw them to the frame and the first cross member. Nail or screw each fence board to the cross-members as well as the frame.

Hinges and latches vary widely in design and strength. Choose the strongest products that will fit on your gate because they will have to support the entire weight of the gate. They should be attached to the gate frame and posts, not to fence boards. Butt hinges attached with screws are adequate for smaller gates. Large strap hinges attached with bolts should be used with large gates.

Proper installation of hinges will ensure that your gate swings freely and extend the useful life of your gate.

To install hinges:

Screw or bolt the hinges to the gate. Have a helper hold the gate in the opening so that the top of the gate is level with the top of the fence and the bottom does not contact the ground. If the gate does contact the ground, it must be shortened. Attach the upper hinge to the post with one screw or bolt. Place a level on the vertical frame of the gate to ensure it is plumb. Attach the lower hinge to the post and install the remainder of the screws in the upper hinge.

There are many versions of latches available. Some use a thumb latch and have hardware on both sides of the gate while others are a simple catch. Which you choose is a matter of personal choice.

When installing a latch, install the hardware on the gate first then install the catch hardware on the post so that it matches the gate. It should catch and release easily and without interference.

A gate should be supported by the hinges, not the latch.

A properly constructed gate with properly installed hardware will offer years of trouble free service.

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