Between 1980 and 1994 I moved ten times—one fixer after the other, and a few rentals, too (fixers aren’t always profitable, even for a carpenter). When I moved into my current home, I promised myself I’d stay a while, and one of the first projects I wanted to tackle was replacing the gates. I accomplished the first goal, but it took a while before I got to the gates.
Now, more than fifteen years later, having replaced all the doors, re-piped the whole house, installed exterior French doors in place of the old worn-out patio doors, and refinished the hardwood floors (of course, I still haven’t done the kitchen or the bathrooms!), I finally got around to replacing those freakin’ gates (see photo, right).
Design & Dimensions
With all the books I have on architecture, I toyed with a dozen different styles—mostly craftsman and mission style designs. In the end, after considering the perspective of my latest dog (he has a low viewpoint), I came up with a design that combines both styles, probably more than anything because of the different types of materials.
Craftsman-style homes are known for including wood, brick, stone, steel, brass, copper, tile, concrete—an assortment of different materials. I used Western Red Cedar for the stiles, rails, and raised panels; 5/8-in. thick TimberTech boards for the flat panels; copper plumbing pipe for the viewports; teak for the keystone latch; and mahogany for the interior latch handle. My reasons for the different materials were simple—that’s what I could get my hands on.
I used my video camera to capture most of the process of building the gates. Here’s a fairly thorough collection of those videos. (The text of the article continues below the videos.)
When it came to picking the finish, or sealer, I didn’t think twice. I called Joe Wood and asked him what he uses. Joe specializes in designing and building gates, arbors, and decks. In fact, it was Joe who recommended I use Western Red Cedar. His advice for the finish, hands down, was Penofin. Joe said Penofin was easy to apply, easy to re-apply, and would last two or more years. I liked all three characteristics—I hate finishing! So I went with Joe’s advice.
|Before assembling the gates, I sealed most of the parts—especially the parts that weren’t glued into place—like the panels, along with the edges of the interior stiles and rails.
|After the glue-up, and once the clamps were removed, I scraped off the hardened glue and sanded everything down to 220 grit, paying particular attention to any areas where the sealer had dripped or bled through.
|I drenched the stiles and rails and wood panels with Penofin. I left it on for about fifteen minutes, then wiped off the excess with rags.
I let the gates sit and dry for about a week, then tackled the installation, which was a lot easier than you might think. I’ve hung a lot of doors, and installing a pair of gates is no different than hanging a pair of doors. In fact, it’s a lot easier: there are no head jamb reveals to worry about, and the gaps between the gates and the posts don’t have to be the thickness of a nickel!
I started by screwing a couple of short 1x4s across my old gates, removed the hinges, and pushed them forward about a foot—I didn’t want my dog running out into the street while I was hanging the new gates. That left me room to install the new posts. I fastened one post to the stucco wall of the house, and the other to the side-yard block wall, using polyurethane adhesive and lags with lead shields on both posts. Yeah, I used about a tube of adhesive on each post—why not? It’s cheap insurance.
Before tightening up the bolts, I cross-strung the posts, to be sure they weren’t cross-legged.
I didn’t have to get them perfect, just close, which was a good thing—since the 1994 earthquake, the block wall on the left is about 1 1/2 in. out of plumb. You’ll notice I also fastened a temporary 2×4 with pocket screws from post to post. More about that in minute.
I set a temporary block under each post, to be sure they wouldn’t sag before the adhesive dried, then tightened up the bolts (see photo, right).
Gate hinges aren’t exactly like butt hinges, something I learned in a hurry. I thought I’d be able to mount the hinges like a butt hinge, so the leaf on the post would be covered by the edge of the gate. But the barrel of the hinges, and the backset of the screw pattern, wouldn’t allow that option. Of course, I didn’t realize that until after I had the gates clamped temporarily to the horizontal brace (see photo, below). My plan was to adjust for any remaining cross-leg by moving the hinges in and out on the posts. I was so certain of my plan that I even took pictures of the process.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the problem with the hinges until after I went through all those steps. To make the hinges work, I had to mount them flat on the inside face of each post (see photo, left). After mounting the hinges, I moved the 2×4 horizontal brace out far enough to allow room for the gates, then clamped the gates to the brace, adjusted the height of the gates (so they were aligned horizontally and the gaps were even and parallel), then fastened the hinges to the back of each gate. At least that part of my plan worked!
I’ve always hated gate latches. Period. I wanted a latch that wouldn’t need adjustments every time the seasons changed; one that wouldn’t bend or dig into the gates; hardware that could be adjusted down the road—in case the gates settled excessively.
I saw a program on television—I think it was a cartoon—where a keystone was used as a decorative backboard on a hotel room door (see photo, right). The room number was mounted right to the keystone. I liked that a lot. I shot a photograph of my television screen! I knew I’d use that detail somewhere, but never realized how nice it would work as a latch on my gates.
The problem was, I couldn’t figure out how to mount it so it would rotate and clear the stationary gate. I guess I’ve spent too much time with standard hardware, which is center-bored. I sent an early drawing to Todd Murdock and he sent back this—honest.
It wasn’t long before I gave up on the copper idea—I didn’t have any copper lying around my shop, but I did have some teak. Todd taught me how to print the drawings from SketchUp full-size on my photo-printer. I glued those drawings to each layer of the gate using 3M Super 77 contact cement (another trick Todd taught me!), spraying the adhesive on the templates only—not the wood—so it would be easy to remove the paper.
I cut each layer out on my band saw so the corners would be sharp and the edges crisp. Following the lines on the printed templates was very easy.
I used my TS 55 and guide rail to cut all the kerfs, which was also easy. Because each layer covered the preceding layer, I didn’t have to worry about stopping cuts on the lower layers.
Before applying the glue, I wiped all the surfaces with lacquer thinner—I read somewhere that because of the oil in teak, glue won’t adhere unless you clean the wood first.
|For the interior handle, I picked off another challenge. Jed Dixon has been teaching me to use a spokeshave, and Keith Mathewson has been urging me to use hand tools and break the surface of wood, so I laminated two 3/4-in. layers, cut the handle to shape on my band saw, then carved and shaped the handle down from 1 1/2 in. at the shaft to 3/4 in. at the teak catch. A single set-screw threads through the handle and penetrates the shaft (top of handle); and a galvanized cap tightens the handle and latch on the gate.
The final product: