Real farmers don’t debate form over function. Whatever does the job with the least amount of effort and expense is always the answer. A welder, baling wire, and duct tape go a long way. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when the old timer up the road recommended simple metal tube gates for the pasture. The farm supply store had plenty of them in stock. They were lightweight, easy to hang, and relatively inexpensive. What else could anybody possibly want?
When I told him I’d be building my own custom board gates, I got a look that I’ve come to know well over the years. It’s surprise at first, quickly followed by a mixture of amusement and mild disdain. It’s a look that says: somebody with time and money to waste on aesthetics is clearly misguided, an amateur, a “flatlander” … or in other words a mere hobby farmer.
Well, flatland hobby farmer or not, I just wanted a decent-looking wooden gate that I could paint red to match my barn. I did a few web searches and found a design that utilized a “sandwich” type of construction. The horizontal rails are sandwiched between two sets of end stiles and diagonal braces. They are held together presumably with glue, and good quality exterior screws. The boards can be true 1″ x 6″ rough cut from a mill, or 5/4 x 6″ stock from a lumberyard. Either choice, the sandwiched layers combine for 3 inches of total width, and fit perfectly inside the standard double strap hinges sold by various suppliers.
A double strap hinge is like a two-pronged fork. It slides around the front and back of the stile and top rail. You can buy two double strap hinges, or there are suppliers who sell an adjustable fitting in place of a bottom strap. If the gate ever sags, it can be leveled by turning a bolt on the fitting. The straps and fittings rest on standard pins which are bolted through the gate post.
Gates in North America are typically mounted between the posts. They swing both ways. However, in Europe most animal pasture gates are mounted behind the posts on the inside, overlapping the latch post by an inch or so. When animals push on the gate, it is held by the full strength of the post instead of just the latch. A behind-the-posts gate only opens one way, but it seems a small sacrifice for the added strength and security.
There are an infinite variety of gate latches: bolt, hook, locking, string-pull, loop, throw-over. I’ve always been intrigued by gates that can be opened while on horseback. They can involve some creative latch designs, not to mention tricky horsemanship. I wouldn’t be doing any riding around the sheep pasture, but I did like the idea of being able to open and close the gate with one hand. The classic English spring latch was appealing in that way, and the ones I saw in the catalogs looked substantial, and well-made.
Over the years, my red gates have held up great, even with the kids climbing all over them. I’ve gotten a few compliments too on how nice they look. The most satisfying of all was when the old farmer came back for a gander. “You done good”, he said with a hint of concession. Then after a pause, he shot me that familar glance and added, “Still not worth it though”.
|Sources of Supply|
|Snug Cottage Hardware
Gate plans, hinges, and latchesHoover Fence Co.
Maine Board Gate, double-strap hinges, bottom gate fittings, and various latches