decorative wood gates plans and designs

7 Golden Rules for Wood Gates


15 year old gates in Rosedale Ontario
The right way to build gates–15 years old when photographed

Designing Wooden Gates

…is one of the more challenging aspects of outdoor woodwork. There is far too little information on the subject of building gates in existing publications. Who do you trust? Who actually knows? I checked on the above gates in Toronto that have been hanging for about 15 years now. True, not budget gates but I can certainly send you to see standard gates about the same age that are still doing well.

The best way to learn how to do something is to have a good look at a failure or two. Plenty of people ask me to design something better. When a gate isn’t designed well, the hardware is overstressed. Gaps open up as stressed parts separate. Many builders rely on hardware rather than the design to make a wooden gate work. The truth is that if you use a good design, and good hardware, gates will last for decades without needing repair.

#1 Gates need something solid to connect to

Gates can be supported from footings or hung off a wall in some cases. If you have frost you need to consider how frost will affect the gates.

#2 Gates need robust fasteners

If you plan to use screws to fasten a gate together they should be countersunk and larger screws should be used. Deck screws are not strong enough to secure a gate together. Most budget gates we build of pressure treated are nailed together.

Failed gates
Poor methods lead to failure


#3 Gates should be no larger than 42″ wide

Here is an over-sized gate that survived by leaning on the house for support. The gate on the other side of the house fell apart. I see thousands of these gates all over Toronto–looks like they were sold through a hardware store.

Poorly designed gate
Gate too wide for proportions and no brace to keep it square.

#4 Gates need braces

Diagonal braces keep the gate square. Typical braces operate under compression. They are installed from the bottom hinge upwards towards the swing side of the gate. (see title image). Alternatively, you can use a gate wire that carries off the top hinge, or mortise and tenon or even a marine ply core to keep it square.

#5 Gates need a Headpiece if not Wall Supported

The headpiece carries the weight so that the post doesn’t sag from the weight of the gate. This is one of the things this builder did right–shame about the gate.

Gate Construction Failure
Building gates is one of the most difficult tasks in carpentry.

#6 Gates need minimum 2″ space below

Frost heaves the ground so space must be left below gates to allow for it.

#7 Build the gate 1″ smaller than the opening

Gates typically have a 2×4 frame, and as it swings you need extra space for it to rotate through the opening. Interior doors have a bevel to allow for this, but outdoors we just leave more space.

To see more of our beautiful gates go to our gallery of fences.

broken hardware due to improperly built gates
When the gates don’t stay square, the hardware takes punishment.
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