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How to Design and Build a Wooden Gate (Illustrated Guide)

Photo collage of different wooden gate.

When you decide to build a wooden gate, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. The first is what your intended purpose is. You may want a purely decorative gate, perhaps to act as an arbor framing your walkway, or a more secure gate that provides access to the yard through a fence.

Depending on the size, you can prevent someone from seeing or accessing your yard–with solid wood panel design and strong, secure hardware. This guide will walk you through the most basic processes that go into designing and building a tall gate or doorway into your private yard. Simply by following some of these absolutely fundamental rules will ensure that your gate works properly and stays secure for years to come.

Based on Paul Corsetti’s article (used with permission.)

Cross Brace

One of the most crucial parts of a gate’s design is the cross-brace, which starts from the top corner opposite the hinges (the free-swinging side of the gate), pointing down to the lower hinged side of the gate. The cross-brace acts just like an enormous shelf bracket that holds the gate’s structure at a 90-degree angle to the post on which it’s mounted. No sagging gates, please!

A cross-brace will usually be constructed of a 2 x 4 material and acts as a compression load that keeps the gate nice and square. Here’s how it works: gravity allows the weight of the gate to be distributed inward down the length of the 2 x 4 to the bottom hinge and into the post, instead of pulling directly downward and placing too much stress on the hinges. It’s just the simple physics of a triangle that makes this work.

If your cross-brace is at an angle greater than 45 degrees from the base of the gate, your door will support itself and last a lot longer.

Building a wooden gate's cross-brace.


Also of importance is that an angle less  than 45 degrees will render your cross-brace totally ineffective, and the weight of the gate will place undue stress on the hinges. That’ll result in a gate that sags out of shape. Your latch might not strike the lock properly, rendering it less secure, or the gate could hit the post and never close properly again unless you lift the gate to close it–and that’s a pain.

Posts and Structure

An interesting factor that you might not have thought about before installing the posts is to check your area’s typical depth of frost. Depending on where you live, you’ll want to ensure that your posts are set into concrete well below the indicated frost level for your area. The concrete provides you with a solid anchor into the ground, so your gate or fence won’t wobble.

If frost isn’t a factor where you live, a depth of 30 inches should be enough to support your gate. To begin installing your posts, you’ll need to dig a hole between 30 to 36 inches deep (or below your frost level). Each hole should be about 6 inches wider than your post.

So if the post is 4 inches wide, the hole should be no less than 10 inches wide. After the hole has been dug, pour a few inches of gravel in the hole to help with drainage. Set the post into the hole and fill in around it with concrete.

Keep the post straight with a level. You may choose to have a second person help you keep the post level. Make any needed final adjustments to the post before the concrete dries.

Digging footers for you wooden gate.


If you’d like a more decorative element, like a header to walk under, you’ll need to make the posts long enough to install one above the gate’s opening–and long enough to prevent you from bonking your head on it. You might choose a decorative beam with scrolled ends, a curve in the center, or a trellis-style header. The header acts as a spacer between the two posts.

When the gate is mounted to the hinge-post, a header prevents the structure from leaning or warping. Wood is a malleable material! It will bend, twist, shrink, and expand constantly from the weather or humidity.

The more support you add through structural elements, the longer your gate will stand.

Structure of a wooden gate.


Next, you’ll need to consider the width of the gate. A single gate shouldn’t be built too much wider than 42 inches, or 3.5 feet. The wider your gate, the lower the angle of your cross-brace, and your gate will sag.

To ensure your cross-brace’s angle stays greater than 45 degrees, the height of your door has to be greater than the width. If you want a wider opening, and a double-door gate isn’t sufficient, do some research into stronger metal brackets. These could help keep hold your door square, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Wood and Materials

In many regions, you have two choices for lumber: pressure-treated lumber (PT) and non-pressure treated (NPT). The real difference is that pressure treating adds chemical preservatives to the wood that help it resist rot and bugs. Both options are readily available, although the species may change depending on availability in your area.

When you choose a NPT lumber, you’ll want to select a wood that has natural resistances to rot and bugs. The chart below shows North American species that have these resistances. PT lumber tends to be cheaper than most NPT, and and has a lower natural resistance to rot or bugs, hence, why it is treated with chemicals that give it those properties.

New environmental regulations have changed many of the chemical compounds used in PT wood, so you’ll want to ensure you’re using approved fasteners with a rating for ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary, a wood preservative), because the wrong kind of fasteners may rot when in contact with the chemicals in PT lumber. Even when using NPT lumber, ACQ fasteners are still highly recommended, due to the higher lifespan. Non-ACQ can turn the wood black as the fasteners oxidize, which is an ugly detail.

Rot resistant woods for outdoor building.


When you start selecting the lumber for your gate, look for the straightest possible pieces. An ideal piece is a kiln-dried wood, which has much of the moisture content lowered, reducing the risk of warping or twisting. When looking at PT lumber, the wood will often be freshly cut, so it will have a high moisture content.

This means that it has a greater tendency to twist and warp as it dries. Selecting the right piece of PT can be tricky. Choose lumber that seems lighter in weight and looks very straight.

You’ll also want to look for lumber with small knots to help control the warping issues even more. Keeping all of these factors in mind will ensure your gate warps minimally after you’ve built it. On to hinges.

When looking at hinges, latches, and keyhole locks, you’ll need to know the approximate weight of the gate you’ve built. If you’ve built it right, you’ll probably need two people to lift and hang it in place, so it may weigh anything from 50 to 150 pounds. You’ll need hinges large enough to support the relative weight of the gate.

The screws should be deep set enough to grab the main 2 x 4 structure of the door. A properly built gate will swing back and forth for years to come, so you’ll want it to stand up to some harsh conditions, like windy days, the occasionally bumps and scrapes by wheel barrels and lawnmowers, or even kids kicking soccer balls at it! If your budget allows, consider using stainless steel hardware, since a lighter metal might not hold up to abuse.

As a gate swings closed behind you, the latch is under a lot of pressure, and in time, may work its way loose or even bend. You can install a doorstop on the gate that will prevent the bumps that cause damage to the latch. A doorstop can just be a small piece of wood that extends from the gate, catching the post when it shuts.

Building a gate that passes the test of time begins and ends with proper design. Using an effective cross-brace, properly framing the posts, and using quality lumber and hardware will ensure that your gate functions perfectly. Now that you’ve been armed with the basics of gate construction, we hope you’ll create your own gate with a design that matches your individual style!

Images and content used with permission by

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