Not everyone puts in a driveway gate at their home; but if you have a home out in the country and a fence around your property, you’re most likely going to want one. Adding a gate for your driveway helps to keep your pets and kids inside and others outside, adding to your family’s security.
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The same can be said about putting in a backyard gate, for those who live in the suburbs. A backyard gate can allow vehicle access to your backyard, while keeping your kids and your pets safely inside. Since they are made basically the same way as driveway gates, what we’re talking about here will work for both.
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One of the trickiest parts of making any driveway gate, regardless of the style, is ensuring that the gate stays flat and square. The gate has to be properly braced to ensure this, regardless of whether it is made of wood or metal. Proper bracing and assembly will help to ensure that the gate starts out flat and remains flat through many years of use.
How Will it Open?
Before even beginning to design your gate, it’s necessary to decide how you want the gate to open. There are three basic options for this:Swinging outwardsSwinging inwardsRolling sideways
Which one you decide to use will depend more upon the space you have available, than anything else. You can’t have a gate swing out, if there are things in the way. Nor can you have it roll to the side, if that means it’s rolling into the neighbor’s yard. Your gate design must ultimately fit what your property allows.
This also affects whether you are going to use a single leaf for your gate or double leaves. While it is unusual to make a sliding or rolling gate that has two leaves, it’s common to do so for swinging gates. It’s also much easier to keep the gates flat and square if they are smaller, especially with swinging gates.
Double leaves don’t necessarily have to be the same size, although they usually are. But if you want to be able to have a personnel gate and a vehicle gate, you might make the fixed side of the gate wider than the loose side. That way, you can use the smaller leaf for a personnel gate, only opening the larger one when you need to move a vehicle through it.
It’s really not important whether you want to make your gate motorized or not. Many people build a gate and then motorize it later. Regardless of whether you do so or not, it makes little difference in the design and building of your gate, other than you might want to avoid using twin leaves for a swinging gate, as you would have to motorize both of them. Other than that, you just want to make sure it is strong enough; but you need that in any case.
Before the Gate
Regardless of what sort of gate you are going to build, you’re going to need solid gate posts. While it would seem that the gate posts could be the same as your fence posts, they need to be stronger. None of your fence posts will be put under the strain that the gate posts will be, when the gate is opened and closed. The posts must remain plumb, so that the gate will also.
A typical 4”x 4” wood or 2”x 2” square steel tube fence post is strong enough to support your gates in most cases. Obviously, it makes the most sense to stick with the same sort of material that the gate and fence is going to be made of.
The easiest way to ensure that your gate posts are strong enough to support your gate is to anchor them well. This means sinking the base of the fence post at least two feet into the ground and anchoring it into concrete. The concrete will fill the space between the fence post and the solid packed earth much better than anything else you can use, ensuring that you have a rock-solid base, in addition to being a heavy enough one that it won’t easily be moved.
The Gate Frame
Before making the gate, whether single or double leaved, you need to decide what sort of gate design you want. Will it be wood or metal? Perhaps you want a metal frame with wood panels. Will it match the fence or be a different style? Is it going to be solid or with pickets? How will the skin of the gate be attached to the structure?
For a basic wood gate, you will want to start out by making a frame. You’re best off making the frame out of pressure-treated wood, even if you cover it with a skin of cedar or other wood, as it will be left exposed to the elements. Many people use butt joints for their frame, but that isn’t solid, unless you are going to use a gate hardware kit such as the Homax Easy Gate or the Adjust-A-Gate kits. These provide welded metal corner brackets which hold the corners square, even over the years, ensuring that your gate doesn’t sag over time.
If you aren’t going to use a gate kit of that sort to make a wood frame, then I suggest using lap joints at the corners of your gate frame. These allow you to put multiple screws through the two pieces, where they are joined together, to keep them held together firmly and aligned.
To make a lap joint, you’ll need to cut out half the material thickness in the corners of all pieces, so that together they make up the normal thickness of the 2”x 4” structural wood you are using for the frame. This can be done on a table saw or radial arm saw, using a dado blade or with a router and a straight bit. In either case, be sure to test out the depth of the cut on some scrap material, before committing to cutting the pieces you will be using.
Even with this stronger joint, there is still a chance of the gate racking and twisting over time. To prevent this, an angled brace should be attached to the frame, running from corner to corner. While people do this different ways, it is best that the high side of the diagonal brace be to the outside or post side of the gate. It does not need to run all the way to the corner, but it should be close.
When building the gate frame, it’s a good idea to build it on a flat cement slab, such as your workshop floor or driveway. It is essential that the surface be totally flat, although it doesn’t have to be level, when the screws are driven into the joints. Otherwise, any curvature in the surface will result in a curvature in the profile of your gate.
Frames for Longer Gates
There are limits as to how wide gates can realistically be. The weight of the gate will cause the frame rails to sag eventually, even with a diagonal brace. If the gate is heavy enough, it can cause the hinges to bend or the gatepost to lean. Wide gates may need additional bracing or a guy wire going from the outer side of the gate, to a portion of the gate post that is sticking up farther in the air for additional support.
Another option is to provide additional support to the gate by adding wheels on the outer side. This is not so common on swinging gates, but rolling gates almost always have wheels of some sort. These gates also tend to be wider than swinging ones.
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Rolling gates can be much wider, because they are generally supported by wheels. The problem comes in when you are making a gate which is wider than the material you have available. butting two pieces of wood together creates a weak point where the gate can easily bend.