So the wife demands gates for our new home, and being a 7 year marriage veteran, I knew this to be my opportunity to purchase some cool toys and get my hands into this exotic world of carpentry. Unfortunately, I only have the slightest of ideas on the intricacies of building with wood. But as luck would have it, I know how to find the answers I need. And so began my quest, which after stressing friendships, watching videos, reading magazines and lurking forums, leads to where we are today.
I’m writing this blog in the hopes of entertaining you masters of woodworkers with my naive assumptions and lack of foresight. And to help those nearer my level of experience to, shall we say, see what a low bar can achieve. I would honestly love any constructive criticism, alternative methods or general advice on this project. I’ve got 2 more gates to build and incorporating some other techniques or improvements is what I’m here for. Please assume I’ve overlooked the glaringly obvious.
My order of operations:
Step 1: Google Sketchup
Being that I’m actually a computer nerd by trade, this was one of the rare situations where I decided to use a tool before reading up on it and then finding out its pretty much defacto standard. This made it easy to present various style gates to the wife for acceptance so that I’m not doing a tear down / rebuild later.
Step 2: New toys!
Besides a 5 set cordless tool chest from Craftsman, I’ve only got a router and a loaned miter saw. I used this opportunity to seize a sweet deal on a Craftsman 21833 contractor saw. I’ve read mixed reviews on this guy and for the price, thought it was worth a shot. I’m happy to report that this saw has exceeded my expectations and doesn’t suffer from the blade alignment issues I’ve seen posted here by some users.
Step 3: Buy some Wood
Here was my first big dilemma. What type of wood should I make this gate with? So I worked some contacts and pounded the internet. Unfortunately, there were so many conflicting opinions that in the end, I chose more out of gut instinct than anything else. I decided on construction grade redwood for a couple reasons. Mainly that I think redwood is beautiful, the price is decent and it was one of the most highly recommended woods for outdoor building. I also noticed that rough sawed redwood fence planks were dirt cheap and would work nicely in my design.
Step 4: Dry the Wood
This was a bit of unexpected news to me. I always thought you go to the store, buy your wood and come home and build. But after reading here and other places about drying wood and realizing that my wood was heavy, damp and sappy. I set it out back on a tarp and threw another tarp over it. During sunny day’s, I’d pull the tarp back to help air it out, then cover it back up before the evening dew set in. I now have plans to use my garage attic space for future drying as its hot, unused space that should work well.
Step 5: Become a Mason
This gate is going up in between 2 cinder block walls. I had to drill out holes for bolt anchors and epoxy them in place. This is also where I made one of my biggest mistakes on this project. I thought it would be clever to take a pine 2×4 and drill the holes into the cinder block through this 2×4 so I would then have a template to apply to my side posts. Unfortunately, my cordless drill doesn’t stay square like a press would and so my hole alignments were a bit askew. This pretty much defeated the purpose of the template board as its crooked exit holes miss aligns any holes in the post it’s applied too.
Step 6: Plumb the Walls
One of the cinder block walls uses a more decorative type of block but was apparently modified at a later date with blocks that are slightly larger. This actually causes the top of my width measurements to be off by a whole inch compared to the bottom. To correct this, I’ve created a custom shim that fills the space between the wall and the mounting 4×4 and brings the post plumb. I used the cove cutting technique on the table saw that I’ve seen in some videos. It worked out well, but I’ve since found out what a scribe is and that definitely would have got me a better fit. I just used a trial and error method each time I put the board up.
Step 7: Mount the Side Posts
Here I learned yet another interesting tidbit that I probably should have picked up from the earlier mistake. After noticing that my template board was not going to work, I took measurements and drilled the holes needed into my 4×4 mounting post to get it prep’d for install. Again my lack of square drilling skills attacks and the holes are badly angled. I used a side cutting drill bit to make my holes match up and get the post mounted. During this time I found out that my level was inaccurate and ended up with the mess in the picture.
Finally I learn from this mistake and on the opposite mounting post, I mark my measurements on both sides, use my cordless drill to drill about half way into the beam, then flip the post over and drill threw from the opposite side. When the drill bit reaches half way and hits the opposite hole, its automatically pulled into straight alignment and headache is resolved.
Step 8: Countersink Some Bolts
Hit another issue, how do you countersink 1/2” bolts with a 1 3/4” washer? I don’t have any drill bits that large and figured I’d need to try a Spade bit. This was a terrible idea though, since the hole had been drilled, the spade just bounced around tearing the wood to pieces. So I tried a hole saw, same problem, same results. Next I tried my router with rabbet bit, worked beautifully. Apparently you need to countersink before you drill, yet another lesson learned.
Step 9: Frame the Gate
My design is basically a giant picture frame with dado cuts inside to support a bunch of boards that fill the frame. This seemed like a simple enough design, but I was at a loss of how to join a 2×4 and a 2×6 by the edge. I finally decided to use a half lap joint with a bolt driven through it. This also proved difficult as I dont have a band saw to cut the joint. I probably should have used my coping saw, but I really wanted something more precise then my hand tool skills. I started with using the table saw to remove 1/8” at a time on the miter gauge, but for a 6” deep lap (x 4), this was taking way too long. I tried a poor mans dado, by putting 4 blades on the saw at once, but the blades sizes were too varied and unusable. Finally I free handed the joint over a router table. The end result was acceptable, but not really as nice as I’d like it too be. Finally I used the router table to make my dado cuts into the framing boards.
Step 10: Fill the Frame
All these rough sawed redwood fence boards look more like shag carpet then wood. I ran these boards through my table saw several times, slowly shaving them down to about 5/8”. Mainly to be sure all my boards were consistent on thickness, but also to save time on sanding. I then used the router table to make tongue and grove cuts into these boards so they’d support each other and help prevent warping.
Step 11: Hang the Gate
Because my shim wasn’t perfect, I decided to attach the hinges to a scrap 2×4, then mount them to the door, then remove the 2×4 and mount the hinges to the 4×4 post. This got the door to be level and float freely. I used spring loaded hinges so that with a few adjustments, the gate closes automatically. The thumb latch doesn’t have much room on the right side, I’m considering carving out part of the mounting post to give some more room.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this blog post. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve got 2 more of these to do and if there’s any wisdom you could spare on me, please do. I’m particularly unsure about my half lap joints and wonder if there’s a better method for joining these boards with my limited tool set.
-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.