Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

The Gate Project, part 4

Posted by joeabbott on March 7, 2011

This is the fourth in a series of posts about a project I jumped into last summer.

The Gate Project, Part 1 discusses the problem I was trying to solve. It was short but had a little picture of the “old gate” … yeah, that piece of plywood that was leaning against our fence gave us something to clip the plastic fencing onto. It wasn’t super cool but it did the trick.

The Gate Project, Part 2 mainly discusses the posts. This was the key as our soil and my skills conspired to keep this from being simple. Or that’s my contention.

The Gate Project, Part 3 deals with the arbor or overhead beams, their design, and how I ended up with the look.

The Gate Project, Part 4 covers the construction and the installation of the parts discussed before.

The Gate Project, Part 5, wraps up the series with the building and installation of the gate.

In this installment, I’ll go over the installation. This includes any actual shop time, although there wasn’t a whole lot of that.

Weekend projects 015Prepping the Lumber

After getting the lumber, my first priority was drying it out a bit. Being 4” square gave the wood a lot of opportunity to hold moisture and, on top of that, after digging through the piles to find the straight and clear boards, I was starting to get into the seriously damp wood. I wanted to give them at least two weeks to sticker in the garage. It wouldn’t have a lot of airflow but it would breath and acclimatize a bit. At least it wouldn’t feel ringing wet … or so I thought.

So I found a nice place, laid out my spacers, and set them to drying. In the end, they lay there for three weeks or so.

Backyard 050

Weekend projects 016I chose to get rough-cut cedar for two reason:

  • It was cheaper
  • If I was careful planing and sanding, I could end up with better than nominal dimensions

Now, of the two bullet points above, the monetary considerations were the stronger argument for getting rough-cut lumber, and with a jointer, planer, and mechanical means for sanding, surfacing lumber isn’t that hard at all. But even with all those means, it did take a bit of time.

Backyard 056Backyard 052I used a jointer to clean up adjacent sides on the board and then used my thickness planer to surface the opposite sides. Setting things up for long, heavy boards is a bit of a challenge. I have a small setup so pulling out the right machines, setting up supports and feed tables, and then running all the lumber through … if I weren’t a hobbyist, I couldn’t have charged enough to make getting rough-cut wood economical.

But, for me that’s still part of the fun, part of the process. And so I ran through all the smoothing operations and was happy for the effort and results.

Once I had everything silky smooth (and, yes, I realize that for untreated, unfinished cedar that “silky smooth” is overkill and unnecessary), I laid out the lines for my mortises and started chopping. To be honest, I have an attachment for my Shopsmith drill press and so it was just a matter of popping it on, making some test cuts, adjusting as necessary, and then mortising the posts with my machine.

This part didn’t take long at all. Punching through cedar is like pushing through clay. I did notice that, when I was deep into the wood, it was still very moist, but that didn’t seem to impact the process much if at all.

Gate 020IGate 021 then created a template for the cross-path beams.

This would ensure that all of these beams would have the same fair curve at the same place on each. As my design called for four cross-path beams to line up, I would either have to clamp all four together and cut them at the same time, or have a mechanical tool to help make sure they looked the same. At my skill level, just “doing it right” is out of the question!

So, I got a length of plywood, created a template that was half of the curve, and then for each cross-path beam I’d clamp it to the beam, cut the left half, stop, remove the template, flip it over, and clamp it to the right side and then cut the right half. It was a lot of steps but assured me that my curve would be both symmetric on each beam and that all beams would look identical.

Ta da!

Building the Sub-Assemblies

I then started creating what I’m calling “sub-assemblies”.

To make the installation as easy as possible, I created a “left” and a “right” side: two posts attached at the top by the pathwise beam installed through the mortises, and at the bottom by a pressure treated length of 2”x8”.

Based on a rough setup, I cut my pathwise beams to length and squeezed them through the mortised posts. Once in place, I marked out my lines for the wooden dowel attachments, drilled my 1/2” holes, tapped the dowels through, and trimmed the plugs flush!

Gate 013Gate 014Gate 016Gate 015Done!

The 1/2” holes I used in the mortised joint were drilled with a 1/2” spade (or paddle) bit. For the attachment at the bottom of the posts, I planned on using 3/16” bolts to hold on the pressure treated wood.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a long enough drill bit and got a bit “caveman”.

Gate 009Gate 006I’m not sure if I was tired or just not thinking but I reasoned: I’ll drill as far as I can and then I’ll stick the bolt into the hole and give it a good rap with a framing hammer to pop through the far side.

Yes, I thought that.

No, it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, when I hammered the bolt through, I knocked big chunks of wood out of the post. I tried to salvage what I could, by Gate 019drilling a hole into the scrap and trying to push it into place and have the washer attempt to hold it in place. Not my proudest moment.

That didn’t work well so I ended up cutting out some plywood shims to cover the damaged area, sandwiching the wood that was knocked out, and then tighten things down with the bolts. The plywood shims ended up giving me greater confidence in the joint as, over time, the cedar would deform and the bolts loosen. Now they’re tightening down on much less forgiving wood (the plywood shim).

I then repeated the process for the other side and ended up with two sub-assemblies. Not only would this give me rigid sides and easy-to-work-with parts, it gave me confidence that I’d start out with parallel posts.

Installing the Pergola

Chicken Gate 055Chicken Gate 056I now had my two sub-assemblies put together and the cross-path beams cut. I was set to install it!

My original intent was to dig trenches (or a big hole) at the end of the path, insert the sub-assemblies, clamp them level, and then tighten the cross-path beams and any beams that might be beneath the path. Just pure mechanical fasteners holding everything square and in place.

And this is how I started: I dug trenches for the left and right assemblies, then I dug a trench for a board that would tie the two sides together at the bottom below the path. From here I dumped in a bunch of gravel for drainage and even poured in sand to lock things in place and allow this supporting mix to help me get things perfectly level and aligned.

Chicken Gate 054Chicken Gate 057And, to be honest, Suzy brought home some silica sand that we got for free; we were going to use it in the bottom of the chicken coop. Then we realized it could cause respiratory distress and so we used it in a couple landscaping jobs around the yard. Yes, I was purely trying to get rid of it!

But, after everything was set, I began to worry. I worried what time would do to my gate; I worried about winds; I worried about rains; and I worried about usage. I’m not a good worrier so I went to Home Depot, bought several bags of Sakrete, and dumped them into the trenches\hole along with water to direction on the package.

Yup, after all my plans and ideas on how to avoid setting the posts with concrete, I went and did it anyway. I’m a bit of a goose, but I’m also a happy goose.

Weekend projects 005Everything set up just fine, the posts were straight, even and level, and I was ready for the cross-path beams.

IMG_0414For these I planned on using the dowel plug method to attach them to the posts. This is the same method I’d used through the pathwise beams. Unfortunately, I didn’t think I could reliably drill through the sandwiched post (that is, through one cross-path beam, through the post, and then through the cross-path beam on the far side) and so I just sunk the dowels in half way, four to each post-and-beam. Which makes for 32 holes and dowels! I was doing a lot of drilling.

I’d left the plugs proud by nearly 3/4” and intended on using my flush saw to zip them off. In the meantime, both Suzy and family members saw it and stated they liked the pegs sticking out, and so I’ve left them.

Ready for the Gate

And that’s the pergola!

While it looked great, we were still short the gate and I ended up creating a loop from some twine to secure our plastic fence “gate”. But, at least now I had a “hole to fill” and I knew exactly what dimensions I needed to work with.

And so that was the final step: creating and installing the actual gate!


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