David and Jeanie Stiles are renowned builders and authors of 23 books on woodworking projects. In Backyard Building, (The Countryman Press, 2014) the couple shows readers how to make that patch of land their very own. There are more than 20 projects ranging in complexity, the easiest of which requires only a few hours of dedication from a beginner. Below are the instructions for one of the favorite projects: Rustic Gate.
The challenge in making this gate is to find branches that will fit together. There’s no list to take to the lumberyard for this project, although some nurseries or farm supply stores sell rustic poles that can be used for the posts and rails. A walk through the woods is the best way to find the raw materials, especially the more decorative inside branches that give the gate its unique personality.
If possible, all parts of the branch should lie flat when it is lying on the ground. The most useful branches are forked (we call them “slingshots”). Be careful not to cut them too short–save the final trimming for later. Always gather twice as many branches as you think you will need. The best type of wood is hickory or juniper, but cedar will work too. Start with straight branches, for the vertical posts and horizontal rails. For a 36″-wide gate, the posts should be about 3″ in diameter, the rails slightly less. The inside branches should measure 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ in diameter. Gates that span a larger distance need to be correspondingly more substantial.
Bury two strong posts, one on either side of the gate opening, allowing for 1/2″ clearance on each side of the gate. For a small gate, “mini landscape ties” are a good choice: these are inexpensive pressure-treated 5×3s, 8′ long with two rounded faces. Using a shovel or posthole digger, dig two holes 30″-48″ deep (depending on your frost line). Place the posts in the holes and hold them vertical by nailing three short props to the posts. Backfill and tamp the soil down using a spare 2×4, and finish with a 3″-thick concrete collar at the grade level. Allow 24 hours for the concrete to harden. Remove all bark from the branches.
To make the gate frame, join the pieces together by first drilling 1″-deep holes into the posts to accept the rails. These holes should be slightly smaller than the rails, and the rails shaved off to fit. Use epoxy to glue the rails into the posts, and secure them with a screw or peg.
Once the glue has dried, lay the frame on the ground and arrange the other branches for the best effect. Try to place the pieces about 6″ apart. Start with the largest branches and mark where they will join the posts and rails. Cut each branch about 1″ longer than the gap it is filling, to allow for the joint. Only one end of the branch can be mortised; the other end will be butted to the rail or post. Carve and shape the ends to fit snugly, before drilling, gluing, and pegging them in place. The gate should look as though it had grown into this shape on its own.
For a simple hinge, screw 2″-long stainless-steel eye bolts into the post and the gate, rest the gate on the post bolts and attach 3/8″×1-1/2″ bolts and washers through both eye bolts. This hinge allows the gate to open either inwards or outwards.
To hold the gate closed, drill a 1/2″-diameter hole in the post and another in the gate. Insert a rounded 1/2″ peg in the gate hole. Since there is some flexibility in the hinges, the peg will slide into the hole when the gate swings shut. For a more secure closure, you can add an iron ring that flips over the gatepost.
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Reprinted with permission from Backyard Building by Jeanie and David Stiles and published by The Countryman Press, 2014.