Building Gates

Gates lead a tough life and most show it by eventually sagging, binding, and refusing to latch. But by observing three basic rules you can greatly increase the useful life of your gate.


The first requirement is a pair of strong, plumb gateposts, set in concrete (page 194) to a depth equal to one-half the height of the part above-ground. Space the posts to accommodate the gate width plus a ½-inch clearance for the latch as well as enough clearance for the kind of hinge you plan to install.

The second critical element is a frame that is braced by a diagonal board between the top rail at the latch side and the bottom rail at the hinge side. To provide bottom clearance, hang all gates at least 2 inches above the highest point of ground within the arc of the opening gate.

TOOLS Tape measure Carpenter’s square Hammer Screwdriver Awl or large nail Circular saw Electric drill Screwdriver bit MATERIALS 1" × 1½" board Pressure-treated 2 × 4s Pickets Galvanized common nails (3") Galvanized wood screws (1¼", No. 6; 1", 4" No. 8) Lag screws (") and washers Gate hinges Gate latch



Choose strong hardware, particularly the hinges; weak hinges are the most frequent cause of gate problems. To prevent rusting, use stainless steel or galvanized items.

Among latches, the simplest and most trouble-free is the self-latching type shown on page 211; sliding bolts are not recommended because even a slight sag in the gate will throw them out of alignment. A gate spring can be added to automatically close the gate.


Wear goggles when drilling. Wear gloves when handling pressure-treated lumber; add a dust mask when cutting.

Three types of hinges

These three styles of hinge attach to the gate with a strap at least 7 inches long but they differ in the way they are secured to the post. The strap- and T-hinges are fastened to the post and gate with lag screws; screw-hook hinges are fixed with screw hooks. The strap hinge has a post strap running the full width of the post. The T-hinge has at least a 7-inch-high strap, which makes it more stable. The screw-hook hinge is even stronger and makes the gate easy to remove for minor repairs.



Assembling the frame

Cut pressure-treated 2-by-4s the width of the gate for rails. Position the end pickets so that the gate rails and pickets will align with the fence. Drill clearance holes in the pickets. Screw the pickets to the rail with 1¼-inch No. 6 galvanized wood screws, checking with a carpenter’s square to guarantee right angles (left). For a fence 6 feet tall or more, add a third rail in the middle of the frame.

Bracing the gate

Turn the gate over picket-side down. Position a 2-by-4 brace on the gate from the top corner on the latch side to the bottom corner on the hinge side. Mark the 2-by-4 to fit between the rails, aligning a straightedge with each rail (right). Cut the brace to length. Drill two clearance holes through the edge of the brace about 2 inches in from each end, then secure it with 4-inch No. 8 wood screws. Secure the remaining pickets to the rails and the brace. Bolt the hinge straps to the ends of the rails with ⅚-inch lag screws.


Hanging the gate

Set the gate on wood blocks to align it with the fence and, holding the back of the frame flush with the back of the post, mark the post at the bottom of both hinges (left). Bore a ½-inch-diameter hole in the corner of the post at a 45-degree angle, starting the hole with an awl or large nail so the drill will not slip off the corner. With the hook set at an angle (inset) the gate can swing a full 180 degrees without binding against the post. Drive the screw hooks into the post. Slip the hinge straps over the screw hooks to hang the gate.


Installing a latch and a gate spring

Position the latch on the post opposite the top rail on the gate. Secure the hardware with 1-inch No. 8 wood screws. Hold the gate closed and fit the bar in the latch, pressing it against the rail as it would normally sit. Mark the screw holes with a pencil, then drill a pair of pilot holes. Fasten the bar to the gate with 1-inch wood screws (above). To make a gate stop, nail a 1-by-1½ board to the front of the latch post with 3-inch galvanized common nails, positioned so the gate will stop just before the bar strikes the base of the latch. This will keep the latch from bearing the brunt of the force when the gate is closed. To operate the latch from outside the gate, first bore a hole through the post, then attach a cord to the hole in the latch bar, thread it through the post, and tie a pull ring to the cord on the other side of the post. If you want to add a gate spring, set it across the gate post and gate in as vertical a position as possible so the movable bracket is on top and tilted to the right. Mark and drill pilot holes, then fasten the spring in place with the screws supplied (inset). Tighten the spring by turning the hex nut at the top clockwise, then fit the metal stop between the nut and bracket to prevent the nut from loosening.