The Process – How to Start

What is being enclosed? What is being kept out? Or in? We begin with questions: how large, how long, how/where facing, electric or manual, material, design, lit or unlit, etc? Each needs to be addressed, but the first ones – what is allowed in/kept out – are the critical ones to begin with. Trying to keep in the dogs? Trying to keep out leaping deer? Persistent sales-folk? The entire world? Knowing your desired effect sets the stage for all that follows. Remember it is a boundary, as well as a portal. It sends a message, and it can make or unmake neighborliness. So think on this carefully – it’s an expensive do-over.

We have decided the main thing is keeping in the dogs. This means gate and fence height is OK at 5 feet, six max. Here in the Coastal Zone, we are not allowed to exceed 6, and the top 2 feet must have some visibility – lattice work or slats, that sort of thing. And the gate, like the fence, must come within inches of the ground – dogs do like to wiggle under things, right? Additionally, we have a max length of the gate at 14 feet, and we want an electric opening gate, as it is about 150 feet from the house. And we will be adding a man-gate adjacent, so the trash cans are easy to get in and out, and the propane delivery can be done when we aren’t home. Oh, and so the fire department can, well, you know.

These then become our minimums and maximums, and within those confines our actual design conditions can proceed. The next decision, then, becomes material. Why? Because we have specific requirements that will impact the practicality of those limits – a metal gate weighs less than an equivalent-sized wood gate, and impacts the choice of opening and hanging hardware. It also has a bearing on the vertical supports, both their material and their bulk/design. If you select wood, you need more substantial side supports – you may even need a slotted guide and wheel mechanism. A metal gate allows a few more options. On the other hand, a nicely-designed metal gate can cost more – not in every case, but it might limit your design choices to something simpler than your initial imagination conjured up and set you on this quest to begin with.

Additionally, deciding between metal and wood greatly influences the actual design. Metal can be formed with far greater shape choices than wood – it bends, it can be welded, it can be very artful. A wood gate, on the other hand can say more about you than the more limited physical designs might suggest. Remember back in August of 2012? Sure you do! Remember where we spoke about our neighbors? It’s OK, I’ll wait – go refresh your memory, and then we’ll pick back up, alright?

Good, now we can proceed! Wood has weight, has history, it has been used for gates and fences for millenniums. It can be in-your-face monoliths, or cheerful welcomes to every passer-by. Art is still possible, though perhaps a bit more limited, but still vital and affordable. Arriving at your choice, as you might begin to see, can be daunting. Unless price is your only consideration, of course – there are some very affordable wire-fence and wire gate options, but I won’t be addressing those here – my blog, my bias!

Break it down: Cost will make itself clear – you may have a fixed budget, or you may prefer to go for your dream. Either way, you can start with cost, or just wait and see where it’s going to land. Then you can begin the inevitable back-pedal, reducing the demands of your ideal end-product on your bank account. I find it helps to go that way, but it is just my personal preference – everyone has their own comfort zone with this stuff.

Remember that the size and weight of the fence governs the hardware, not the other way around: you don’t decide on size and weight based on that fancy hardware you want no matter what. You have to make the primary material decision, and analyze the amount and content of that material based on both size and design: buying 100 board feet of 2 x 4s is foolish if the majority of the gate will be planking – unless you are building a really long and heavy gate, that is.

In our case, we are going with the maximum 14 foot width. And because the surrounding fence will be 5 feet, we will keep the gate at 5 feet, though with some “moments” in the design that project above that height a bit. And the driveway will be crushed granite, so the gate has to ride a few inches above that – not a practical location for a ground channel. This, then suggests the driveway gate should be metal (for lower weight), and this in turn suggests we go with decorative vertical support pillars that will complement the gate, but tie into the wooden fence These, then, are the rough design limits the actual form of the gate must remain within.

Next time, I will be ready to show the design process as it unfolds. I hope you come back then!

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The Gate is Open

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