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Wood Fence FAQ | FAQ INDEX

Are there standard sizes of wood gates and can you tell me anything about wood gates?

Please read the article below for valuable information concerning wood gates.


This article was reproduced in World Fence News, May 1998.

The choice of wood gates presents some challenges that a person has to take into consideration. Although a good wood fence can be constructed that will last for 10-20 years without much more trouble than replacing an occasional warped picket or staining, the gate itself will be the first part of the fence to fail.

100% wood gates, with wood rails and wood diagonal bracing, are prone to sagging either within the frame itself or when the bolts in the hinges "pull" through the wood. This is due to the "soft nature" of fence wood, like red cedar. Although the cedar will be resilient to decay, it is very soft and bolts tend to "pull" through the wood eventually.

We take great care in constructing wood fences for this reason. All 2 x 4 framework is ship-lapped at joints and bolted with galvanized carriage bolts, two per corner or brace. It not only provides the maximum protection against sagging, but makes an attractive gate that looks finely crafted instead of one that just consists of 3 rails and a nailed on diagonal brace. On 5' to 7' high gates, we use 3 horizontal rails. On 4' high or less, we use 2 horizontal rails. Two vertical outside frame rails are used also that provide the outside rectangular frame. Each corner is routed so the intersecting rails lie flush to each other and we install two bolts at each corner. A diagonal 1 x 4 or some suitable other cedar matching piece is used as a diagonal brace to help delay sagging. This brace is also routed into the 2 x 4 frame to provide a clean, strong connection. It is also bolted with two bolts per connection. On a 3 rail gate, the diagonal gets routed and bolted to the center rail also.

In twenty years of making wood gates, this has been our most successful construction. The only other precaution is to use long bolts to secure the hinges to the posts or fence. Most hinge sets do not provide bolts long enough. The gate side bolts should pass through the picket and rails on the gate and be nutted. Lag bolts, which are usually provided with most hinge sets, will eventually pull out of the soft cedar or other wood that is used. Even in harder treated pine fences, the failure of bolts will occur eventually.


The best gates use welded steel frames that have wood pickets attached to the frame. These gates will not sag like all wood framed gates. The frame resembles the wood counter part, but the diagonal is not needed with narrow gates. Since every style of fence is different the size, and layout of steel frames and bracing can vary a lot. The wider and taller the gate, the more diagonal bracing is required.

The cheaper steel frames consist of galvanized fence pipe notched at each weld for a neat, professional looking appearance. The pipe used is typically 2" OD. Wall thickness varies with gate use, style and size. This pipe frame is all galvanized and usually not painted to match the wood. Not as attractive as the more expensive version, but very strong and functional without spending a lot. The welds will burn off the factory galvanized finish, so a special galvanizing paint is applied after the welding to protect against rusting. The painted welds must be touched up in 3-5 years as the paint is not as good as the original galvanizing.

A nicer looking steel frame is one constructed of 2 x 3 or 2 x 4 steel stock to nearly match the appearance of the wooden rails on the rest of the fence. The steel is usually painted brown to keep with the appearance of the wood. it can be painted any color when ordered. These framed gates will cost a little more than the tubular type.


If you intend to install an automatic gate opener, you must take care in how the gate is constructed and carefully choosing the proper gate operator. All wood framed gates with automatic gate operators are not a good idea. The additional strain on the wood frame will cause more problems than normally associated with wood frames.

The welded steel framed gates are a better choice. The steel frame is strong enough to take the abuse of the operator. Most swing gates require a center brace regardless of the height. This provides a place for the operator arm to attach. It is wise to choose the operator with the gate. You can assure that proper bracing is installed in the gate ahead of time to accommodate the operator.

Wind is a major factor in wood gate and operator design. Heavier operators should be considered to handle the additional load on windy days. If the gate is hidden between buildings and foliage the problem is not as bad as a gate that is in a wide open space and has a constant wind. Consult with Hoover Fence gate operator experts to match gates to gate operators.


Wood gates can be in any size within maximum limitations. Never make a wood gate wider than necessary. If a 3' wide walk gate is enough, forget the 1' waste on the rails and make it 3' (2 x 4's are usually 8' long). Every foot adds weight that will eventually make the gate more prone to sagging.

On widths of 6' or more, use a double swing gate. Gates of 16' opening size are the widest possible with wood frames. These gates should have a leading edge roller to help support the gate on each leaf.

Larger wood picket gates can be constructed, but steel frames are the only way to assure satisfactory results.

Here is some information to help you decide on width. Your front house door is no bigger than 36" so a minimum of 36" wide gates should be used. Your appliance will not fit through the gate that you want in the house.

A driveway should have 12' minimum clearance through the gate. 14' is better. That provides a single lane. Most highways are only 10' wide and people drive them at 65 miles per hour. A double lane driveway should then be at least 22' wide. 24' is better. Please don't drive that at 65 miles per hour though.

If your gate is near the road and trucks and trailers must get in, consider the turning radius. A 40' trailer requires a wide radius. You can generally see tire tracks off the driveway on existing drives. You better measure from the tire tracks and not the driveway. Someone will hit the gate post.

Consider setting the gate further from the road. A front fence could be right up to the road right of way, but angle the fence back on the sides of the driveway so you can allow for the gate to have a 15-20' set back. This not only provides a wider turning radius but allows a car to pull into the drive without having to stop in the road to open the gate. Don't make the gates any wider than necessary. It will only present problems.


Consider the weight of wood gates. They can get quite heavy. If small children have access to the gate and the latch and hinge side allow for pinch points, a child could get seriously hurt on a slamming gate. Put inside jams on the gate so little fingers will not get in the hinge side cracks when the gate is open. Leave ample space on the latch side so as not to allow little fingers to get caught in the small pinch points.

Keep in mind that on a windy day, the gate will create a sail that a small child can not open or close. Consider spaces between the pickets to allow for the wind to pass through. never let two children "play" with the gate. One will hurt the other when it is slammed on the unsuspecting victim.