Building a braced-frame gate

Almost all gates need some form of diagonal bracing—which should be installed with the lower end of the diagonal on the hinge side. The gate employs double diagonals, although the second diagonal adds more to the aesthetics of the gate than to its strength.

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A braced-frame gate can accept any kind of infill and therefore can be used with any style of fence. It’s also rugged enough to support the weight of infill up to a size of 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall.

Measure the gate opening before you cut the framing. Take measurements between the posts at both the top and bottom. If the measurements are different, it means one or both of the posts are not plumb. Hanging a gate on tilted posts will make the gate look as though it’s sagging (and, in fact, it will eventually sag). You can make a slight adjustment by shimming out the hinges to level the gate, but you should replace or straighten a post that’s severely out of plumb . Once you have the measurements, subtract about 3/1 inch to 1/5 inches to give swing clearance for the frame and cut the framing to size.

Kiln-dried lumber is the best choice for the frame. Cut the rails the full width of the frame. Cut the stiles (vertical members) to a length that will put the gate rails on the same plane as the fence rails. You can use butt joints, miter the corners for a cleaner look, or half-lap them for added strength. To make your gate even stronger, apply polyurethane glue to the joints before fastening them.

Lumber is rarely perfect so the prescribed number of infill boards may not fit flush with the sides of the gate no matter how carefully you measured and calculated. In every case it’s best to cut the infill to length and dry-lay it on the frame. If it’s a little too wide you can rip the boards or adjust the spacing.

Measure the gate opening, allow swing clearance, and cut the frame sides and rails to size. Join with butted or mitered the corners with two screws in pilot holes. Screws into end grain are weak so reinforce the corners on a large gate.

Using the same techniques as you did in Steps 2-3, mark and cut the other diagonal. Cut a half lap in the center of one piece and use it to mark the other. Then cut a half lap in this diagonal too. The half-lap joint will allow the braces to fit flush in the frame.

Fasten the brace to the frame by driving screws through the corners into the ends of the brace. Then cinch the half-lap joint with a 2’/2-inch screw. Drill pilot holes for all screws.

Cut the gate infill boards to the length required by your design. Fasten them to the frame and brace with 3-inch screws. Drill pilot holes for the screws.

Building a Z-frame gate

Z-frame gate is a braced-frame gate without the sides. Because it uses a little less lumber, it’s a little less expensive (and a little less strong) than a braced-frame gate. It is, however, a distinctive look reminiscent of the doors on farm structures.

Use kiln-dried lumber for the gate and lay out the infill to match the dimensions of the gate opening—less the clearances required on each side. If the width of the infill exceeds the final dimensions of the gate, you can rip the difference equally from the end boards. That way the infill will look balanced.

When you set the rails in place, position them so they’re on the same plane as the fence rails. At this stage you can increase the strength of the gate by running a bead of construction adhesive across the infill at the center of the rail location. When the adhesive cures it won’t give as much as the fasteners will under the stresses of the gate. Apply the adhesive to the diagonal brace too.

Building a diagonal solid-core gate

A diagonal solid-core gate , needs no external bracing. The diagonal orientation of the infill boards provides bracing against the stresses of the gate. The redwood gate also incorporates metal corner braces for additional strength.

You can build this gate with 1×4 or 1×6 boards (the scale of 1x4s will probably look more appealing) or tongue-and-groove boards. Tongue-and-groove stock will increase the strength of the gate—the friction between the mating surfaces will add to its stability. Make the gate even stronger by applying polyurethane glue to the tongues as you fasten the infill.

Because this design is inherently stronger than framed gates, it will span wider openings (which may require 6×6 posts), and the design is a good candidate for a double gate. Installing the gates with the diagonals running in opposite directions will increase the interest of the installation. When you measure the gate opening, subtract the necessary clearances and an additional l/2 inches to allow for the thickness of the trim. Be sure to install the gate with the diagonals running down toward the hinge side.

Building a paneled gate

A paneled gate is a framed gate that has the infill inside the frame instead of attached to the surface. It can incorporate one or more rails between the top and bottom rail, dividing the gate into sections.

Because this style puts the infill in the center of a frame, it adds visual interest to the gate. Even if the infill materials are the same as those in the fence bays, it will look different because it’s not on the same plane as the fence. A lattice-and-board combination will lighten the visual appearance of the gate while preserving the feeling of security.

The frame must be strong. Some of the strength can come from the infill, if you install it solidly inside the frame with stops. A gate with floating infill requires strong joints and may need braces or reinforcements. Install lx stops to contain the solid infill. In effect the infill is sandwiched between the stops. Don’t nail the infill to the stops, however; they will split. Toenail the infill to the frame.

You can use any material in any of the panels, but if you use lattice in the largest panel, you may want to add diagonal bracing. Vertical boards or tongue-and-groove infill will increase the strength of the gate because the surface of the infill works against the frame. Diagonal boards will provide the most strength.

To locate the stops subtract the total thickness of the infill and the stops from the width of the frame (3’/2 inches). Divide the result by 2 to determine the reveal—the distance from the edge of the frame to the stop. The reveal itself becomes an additional stylistic element because it adds another line and dimension to the design. You can butt-join the stops in the corners, but your gate will look better if you miter the stops. Arranging spacers around the frame will make the installation of the stops more accurate. If you don’t have spacer stock the same thickness as the reveal, you can rip some from scrap 1x4s.

Measure the gate opening and cut 2×4 frame members to fit, allowing for the proper clearances. Fasten the outer frame members with butted, mitered, or half-lap corners. Square the frame with a framing square, then measure, cut, and install the 2×4 divider 10 to 12 inches below the top of the frame.


Each kind of gate construction uses slightly different techniques. Here are some tips that apply to all gates:

  • Make sure your frame stock will support its load. You’ll find very few gates with frames thinner than 2x4s. But even 2x4s might be too small on a large gate with heavy infill.
  • Buy the best wood you can afford. Heartwood of redwood or cedar, or pressure-treated lumber, is less likely to warp or rot.
  • Make sure all your hardware is rust and corrosion resistant—maintaining and repairing inexpensive hardware will cost you in the long run.
  • Do you want to latch your gate open (in addition to being able to latch it closed)? A hook-and-eye fastener will do the trick. So will a J-latch or cane bolt. They slip into a pipe in the ground.
  • For automatic gate closing use a gate spring—one that’s strong enough to push the latch closed.
  • To minimize sag on a long gate that swings over a smooth surface, put a wheel near the end of the gate.

Hanging a gate

Hanging a gate proceeds in a fairly straightforward manner. To begin the process you’ll have to jockey the gate into position. Start by supporting the gate within the opening. Set 2x4s under each end of the bottom rail (supporting an overhanging infill will only tip the gate one way or the other). Add 2x4s until you get the bottom rail within 1 inch of level with the bottom rail of the fence. Then work tapered shims on top of both sides of the 2x4s (if possible) until the rail is in place. Next shim the sides of the gate.

Start with a thin, straight piece of lx stock and insert tapered shims until both sides of the gate are set at the correct clearances (see Step 1 photo). Even though the gate may seem solidly wedged in the opening, have a helper hold it while you predrill the hardware holes and tighten the screws.

Most butt hinges will support the gate properly if you install them 4 to 6 inches from the top and bottom of the gate. T-hinges and strap hinges are made so their “straps” are mounted on the rails. Whatever kind of hinge you use, fasten it to the post first then the gate.

Swing the gate open and closed to make sure it moves smoothly, doesn’t bind, and clears the opening evenly. If it doesn’t, adjust the position of the hinge or insert shims under the plates. When you’re satisfied that the gate swings properly, install the latch. If you have designed your gate so that it stops on 2x stock and you haven’t fastened the stop, do so now. Cut the stop 1 inch longer than the height of the gate and mark its position on the gatepost. Hold the stop on the line and predrill the first hole through the stop and the post about 1 inch from the top of the stop. Fasten the stop to the post with predrilled 3’/2-inch screws driven every 6 inches. On a wide surface, such as a masonry wall, use a 2×4 for the stop and mount it with countersunk lag screws.

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