The Essential Hardware Questions

Self-closing or manual? Automatic, motion-sensors, keyed entry? Antique or modern? Simple or ornate? Child-proof or strictly open-gate? Anyone trying to build a gate will have to address these questions, and more. There is so much in the way of gate hardware that it can be quite daunting. But there are some very practical limiting factors that will help narrow the choices.


For example, should your gate rationale be mostly security, then you are less likely to be concerned with the ornate (not saying you won’t, just saying it probably won’t hold as much of your attention as the security angle.) In this instance, the quality and type of locks and latches, hinges and supporting posts will have the upper edges of your attention. You may also wish to go as far as security cameras. It helps to know that when it comes to security, your selections of hardware, height of the gate itself, and materials chosen for the gate will all contribute to the security image you wish to project. Nothing like a combination of metal, electronics, and pointy things to convey “no trespassing.” But if you desire to have all that security, but make it more subtle in appearance, remember that your components still have to be up to the task. An un-climbable fence is a waste of money if your gate is a push-over.


But let’s say security is less your concern, and art is your primary goal. Here, you begin with your esthetic considerations, and your hardware then has to meet those self-imposed standards. Your latch should be compatible with your hinges. You may want self-closing hinges, which make good sense when you have kids, and their attention span has yet to meet up with the needs to close a gate. You may be looking to design an ultra-modern gate, and here you may wish to seek out an artist who can create exactly what you want, though there are many makers of artisan hardware around today. Just remember, it’s not likely to be cheap.


In fact, budget, as in most things associated with our dwellings, is a consideration – the better hardware is not going to be as cheap as what you can buy at the big-box stores or the local hardware emporiums. But it is important to keep in mind how much wear and tear a gate can sustain over its lifetime. Are you building for the next five years? ten? twenty? One hundred? Eternity? Durability usually wants the highest quality available. And the moving parts get the worse end of the deal. So consider heavy-duty hinges and latches. Spring-loaded self-closing hinges especially, as the springs need to keep doing their job for a long time. Remember too that all the hardware, metal, and wood are going to be exposed to the weather 24-7, and that means rust, corrosion, paint flaking, warping, sagging, etc. Just like us, in fact!


As for coatings, especially on wood, don’t skimp here. Make sure the wood is clean and dry before starting to apply stains or paint. Use an air compressor or canned air to thoroughly clean all the dust from the surfaces. Apply your undercoats in thin applications, and permit them to dry as long as you can before the next coat. Be sure to use a light steel-wool to dull the surface between coats. Use at least two undercoats, more if you’ve the patience. On your top coats, use the best quality paint or sealers you can find. While it is nearly impossible to find oil-based anything today, at least pay for the top quality available. Never use indoor-rated coatings – that’s like asking nature to pop you in the snoot, right? Remember the coating protects the wood against moisture first and foremost. Dirt, wind, blowing dust, kids kicking the gate, dogs jumping up on the gate, etc., all abrasions will slowly but surely erode the coatings, and you will need to periodically revisit this important task. Remember – your gate protects you, so you need to protect your gate!


Remember to choose hardware compatible with your regional weather issues: if you live withing twenty miles of an ocean, be sure the metal parts can withstand salt air. If you live in a tornado zone, make sure your gate is wicked-witch proof – that sort of thing.


The choices you make for the overall design will of course affect the hardware choices. So should your design be for a heavy gate, make sure you select hinges and latches that can handle the load. By the same token, visual weight also needs to be considered – a trim appearance of the body of the gate will not be well served by overly-heavy hinges. It’s all about balance.


And speaking of balance, you can actually make your gate self-closing without spring-loaded hinges, merely by hanging the gate so that it always swings closed on its own. This takes some skill, as you don’t want the hinges to be working against one another. If you are unclear on how to do this, consult an expert. Otherwise, you will wonder why your gate doesn’t work quite the way you intended.


Remember, a gate is more than the sum of its parts – it is the sum of all you intend it to be, do, remain for a long time. Do it right the first time, and you will always enjoy your gate, whether you are leaving, or coming home!

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