Gates of any kind are expensive, and in most cases don’t have a lot of character – especially if you desire a country look and feel. Steel ranch gates are functional and I think look okay, but I have resorted to building most of our gates both to save money and achieve an old homestead look. Through the years I have constructed a lot of swinging lodgepole gates with various degrees of success. I won’t say that practice makes perfect because I don’t think my gates are perfect, but I have learned a lot in the process. I have found two major issues that will make or break the success of pine-pole gate construction: one, the method of attaching the horizontal poles to the upright poles; and two, building a strong hinge method.
Here is how I have addressed these two issues:
Attaching the horizontal bars to the vertical uprights – the first key issue. Commercial gate builders have special tools and machines to drill upright posts and taper the horizontal bars so that they will perfectly fit together. To me this looks a little too perfect, a bit like a pencil that has been sharpened and plugged into a custom-made hole. They use pealed poles which again loses a bit of the natural rugged (maybe a bit crude) country look. I prefer to leave my poles natural and unpeeled. (Nature has a way of naturally pealing them in time anyway.) Because I don’t have the commercial tools I have had to improvise by using a ½ inch drill motor and a heavy-duty 2” auger on my upright poles. The horizontal poles are a little trickier. Here I use a 2” keyhole saw which also attaches to my ½ drill motor. I cut into the end of the pole as deep as it will cut (about 2”) and then use a skill saw with the blade set so that it will only cut as deep as the keyhole cut. (See picture) Using a draw-knife I finish the edge for a more homemade look.
I plug the horizontal pole into the upright pole, pounding it home with a sledge hammer. Then I drill through the side of the upright post into the end of the horizontal post with a Timber-lock skew and washer to hold the two together. (See picture) So far I have never had poles pull apart.
Hinges that will support the weight and stand the test of time – the second key issue. Hinges can be extremely expensive when trying to swing a heavy gate. Because of this I have had to build my own. Here is how I’ve been able to beat the system. The first thing I do is to dig a hole at the base of where I want the gate post swing. (See picture) Then using some sort of a form, (I have used a coffee can with the bottom cut out) I place a ¾” pipe about two feet long in the center and pour the hole with concrete. This provides a pivot for the horizontal post to swing on without having to directly hang on the gate post. I drive a sharpened piece of 3/8” rebar up the bottom of the upright post that sets into the ¾” pipe in my concrete base. I’ve been doing this for years and have had great success. For the top hinge I generally forge a heavy metal strap that slips over a store bought hinge peg. (See the picture).