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How to Build a Fence Gate

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Tim Layton Expert Blogger 2 Projects

“Oh Wow! I love it!”

Any home improvement project that ends with those words from my wife is a good one. Any additional benefits in the plus column are just icing on the cake and this project has plenty!

Here’s a short list:

●     Accomplish the functional goal of keeping the dog in the yard!

●     Improved home security

●     Improved back-yard privacy

●     Low cost

●     One day project!

●     Looks great and improves curb appeal!

If all that sounds like a winner to you, read on… we’re going to build an awesome gate.

How to build a fancy gate in one day

You don’t want a plain ole simple gate do you?  Of course not. A gate is like the entry door to your backyard. It’s a passageway into the oasis fantasy land of grills, swimming pools, and tool sheds. It wouldn’t be right for it to just be a plain rectangle barely distinguishable from the rest of the fence. No, your gate should make a statement. A “gatement”?

At least that’s the excuse I used to put off building a new gate to my backyard for a very long time. “I’m going to build a gate dear, I promise… I’m just still working out the design concept… you don’t want a plain gate do you?” This bought me years of procrastination.

Then we got a puppy. A fast puppy. When he’s gone… he’s way gone and you better be prepared for a little run. Not good.

Now the gate was urgent and I had pretty much ruled out the possibility of a simple gate with my years of build-up. So we needed a fancy gate and we needed it yesterday.

No problem, I said to my son and right-hand-man Jacob… we got this.

Planning Step One -- Set A Few Criteria

Every project needs design criteria. Even a gate. So before we decided on a design, we needed to know what the finished project must do.  Here’s the list:

  1. It needs to be tall enough to be visible from the front, so to create an interesting design focal point, leading the eye and causing the observer to think “that must be a really cool back yard if it has a gate like that!”.
  2. It needs to be awesome. No plain gate makes a statement.
  3. It needs to be cheap (ish).
  4. It needs to be able to handle extreme tropical weather.
  5. It has to be simple enough to build in one day. It is just a gate after all.

So with these criteria in mind, I reviewed a few pictures online of other peoples gates and started to develop a mental picture of the design.

Planning Step Two -- Sketch it Out

You don’t have to have any kind of special drawing skills to be able to draw out a rough sketch of a woodworking project!  Just grab a sheet of graph paper and a pencil and start!

As your design develops you’ll get a much better idea of the materials you’re going to need when you hit the supplies store. Here’s my quick sketch:


As you can see, I noted the overall width and height, and was also able to jot down a quick “cut list” of some of the wood I would need. This made my shopping trip easy.

We went with standard pressure treated lumber for the whole gate. It’s inexpensive and stands up to the weather here on the coast of Southwest Florida.

Building The Gate

My gate design kind of flows around the look of the “frame boards” for lack of a better term. These kind of resemble the stiles and rails of a traditional door and give the gate a little bit of a paneled door look.

The frame boards are also what defined the key design element of the whole thing, the arched top.

Arch Top

I created the frame from simple 1x4 PT lumber and cut the arch out of a piece of 1x8, more of which is shown below.

The main structure of the gate is constructed with 5/4x6 PT Deckboards which I like to use for things like this because they are thick enough to be strong but come already smoothed with rounded edges, saving time.

The joinery is all glued and screwed. Every joint is glued with a strong all-weather adhesive and then screwed with Deck Mate screws right through the face.  I like Deck Mate because they don’t (usually) require predrilling, hold fast, and have a coating that resists the harsh chemicals in pressure treated lumber. I’ve found the combination of these screws and glue to be a durable joint for any exterior project.

The downside is the fact that the screws are exposed. For this project, I didn’t care because it will weather and just kind of blend with the gate. On projects requiring a more finished look, I countersink, fill, and paint. But I still use the same joinery on all outdoor projects. It’s strong.

The most important connections...

In this gate design, the frame holds all the pieces together, so the connections of the frame boards to the slats (the 5/4” x 6”) is crucial.

Especially the connection between the first slat on the hinged side to the horizontal frames and the arch. These connections carry the weight of the whole gate.


Step-by-step building the gate

  1. Cut all the frame pieces to size, including a length of 1x8 from which the arch will be made.

    Cutting The BoardsStill001

    Don’t worry about cutting off the length of the 5/4” x 6” slats at this point… you’ll cut them off later to match the arch.

  2. Layout the gate on the floor. The first 5/4” Slat will be aligned with the outside edge of the 1x4 frame.  Start with the side where the hinges will be, as this is the side where the frame should have the strongest connection to the slats.

    For a gate 37” wide, the space between the slats is about ⅝”, but that will vary depending on your gate size.  You could also butt the pieces up tight and have no gap.

    The key is that both the first slat and the last slat must have a solid connection with both the vertical and horizontal frames and the arch. So if you have to rip a board to make your size work, make the rip one or more of the center slats, not the edge slats. If you rip any width off of the first or last slats, there won’t be enough wood to create a firm joint with the cross-frames and the arch.

  3. Glue and screw all of the joints. Be liberal with the adhesive… it makes a difference.


    We used the very handy little Black & Decker 20V Li-Ion driver/drill to do this and it was a breath of fresh air. It was so nice to have the power needed without having to lug around a monster of a tool. One charge was enough to do the whole gate… an entire box of about 150 screws… with power to spare.

  4. Mark your arch on the length of 1x8. See the Video below for instructions on how to find and mark your arc. 

     After you draw your arch, cut it with a Jigsaw. The ArcStill002

  5. Check the arc for fit. If it fits nicely go ahead and mark the 5/4” slat boards where they need to be cut to align with the top of the arch.

    Then go ahead and cut the arc in the slat boards using a Jigsaw.

    The ArcStill003

    For additional strength, flip the gate over and add more screws through from the back side.

  6. My original plan for this gate was to have the frame on both sides. I decided to leave the back of my gate slats only without the frame, but adding the same frame boards to the back side would make the gate equally beautiful from either direction.  If you’re going to do this, make a copy of the arch before you install it.

  7. Installation is a simple matter of using three HEAVY DUTY gate hinges.  This gate is very heavy when fully assembled so your hinges must be up to the task.

    Installing The GateStill001

    I installed mine on a 4x4 Post embedded in concrete and with three hinges it swings beautifully and effortlessly.

  8. In the end, it took one day! (I had to let the concrete post base dry overnight before hanging the gate)

    The area is secure and the Mrs. is very happy with the result. That’s a win in my book any day!