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The Gate Project, part 5

Posted by joeabbott on April 10, 2011

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

The Gate Project, Part 1 discussed 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 discussed 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 dealt with the arbor or overhead beams, their design, and how I ended up with the look.

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

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

In this installment, we look at the one part that Suzy had actually asked for: the gate.


imageimageEarly on I’d settled on “Western saloon style”, where I’d have two sections that could swing in or out independently. And I wanted an arch on the top. Otherwise they would have straight sides and bottom. For the internal design, I started down the path of “dividers”… something that would let me see through but be more than just a series of bars.

I wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright sort of look to the gate when we started. He has a number of designs that seem simple but incorporate elegant elements that I thought I could nail. I mocked up a couple designs and then (surprise!) wasn’t sure they would be strong enough. I sent a couple pics to folks on a woodworking alias at my work and got back some great feedback and ideas.

Ultimately, I changed my initial design in two ways:

  • removed the angled design elements
  • beefed up the vertical dividers

imageRemoving the angled elements was a matter of admitting I didn’t have the skill or ideas on how to cut the proper mortises. Having never done it before, I was in new territory and needed to “learn” on an easier design.

The design to the upper left really didn’t go very far, but it did incorporate the circle that I liked a lot. The idea to the upper right was the FLW design that both Suzy and I liked. Note the angled dividers … I decided to mortise holes and insert wooden slats to make up the dividers. I had little confidence that I could execute on the angled parts.

So I ended up building something that very closely looked like the drawing to the left. In the final version the top line is smoother and enjoys a fairer curve. Otherwise, it’s spot on.

As I worked through building this, rather than mortise into the sides and bottom for the dividers, I thought: hey, why not cut grooves in the interior of the rails and stiles. The dividers could nest into the groove and then I could fill around them with tightly fitting shims. It would give the illusion of mortising. It worked like a champ.

Now, for that curve on the top I was looking for something simple but elegant, but mostly I wanted it to be strong. I chose a bridle joint as it would resist racking and sagging over time. I’m quite pleased with this joint and have used it a number of times with great success. But, back to the look.

In retrospect, I wish I’d done the top curve to the gate differently … more like in the upper right: a single smooth curve. Something that more strongly mimicked the curve in the cross-path beams in the pergola. In isolation, I really like the curve on the top and think it came out quite well, but as I look out on the gate from my home office window, I see the break in continuity of design. Nothing big, just a note for me to take forward when I’m working on other designs.

In order for the top member to have enough meat to allow for the curve, I needed it to be wider than the 3.5” you get from a nominal 2×4. Now, I might have done better to joint the edges of two 2x4s and glue them together, but cedar is such a fair wood that I was sure the horizontal seam would be both noticeable and distracting. So, I opted to get two 1×6 boards, surface the faces, and glue that up. This would leave the face clean.

Also, the typical design is to have the rails be the full height of the door and then sandwich in the stiles, top and bottom. Well, because I was building an outdoor gate and I wanted that top surface to be clean and smooth, I opted to have the top stile span the width of the gate, but let the lower stile remain the standard sandwiched element.

While it was a bit hodgy podgy, things were coming together.

Prepping Parts

With the design settled and ready, I was set to start woodworking.

as 021I had purchased the gate lumber at the same time that I picked up the lumber for the posts, so they’d been sitting a long time stickering and I was sure it was acclimatized and ready to go.

The sides and bottom were 2×4 lumber, so they just needed sanding. The vertical dividers were 1.5” square and the horizontal dividers were .25” square; I just used my table saw to rip wood to dimension. The top was glued up from smaller members but a few passes through the planer after it dried did the trick.

After ripping parts to size and planing them smooth, I had three operations: cutting the bridle joints for the stile/rail connection, creating a groove for the dividers to sit in, and punching mortises into the vertical dividers to house the horizontal divider.

The bridle joint turned out to be a challenge and really ended up marring (a bit) the overall gate.

First, I was going to use my table saw to cut the mortise slot and then for the tenons. Unfortunately, to do it all in one operation I’d need my saw blade to extend 3.5” (the thickness of the stiles) and at best, I was getting 3.25”. And my that’s a scary amount of spinning metal sitting above the table top!

And so I did the deepest cut that I could and would go back and shave the rails to be a quarter inch thinner, so all the parts would be flush.

as 024This worked acceptably well on the bottom (where 2×4 was meeting 2×4) but I had a hard time at one corner on the top stile. Because I planned on cutting a curve in the top, the outer corner was fine, but at the widest part of the upper stile it left a gap.

But, I didn’t see that coming and so I blissfully continued on thinking about how to cut the grooves.

I could have just cut this on the table saw, but if I did, I’d end up cutting away part of the tenon. And I didn’t want that. So, I built a tool that would allow me to use a plunge router for cutting the groove and that would spare the tenon.

It worked pretty well.

As for punching the mortises into the vertical dividers … easy as pie: setup my mortising jig, make some test cuts, bang out the real parts. Done.


P1010269I installed the pergola in late May, it was early June that I cut my first gate parts (I tossed out this first set of parts because I messed some things up), and July when I did a little more work on it (cutting the groove). It wasn’t until late August that I finally got out the glue and actually installed the dividers and committed the parts to being a gate. But, aside from my procrastinating, I was finally getting to putting it together.

This part was so simple and easy, I really don’t have any pictures “in progress”.

After cutting the grooves I glued up the outer parts. Once the glue set, I trimmed the sides and bottom. I then used a jigsaw and router to define the top curve … as with the cross-path beams, I used a plywood template). And then sanded everything smooth.

After (I’m sure) a longer delay than can be explained, I slid the vertical dividers into place, using blocks to ensure the spacing was right on all the parts, and I cut the shims for the stile grooves to lock the dividers in place. Once that was done, I’d install a horizontal divider, make sure it was set level, cut a shim for the rail groove, insert that, and repeat right up the gate.

All the parts were the right size, all the shims just fit, and cedar really is a forgiving wood … it trims easily, compresses a bit, and ended up looking great.

The upper stiles have a shared hole … a half round in each side. To make this work I clamped the two gates together with a shim roughly the width of the gap I planned on leaving. I then installed a doorknob hole cutter into my drill press. Then it was a simple matter of supporting the gate on the drill press bed as I carefully cut the hole. Perfect!

For the design element that I’d wanted on the gate lattice, I had four large, round discs that were .5” thick. The thinking was that the vertical dividers were 1.5” thick and the horizontal dividers were .5” thick … I should be able to cut a strip out of each circle that was the width of the vertical divider and be able to rest the remaining partial circle on the horizontal dividers. Everything should square up to the right thicknesses and look great!

Well, from a distance, that’s exactly what happens. And it does … it looks great. But when you get closer, the illusion is banished, you can see that, best planning and intentions aside, the parts don’t all come together as gracefully as I’d hoped and, well, it’s a little less than “great’. that’s all.


Installation was fairly anticlimactic.

P1020448PhotoP1020451I had bought the gate attachment hardware a while back … I got the pin-and-clevis-style parts at McClendon Hardware. For all four sets (each gate had an upper and lower attachment) it cost over $50. But, it was what I wanted/needed for the gate so I bit my lip and bought the parts. From there I screwed the pin parts into the gate, measured for the posts and drilled the holes there, then installed!

Well, installed and found out the left gate was at least a quarter inch lower than the right gate.

That was quite a bit disappointing but I created a quick shim to sit between the clevis and the bottom of the pin and everything lined up perfectly. Then it was just a matter of getting the gate to open and close when you go through either way.

To resolve this, I just used a simple heavy duty outdoor gate spring. It’s a longish spring that has an attachment on either end. I mounted one side to the gate and the other to the post. If someone goes into Chickenville, the spring will compress and then return to position; when they leave Chickenville, the spring stretches and then returns to position when the gate closes.


Well, that’s it. I enjoyed the project for what it taught me, but I’m not ready to go into production. This was a lot of work for a simple gate. And yet, I’m quite happy with the results. Thanks for your patience in reading!


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