How to Build a Wood Fence and Gate

Hi, my name is Louis Storms. I just
finished building a seven and a half foot tall cedar fence with dual swing
gate spanning twelve feet four inches. I think it looks sharp when gates blend in
seamlessly with a fence so I wanted my fence and gates to be as seamless as
possible without hiding the fact that the fence has gates. Other than the gate
hinges and trim notches the fence segment is uniform, there are no partial
pickets, no noticeable gaps around or between the gates, the fence and gates have the same top and
bottom trim which is in alignment and level across the segment.
This fence and gate is the first I’ve ever built so I watched numerous fence and
gate related YouTube videos before I started, to learn from the experience of
others. I benefited from the contributions of others and this video
is my attempt to pay that forward. My old fence posts were treated but they still
manage to rot. The rot raw was always at ground level a few inches above and
below the top of their concrete bases. The fence was 14 years old and if not
for the rotted posts it was otherwise in decent shape. Given how much work it is
to replace fence posts I wanted to make my new posts last much longer than the
old ones. I treated the below ground segments of the posts with roof coating.
I took care not to coat the bottom of the posts to allow for a way for
moisture to escape. Each post hole has a few inches of gravel on the bottom to
allow for drainage. I’d also like to point out that I put three inch deck
screws into the posts where they are anchored in cement as an added source
of stability. Posts can shrink within their concrete footings and my hope is
that the screws will help prevent movement. I also applied about six inches
of heavy bodied asphalt to each post at ground level three inches above ground
and three inches below. I may not win any style awards but I’m definitely style
conscious if the bottoms of the posts are going to be coated and asphalt at a
minimum it shouldn’t take anything away from the look of the fence. I think I
achieved this by going up only three inches from the ground on each post and
also by ensuring that the asphalt lines are clean by using painters tape during
application. I’ll almost certainly have moved before these posts fail but I
always try to build things as though they’ll be mine forever.
I wanted my fence to be level across the top but the ground closest to my house
is higher than the at the farthest post. I also wanted to
build the tallest fence allowed by code which in my case is 8 feet. The top rail
and cap collectively contribute 3 inches to the fence height so to have a level
8-foot fence my tallest post at my lowest elevation needed to be 7 foot 9
inches. To figure out the above-ground post heights, I put stakes in the ground
with a tight level string between them and then measured the distance from the
string to the ground at each post location. For example posts 3 & 4 in this
picture will each be 5 inches shorter than the tallest post because the ground
at those locations is 5 inches higher than the ground at the tallest post.
Recall that I wanted the gates to be seamless with the fence with no
noticeable gaps around or between them. To achieve this i targeted no more than
a sixteenth inch gap between each gate and its post, and no more than a 3/16
inch gap between the gates. I always try to solve for the highest risk parts of
projects before I do much else and so that’s what I did on this one. I decided
that I could order tasks in a way that would be forgiving of any minor mistakes
I might make in earlier steps. I would build one gate first, then set the gate
posts with backer rails and then build the second gate to the exact dimensions
of the space remaining. Based on my amateur skill set I assumed that the
second gate would be some flavor of trapezoid :), but only minimally and
undetectable to the naked eye. Risk number two had to do with hinge
placement. I did a basic mock-up of my fence based on a design I had on paper,
and from the mock-up it became clear that I needed to decide on my hinges
before building the gates. if I had built my gate first without regard to hinge
dimensions I risked a scenario like this in which the hinges I later picked out
would interfere with the cap board, trim or kick board. So I bought the hinges *before*
I built the gate. So instead of building this gate, I knew to build one like this
and put the hinges here instead of there. in my mind another risk was hinge
stability. Any unexpected play in the hinge action could jeopardize how well
the gates fit together. I addressed this risk by building a
mock-up with the actual hinges. Fortunately there was no play in the
hinge action but in the process of building the mock-up the hinge screws
split the pickets. I’d probably have pre-drilled the pickets on the final
fence without this reminder but it was a good reminder nonetheless. The last risk
was uncertainty about gate post movement. Given how heavy the gates would be with
all the trim and the use of two by six horizontal members I figured that if the
gate post flexed under the weight of its gate, even after tying the post into its
neighbor post and adding pickets, I could use a cable and turnbuckle on the
backside of the fence to stabilize it. After solving for all the external risks
to gate integrity and performance that I could think of it was finally time to
begin gate construction. One of the keys to preventing a gate from sagging under
its own weight is to use lap joints. In my case because my gate needed to support
top and bottom trim it ends up being called a cross lap joint. I didn’t have a
table saw when I built this gate so I had to use a circular saw and a chisel
to do all of those joints. I set the circular saw blade depth to exactly half
of the depth of the gate frame cedar boards in preparation for the lap joint
cuts. Then I used the circular saw to get as
much of the meat out of the joints as possible before coming back through with
a chisel. It is essential that the outside edges of both vertical members
of the gate frame are square. It’s unlikely that all of the gate frame
lumber is perfectly dimensioned and in my case the horizontal two by sixes were
particularly not conformant. As a consequence I used a string in
combination with a board I knew to be straight to square the vertical gate
frame boards and then I used to scribe to mark the horizontal and cross brace
boards for cuts to fit within the exact space available. In my imagination,
experienced carpenters that manage to watch this video will be scratching
their heads at the long way I went about doing this. If you’ve got a shortcut to
get to the same place leave me a comment. I always love to learn new tricks. The
next thing I want to cover is the diagonal brace. I watched a lot of videos
online about how this ought to work and I didn’t really find any thing that I was
satisfied with. So here’s what I’m talking about.
This part of the gate frame behaves like a crane. A diagonal brace is needed to
resist the downward forces on the top horizontal member of the gate frame. In
every online video I saw about gate frame construction they had the diagonal
brace connected to the bottom horizontal member of the gate frame. That seemed
like it would put unnecessary stress on this lower lap joint. It made more sense
to me to have the lower diagonal brace connected to the vertical member of the
gate frame to avoid putting stress on the lower lap joint.
However screws and wood glue are all that secures the brace
to the frame, and it made me uncomfortable to rely so heavily on the
shear strength of screws and wood glue. I finally settled on a hybrid approach in
which most of the diagonal brace would sit on the vertical gate frame member
and a smaller portion would rest flush against the horizontal member to help
resist shear forces on the screws and wood glue. This seemed to me to be the
best compromise, and I used the same approach on both ends of the brace.
Here’s a tip I picked up from watching other videos and it definitely saved me
from making a mistake. When you’re laying your pickets on the fence, start with a
gate post and work your way away from the gate. This avoids the possibility
that you’ll have a partial picket on the gate post which I think would look
sloppy but more importantly it avoids having the gate post portion of the
hinge resting on multiple pickets. I replaced the manufacturer supplied hinge
screws for the gate post with two and a half inch hex screws. I also replace the
supplied gate frame hinge screws with hex bolts all the way through the
pickets and gate frame. Note the 45-degree notches in the top trim that
exists on the bottom as well so that the gate can open. Cables and turnbuckles were definitely needed to get the
tight fit I was looking for. The hinges manage
the 1/16 inch gaps on the ends but that 3/16 in the middle between the two gates
was a real challenge because of the flexibility of the posts. The gates were
snug at the top and if I went over to that upper right hand corner of that
fence segment and pushed that post I would get the gap that I was looking for
between the gate. Once I added a cable and tightened that turnbuckle I got the
gap I was looking for. I also added a cable and turnbuckle to the other side
and with both cables in place I could control the gap between the gates with
precision. You can’t drive through a neighborhood
in Houston without passing by 30 or more wooden privacy fences and gates and ever
since I built mine I pay close attention to every one of them. I’m sure they exist
but I have yet to come across a fence and gate that meets the standards I set
for mine. This is clear evidence beyond any doubt, that I just way overdid it. 🙂 I hope this video was of value to you and if so please let me know. I’m always
doing some DIY project or another and if it turns out that my videos are helpful
to other people I’ll post more. Thanks for watching.

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