Building a garden gate

Before we can move our chickens into the garden, we need a proper garden gate for the 4′ north entrance. Thus far, our temporary gates have been lengths of cattle panels wire tied together and either tied (south gate) or propped (north gate) against the fence posts. This keeps out the deer, but any chicken-hungry dog could push past the north gate.

I priced pre-made chain link gates, but thought I could build something prettier for less money. The basic plan is to build a rectangular frame out of cedar and add a diagonal cross brace. After accounting for hinges and latches, the gate needed to be 43″ wide by 6’6″ high.

I decided to build the gate using all mortise and tenon joinery. This is arguably overkill for a garden gate, but has three advantages:

  • Strength – Few joints are stronger than a glued mortise and tenon
  • Appearance – By cutting through-mortises and leaving the tenons slightly long the joinery is emphasized for appearance
  • Practice – I hope to build a number of different pieces of furniture and fixtures in our house, so I need every opportunity to practice woodworking techniques without the stress of expensive woods and critical eyes

This shows the basic joint used at all four corners of the gate. I cut the tenon (narrowed rectangular end) on the table saw using both a tenoning jig and some nipping away with a stop block. The mortise (rectangular hole) was cut with a router. I’ve owned a router for 3 years, and I’m sad to say this is the first time I’ve actually used it. Wow, lots of fun! This was much easier than the drill and chisel technique I used on the corbels. (Some chiseling is still required to square up the corners and smooth out alignment issues.)

Here’s a close-up of the same joint after assembly. The cross brace also used mortise and tenon joints, but I used blind mortises (nothing pokes through).

The gate frame is of wood, but I decided to use cattle panels to fill the openings. I dry fit the whole gate on the floor, and then laid a piece of cattle panel onto the top and bottom spaces. The position of each panel wire was marked on the wood, and the wire was marked 1″ past the beginning of the frame. Then I drilled holes in the frame where each wire would align, and cut the wires so they would extend into each hole.

The effect is that the wire panels appear to grow out of the gate frame. This required a very fixed assembly order, and I made the mistake of drilling holes for some of the wires in the diagonal in two directions, causing much straining and bending to get them to fit. The picture on the left shows the metal panels inserted into the diagonal and the top and bottom rails. We are about to align and glue the vertical stiles to complete the gate.

Robin and I were both really happy with how the gate turned out, and we started talking about how to finish it. It’s made of cedar, a nice dimensionally stable wood, but sun and rain will make their mark and without a finish it will turn grey and brittle over the years. I did a bunch of research on outdoor finishes, and narrowed our choices down to two: a good latex exterior paint (10 years between scraping, sanding, and re-painting), or a penetrating oil stain (1 to 2 years between coats). We both decided to opt for vain-but-beautiful and chose the penetrating oil. The yearly maintenance is pretty low-effort, and we didn’t want to cover up that wood grain. This is also a test case for an eventual cedar fence Robin would like to build around her garden.

We chose Superdeck transparent stain, mainly because it was the best product we could find in a quart size. It uses a Linseed oil base, but that’s pretty much the only natural thing about it. If we didn’t need the gate up so soon, I would have ordered a quart of Penofin Verde which uses all natural oils and vegetable resins and is VOC and petroleum free. Sign me up!

Penetrating oils are easy to apply. You just brush on the stain, give it time to dry, and then wipe off the excess with a rag. The gate is now resting by the front door, ready to be hung on the fence tomorrow.

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11 Responses to Building a garden gate

  1. Leigh says:

    It’s a beautiful gate. Puts our to shame, *lol. Still, like you say, it will be attractive for the garden plus good practice for more noteworthy projects. The cedar plus penetrating oil stain should give it a long life. Well done.

  2. Jessica says:

    When can I order mine?

  3. Lynn says:

    Now that is a nice garden gate! Hopefully the chickens appreciate it!

  4. lee says:

    Thanks for the compliments. I hope it lasts well. I know very little about wood finishing, although at least we are starting with cedar. We found that was the only wood that would last more than about a month in the Phoenix summer sun without looking like it was about to shatter. I remember wrecking a shovel handle once by leaving it out in the sun too long.

    Jessica – You have to get the house first! ­čÖé

  5. Benita says:

    Beautiful gate! You’ll admire it with pride everytime you use it.

  6. amy manning says:

    Hey thanks for the post! I hope you don’t mind, I want to place a link on my website. Your gate’s pretty cool.

    I noticed you are also in Willamette valley. I live in clackamas county. Are you nearby?

  7. lee says:

    Amy – Links are fine. Our site is here mainly to be helpful to others (or at least show what not to do!).

    I’m still really happy with the gate. It’s survived the spring and summer and looks pretty nice. It occurs to me that we should probably repeat the penetrating oil before the rains really set in permanently.

    We live in Lane County, so three counties south of you. The weather in this whole valley is so similar of course. I see you referencing Steve Solomon’s books on your site, and he’s a big basis for a lot of our gardening projects as well. Thank goodness for the few northwest-oriented authors.

  8. Thanks for the post. I am planning a woodworking project for a class that I am taking. The detail that you show is very helpful.

    • lee says:


      • Thanks for the referral from your site. If you have time, do you have any suggestions for the concept plan that I am working on. I intend to incorporate the joins that you used on your gate. Instead of using wire, I want to use pruned sticks backed by lath (bunny barrier).

      • lee says:

        Your URLs keep coming up with an “@” sign instead of a period, so I fixed your first one so it would link correctly.

        I looked at your post after you commented. I’m curious how you plan to implement the curves. It would be easier to build a rectangular frame and add in-fill panels to create the top curve. Otherwise, I guess you’d have to build an extremely wide top rail with a cut-out to form the curve. I’m also a bit concerned about shear strength in your design. Most gates have at least one diagonal brace to prevent the gate from sagging. Without this element, even the most solid gates will eventually sag on the latch side. You can hide this brace on the inside if you don’t want it to show.

        If you are planning on joinery similar to my gate, I’d recommend against through-tenons. They are considerably more work and don’t add much to the design. Conventional tenons are plenty strong and less fussy to assemble.

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