Gate hardware is as much a design element as any other part of the fence or gate structure. Hinges and latches give the gate design a detail or accent that embellishes the appearance of the entire structure. But with gate hardware even the most ornamental parts have a hefty job to do. When you’re shopping for hardware, make your choices based on appearance and ruggedness. A durable finish will keep the hardware from rusting quickly.
The many kinds of hinges and latches available almost defy categorization. Many latches are designed for operation from one side only. For example a simple hook-and-eye latch, a slide-action latch, and a striker all operate conveniently from only one side. To open them from the other side of the fence, you have to reach over the top of the gate. A top latch will solve this problem as will a lever-action latch.
Specialty hardware or restoration catalogs are good places to look for attractive or unusual hardware. Ornamental iron shops—or even a brass foundry—will make just about anything you want. You’ll pay more, but the cost might be worth it for that one-of-a-kind design. Don’t forget antiques shops, salvage yards, and building-material recycling centers.
Like most aspects of fence planning, it’s usually not wise to buy a latch without first considering how easy it is to operate, how securely it closes, and how it fits the style of the gate.
In some cases the gate size will affect your choice of latches. If the gate is tall, for example, and you can’t reach over it to get at the latch, you need one that you can operate from both sides.
For security some latches include locks or hasps for a padlock. Make sure you can unlock the gate from the inside so getting in or out is easy in an emergency. Check local codes for requirements that apply to gate exit and entry.
Even though you can construct a gate from a variety of different materials, there’s no such thing as a light gate. By its very nature a gate is subject to stresses from more factors than its weight, and the first place a gate will try to relieve its stress is on the hinges. Three hinges hang a gate far better than two. Err on the side of excess when you select the hinges and fasteners—make “heavy-duty” and “heavy-gauge” port of your selection criteria.
Most latches and hinges will come with their own fasteners, and most fasteners are woefully undersized. The screws may fit the holes, but they are not nearly long enough to hold the hinge securely. Screws should penetrate the wood frame as deeply as possible without going through the other side.
If the screws supplied with your hinges or latch aren’t long enough to do the job, buy longer replacements of the same gauge. Using the same gauge will ensure that the screw fits snugly in the mounting hole and, in the case of hinges, sets flush with the hinge plate. Finding replacements for fasteners made to match the style of decorative hinges may be difficult. Sometimes an exact match isn’t necessary. In this instance get the closest match you can.