Wood choiced for gate?

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Forum topic by clin posted 06-23-2016 11:26 PM 499 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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485 posts in 414 days

06-23-2016 11:26 PM

I need to replace several yard gates around my house. I’m looking to make nice, heavy gates. Heavy frame construction with M&T joints.

I was thinking of going with cedar. A local lumber supplier carriers some, but when I went by to have a look, I was surprised when he said, “Now keep in mind all we sell is green. Straight from the mill, not dried …”.

I live in New Mexico, all wood is going to dry out significantly. Seems to me if I used this, unless I was willing to wait a long time to allow the wood to dry, I figure these gates will turn into potato chips.

But, is this perhaps normal. Or is it just that cedar is so commonly used for what looks to me like crappy cheap fencing, that they just don’t bother selling good stuff.

If not cedar, what?

I’m aware of redwood, I’ve used that before, though it isn’t really the look I would want for my southwest style home. I’m wanting a natural wood look, probably finished with Penofin.

I’ve read online that white oak is a good exterior wood, but it is 2X the density. Out of cedar or redwood, I estimate the two smaller gates would weigh about 50 lbs, and a white oak close to 100 lbs. I have a large gate that would probably be twice these weights.

Any suggestions?

-- Clin

8 replies so far

View Lazyman's profile (online now)


595 posts in 805 days

#1 posted 06-24-2016 12:45 AM

Is this Western red cedar? I have used some WRC that was so wet that it slung water on me as I sawed it. It was actually pretty stable as it dried out so for garden gates it might not be too bad (though my application was not that sensitive to shrinkage). Of the softwoods it has one of the lowest shrinkage rates.

Any wood with M&T that is exposed to the elements could have a problem. Even if it is dry when you build it, it will swell when it rains. Perhaps the solution is to find a way to lock the M&T joints with pegs, pins or wedges or something that will help keep it tight even as it shrinks. Or use something other than M&T. Also, since it is summer now, it might not take too long for it to dry out if you stack it outdoors for a few weeks. If you can get the moisture content below 18% that might be good enough.

Another wood to consider if you can get it is Bald Cypress. It is a weather resistant and nice looking wood that is often used for outdoor furniture. I’ve see cypress fence posts that were 50 years old so it is very rot resistant.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View loiblb's profile


97 posts in 474 days

#2 posted 06-24-2016 12:47 AM

I got rid of my old gate welded up a heavy wall tube gate found some heavy heard ware on line.

View JBrow's profile


741 posts in 338 days

#3 posted 06-24-2016 12:56 AM


I am sure others will disagree, but I see no reason why most woods could not work. However, close attention to the design, construction, installation, and maintenance of the gates is required to make any wood work. For example countless mid-west and east coast barns are clad in some hard wood. The only issues on the grayed barn siding seem to be near the ground and checking. In many cases the barn siding runs all the way to ground contact accounting for the lower rot. And I’ll bet many barns were sided with green wood.

If the design and construction ensure there are no horizontal surfaces where water can set then after a rain or when the snow melts, the water will shed away off the gate. If the gate has a diagonal brace built into it, the gates will remain square. Ensuring minimal end grain is exposed to the weather reduces moisture uptake by the wood. If waterproof glue is used, the parts will stay together. When the gate is installed, keeping any part of the gate from ever contacting or remaining in contact with the ground will keep rot at bay.

However the biggest issue I have found in using red oak outdoors is maintenance. I built a picket style fence several years ago from red oak, using half lap joinery. I used red oak because that I had a lot of it on hand and to my eye it looks good. I had used Sikkens SRD to keep the fence from graying and stave off checking, but the penetrating finish wears though within a year, especially on the top rail. While the Sikkens SRD holds up very well on our pressure treated pine privacy fence, not so much on the red oak picket style fence. The manufacturer did advise that the SRD requires frequent re-application on hardwoods. Last year I switched to Sikkens Cetol 1 RE which seems to hold up better, but it looks like annual reapplication is still required. I am not familiar with Penofin so I cannot say whether it will fare better than what I am using. But I suspect annual re-application will be required especially under the New Mexico sun. Perhaps from the maintenance perspective, cedar or red wood are better choices.

I have heard white oak is a good outdoor wood, but if you want to keep it from graying, I suspect regular maintenance applications of a finish will be required. As to the weight of white oak, I see two problems. One is racking under its own weight. On my 50” wide x 36” high gate, racking is not a problem since the diagonal brace let into the pickets with half-lap joinery is working well. I am however having a sagging problem at the hinge. The hinge is a shop made piano style hinge also made of red oak and seems unable to handle the weight of the gate. Had I used three metal gate hinges I doubt I would have had this problem, since the gate post is at the end of a run that is supported by a corner fence post. One day I may install a wire and turn buckle to address the hinge sagging problem.

I have observed little (almost no) checking and no twisting, cupping or bowing over the last 6 years in the mid-west. There was nothing special about the lumber, probably all plain sawn. But as I said, it requires annual maintenance. If you are up for the maintenance, the pick whatever wood you like.

View Lazyman's profile (online now)


595 posts in 805 days

#4 posted 06-24-2016 01:08 AM

I just noticed that someone has a blog series about building a cedar gate. I haven’t read it but it might be worth a look.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View clin's profile


485 posts in 414 days

#5 posted 06-24-2016 02:22 AM

I just noticed that someone has a blog series about building a cedar gate. I haven t read it but it might be worth a look.

- Lazyman

I’ve been following that build. While I’m not building a gate as large as that, that’s more or less the construction I have in mind.

I’ve built wood gates before out of redwood. 2×4, Z-frame with pickets, that are still going strong after 20+ years. But I want this to be a bit nicer and fit the southwestern style of my home.

I think cedar would be a good choice, but again surprised that at least this one supplier only sources green cedar. Just wondering if perhaps that is just normal. I.E., is there some reason cedar is not sold dried?

I know any wood can warp. But obviously dried wood is a lot less likely to warp than wet wood that still needs to dry out.

But as I said, it requires annual maintenance. If you are up for the maintenance, the pick whatever wood you like.

- JBrow

Of course wood gates, as with any exterior wood, need regular maintenance. Around here we get a lot more sun than rain. That’s why I like to use Penofin. It has a lot of UV inhibitors. Usually a coat of that every 2 years keeps things in great shape.

Still, some woods require less maintenance than others.

-- Clin

View wseand's profile


2754 posts in 2460 days

#6 posted 06-24-2016 05:13 AM

You really can’t go wrong with cedar. Green or not. If it’s green I would wait til it weathers for a time before sealing it up. I spent ten years in Mesilla,NM replacing/repairing wood from weather issues. I used TWP as a sealer it worked the best. I’ve never used Perofin before and if your not set on using it I would recommend TWP 1500 series sealer for your area. Which ever sealer you choose it shouldn’t be used til you get your material down below 20% moisture content. I don’t seal WRC til it looks like it needs it, which I consider sometime before it starts graying, just a personal thing though.

I just built a pergola, gate, deck and benches out of WRC. Most of it was wet and rough, which is probably how’s it going to stay since I’m in Louisiana now.


-- Bill - "Freedom flies in your heart like an Eagle" Audie Murphy

View dalepage's profile


113 posts in 258 days

#7 posted 06-24-2016 08:52 PM

Having lived many years in NM, I’d use pressure treated wood and let it weather to a nice color.

View Kirk650's profile


272 posts in 166 days

#8 posted 06-26-2016 02:03 PM

Lowest maintenance is going to be the pressure treated wood, but it also needs to dry before you use it. As for other woods I’ve used for outside projects:

Cedar – seems to dry dimensionally pretty stable and doesn’t shrink much. It’s a pretty wood, but good luck keeping it that way. Rot resistant. Light, when dry.
Cypress – good choice. Leave natural. Will last forever (well, not really forever). Smells good when wet. Relatively light.
Red Oak – don’t use for outdoors. Will rot quickest of the woods being discussed.
White Oak – hardest and heaviest. Would make a good fence, particularly in a dry region. Not as rot resistant as cypress or cedar.

For longest fence life, pressure treated would be my choice, followed by cypress and cedar.

I have no work history with Redwood.

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