DIY Driveway Gate

Not everyone puts in a driveway gate at their home; but if you have a home out in the country and a fence around your property, you’re most likely going to want one. Adding a gate for your driveway helps to keep your pets and kids inside and others outside, adding to your family’s security.

The same can be said about putting in a backyard gate, for those who live in the suburbs. A backyard gate can allow vehicle access to your backyard, while keeping your kids and your pets safely inside. Since they are made basically the same way as driveway gates, what we’re talking about here will work for both.

One of the trickiest parts of making any driveway gate, regardless of the style, is ensuring that the gate stays flat and square. The gate has to be properly braced to ensure this, regardless of whether it is made of wood or metal. Proper bracing and assembly will help to ensure that the gate starts out flat and remains flat through many years of use.

How Will it Open?

Before even beginning to design your gate, it’s necessary to decide how you want the gate to open. There are three basic options for this:

  • Swinging outwards
  • Swinging inwards
  • Rolling sideways

Which one you decide to use will depend more upon the space you have available, than anything else. You can’t have a gate swing out, if there are things in the way. Nor can you have it roll to the side, if that means it’s rolling into the neighbor’s yard. Your gate design must ultimately fit what your property allows.

This also affects whether you are going to use a single leaf for your gate or double leaves. While it is unusual to make a sliding or rolling gate that has two leaves, it’s common to do so for swinging gates. It’s also much easier to keep the gates flat and square if they are smaller, especially with swinging gates.

Double leaves don’t necessarily have to be the same size, although they usually are. But if you want to be able to have a personnel gate and a vehicle gate, you might make the fixed side of the gate wider than the loose side. That way, you can use the smaller leaf for a personnel gate, only opening the larger one when you need to move a vehicle through it.

It’s really not important whether you want to make your gate motorized or not. Many people build a gate and then motorize it later. Regardless of whether you do so or not, it makes little difference in the design and building of your gate, other than you might want to avoid using twin leaves for a swinging gate, as you would have to motorize both of them. Other than that, you just want to make sure it is strong enough; but you need that in any case.

Before the Gate

Regardless of what sort of gate you are going to build, you’re going to need solid gate posts. While it would seem that the gate posts could be the same as your fence posts, they need to be stronger. None of your fence posts will be put under the strain that the gate posts will be, when the gate is opened and closed. The posts must remain plumb, so that the gate will also.

A typical 4”x 4” wood or 2”x 2” square steel tube fence post is strong enough to support your gates in most cases. Obviously, it makes the most sense to stick with the same sort of material that the gate and fence is going to be made of.

The easiest way to ensure that your gate posts are strong enough to support your gate is to anchor them well. This means sinking the base of the fence post at least two feet into the ground and anchoring it into concrete. The concrete will fill the space between the fence post and the solid packed earth much better than anything else you can use, ensuring that you have a rock-solid base, in addition to being a heavy enough one that it won’t easily be moved.

The Gate Frame

Before making the gate, whether single or double leaved, you need to decide what sort of gate design you want. Will it be wood or metal? Perhaps you want a metal frame with wood panels. Will it match the fence or be a different style? Is it going to be solid or with pickets? How will the skin of the gate be attached to the structure?

For a basic wood gate, you will want to start out by making a frame. You’re best off making the frame out of pressure-treated wood, even if you cover it with a skin of cedar or other wood, as it will be left exposed to the elements. Many people use butt joints for their frame, but that isn’t solid, unless you are going to use a gate hardware kit such as the Homax Easy Gate or the Adjust-A-Gate kits. These provide welded metal corner brackets which hold the corners square, even over the years, ensuring that your gate doesn’t sag over time.

If you aren’t going to use a gate kit of that sort to make a wood frame, then I suggest using lap joints at the corners of your gate frame. These allow you to put multiple screws through the two pieces, where they are joined together, to keep them held together firmly and aligned.

To make a lap joint, you’ll need to cut out half the material thickness in the corners of all pieces, so that together they make up the normal thickness of the 2”x 4” structural wood you are using for the frame. This can be done on a table saw or radial arm saw, using a dado blade or with a router and a straight bit. In either case, be sure to test out the depth of the cut on some scrap material, before committing to cutting the pieces you will be using.

lap joint
Lap joint

Even with this stronger joint, there is still a chance of the gate racking and twisting over time. To prevent this, an angled brace should be attached to the frame, running from corner to corner. While people do this different ways, it is best that the high side of the diagonal brace be to the outside or post side of the gate. It does not need to run all the way to the corner, but it should be close.

diagonal brace,post side of gate
Diagonal brace

When building the gate frame, it’s a good idea to build it on a flat cement slab, such as your workshop floor or driveway. It is essential that the surface be totally flat, although it doesn’t have to be level, when the screws are driven into the joints. Otherwise, any curvature in the surface will result in a curvature in the profile of your gate.

Frames for Longer Gates

There are limits as to how wide gates can realistically be. The weight of the gate will cause the frame rails to sag eventually, even with a diagonal brace. If the gate is heavy enough, it can cause the hinges to bend or the gatepost to lean. Wide gates may need additional bracing or a guy wire going from the outer side of the gate, to a portion of the gate post that is sticking up farther in the air for additional support.

Another option is to provide additional support to the gate by adding wheels on the outer side. This is not so common on swinging gates, but rolling gates almost always have wheels of some sort. These gates also tend to be wider than swinging ones.

Rolling gates can be much wider, because they are generally supported by wheels. The problem comes in when you are making a gate which is wider than the material you have available. butting two pieces of wood together creates a weak point where the gate can easily bend.

This problem is easily solved by using double boards and staggering the joints. In the drawing below, the top and bottom rails are actually two 2”x 4” boards, one in front of the other. The joints are staggered, so that there are no two joints adjacent to each other. This eliminates stress points, as well as the ability for the gate to bend at the joints. The end plats are on edge, so that they can be connected to both of the horizontal boards.

Those end plates are not lap jointed, as they are for a smaller gate. However, it would be possible to still use lap joints, making a stronger gate. All that would be required is to have a double thickness of end pieces for the gate’s frame, just like we have double thicknesses for the top and bottom rails.

Dual braces are used, because of the long length. The braces are still needed, because a square or rectangle is not structurally stable. It has to have something to keep the sides of the square from collapsing in on itself. Diagonal braces of this sort create triangles, which are much stronger.

long gate frame, seams in front board, rear board,brace,edge
Long gate frame

This sort of gate can’t be suspended from a gate post very effectively, unless you have a very strong gatepost which is extremely well anchored to keep it from tipping. But then, it’s not intended to be hung in that way. Rather, it’s intended to roll on the ground, on wheels.

Installing the Gate

If the gate frame is properly made with lap joints, it is possible to hang the frame before the pickets or skin is applied. This is also true if you are using one of the hardware packages I mentioned earlier. In either case, the gate frame doesn’t need the skin to hold it square.

It is easier to install the frame, then add the pickets or skin later, because the gate will be lighter. You’ll want to install one screw in the bottom hinge first, and then prop up the far end of the gate with wedges or pieces of scrap wood, making it level. Then the top hinge can be attached. finishing up the installation by going back down to the bottom hinge and installing the rest of the screws.

Once the gate frame is hung, it is easy to install the pickets or whatever other sort of skin you intend to use for your gate.

Gate Hardware

Driveway gates do not use the same sort of hardware that you would use for home doors. There is a separate section in the hardware department of your building materials center, dedicated to gate hardware. This is usually black metal, and is considerably larger than that used for interior and exterior doors on homes.

Part of the reason why gate hardware is larger, with the hinges having much longer leaves, is to overcome the potential damage that weather will have on the wood of the gate. These hinges are normally installed with lag screws, in order to have something sturdy enough to hold the weight of the gate, even with water trying to damage the wood. It is always best to use the longest possible lag screws you can, without having them come through the other side.

Generally speaking, the bigger your gate hardware, the better. This isn’t the place to scrimp and try to save a few dollars. While smaller hardware will probably work, it will also probably go bad sooner, making it necessary to replace your gate.

Skinning the Gate

There are many different ways of skinning over your gate, limited only by your own imagination. Typically, people make their gates match their fences, unless they are making a fancy gate or making a wrought-iron gate with a wood fence.

The simplest way of skinning your gate is to use fence pickets. These can either be set side by side, as they are in a privacy fence, or they can be spaced out, like a low picket fence that one might find around the front yard of a home. In either case, the pickets would probably go farther higher and lower than the rails on the fence, except in the case of a rolling fence, in which case the pickets would probably end at the bottom of the bottom rail, even if they went above the top rail.

A very nice picket gate can be made rather easily by angling the pickets. This works especially well when you have two gate leaves the same size. With the pickets angled one way on one leaf of the gate and the other way for the other leaf, you get a herringbone design.

Some people mount the pickets horizontally on their gates, making a fancier top and bottom rail, rather than just a simple 2”x 4”. As with vertical pickets, these can be snug up against each other or spaced apart. Much fancier versions can be done as well, such as gates which are similar to a six panel door.

Metal Gates

While this website deals with woodworking projects, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the option of metal gates. Wrought iron gates make an attractive and very secure option for your property. The problem for most of us is that we don’t have the capability in our workshops to weld wrought iron gates. Even if we do have a small welder, we might not have the skill to do decorative welding.

Besides the security advantages that metal can offer, there are strength advantages as well. you don’t usually have to have angled braces on metal gates, because the metal itself is strong enough that it won’t sag, like wood can. While metal can rust, there is little that will damage a welded steel gate.

Steel gates also provide you with a number of design options, which you won’t find with wood gates. Sellers of steel tubing for making gates and other structures usually sell a wide variety of premade decorative pieces, which can be incorporated into the gate’s design.

The one disadvantage of a metal gate is that you can’t really make a privacy gate out of metal. The weight of such a gate, if all made of metal, would be impractical and expensive. You’re better off with wood or a wood and metal combination, if you want privacy.

It is worth considering making a gate with a metal frame, even if you want a wood gate. The metal frame will generally outlast a wood one, as long as it is painted periodically and doesn’t rust through. It is possible to attach wood pickets to the gate by drilling holes and using bolts. The resulting gate will be considerably stronger and much less likely to become weather-damaged.

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