Made to Measure Wooden Gates & Side Hinged Garage Doors
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Choosing the right wooden gate

Choosing the right wooden gates – a buying guide

There are a wide range of different types of wooden gates on the market: hardwood or softwood gates, ledged gates, morticed and tenon jointed gates, dowelled morticed and tenon jointed gates, through wedged morticed and tenon jointed gates, standard sized, made to measure… the list is endless. So what should I look for when choosing the right wooden gate, I hear you ask?

Softwood or Hardwood gates

Softwood gates are much more economical than their hardwood counterparts; however, softwood, in nearly all cases, is not as durable as hardwood; there are exceptions to this rule, such as balsa, a hardwood used in model-making etc, and Western Red Cedar, a softwood commonly found in cladding and with many characteristics of a hardwood.

That is not to say that a softwood option will be ‘here today and gone tomorrow’; if you care for your product correctly, then you should get many enjoyable years of life from a softwood gate, but a hardwood gate, if looked after correctly, will last much longer.

Hardwoods are less ‘knotty’ than softwoods so give a more aesthetically attractive appearance; in our experience, you can never truly make a softwood gate look like a hardwood gate by simply using stains – the grain and knot content will always give it away, at least to a trained eye.


Pair of hardwood gates

Knots can also both effect the strength of the timber (as they interupt the grain) and as they can leach resin (sap)  in full sun on warm days they can also effect the integrity of your paint or stain meaning you will have to recoat a bit more often than  you may expect!

Accoya - joinery manufacturer logo

It’s not just a case of Softwood or Hardwood these days either as you’ve a choice of modified timbers, the best being Accoya which not only outlasts any tropical hardwood but is a fast growing timber so is Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified.

Made to measure versus ‘Standard size’

There are many companies selling off-the-shelf standard-sized gates; ask yourself, is my drive ‘standard size’? What is a standard size drive width anyway? What if you want a gate just that little bit bigger or just a little bit smaller in height or width?
In our experience, there are few, if any, standard sizes of driveways or entrance ways, this is just a myth that has built up by companies to enable gates to be mass-produced cheaply, with little care or attention to your requirements or to a professional finish.
A made-to-measure gate gives you that little extra piece of mind that when you come to install the gate, everything will fit perfectly and that it will look impressive on your property. Not only that, but a made-to-measure gate is as unique as you are; each gate is individually and personally made to your own sizes by time-served craftsmen. A company that manufactures made-to-measure wooden gates may even manufacture you a bespoke gate – a gate made to your own design! Imagine how impressive that will look in front of your home.
Made-to-measure wins every time; if you choose ‘standard’ sizes, you may find you have a real struggle to get it to fit your ‘standard’ sized driveway or opening! Can you be bothered with the extra hassle?

So, you know the style or shape of gate you are interested in, you’ve decided between made to measure or standard sizes and have made the decision between hardwood and softwood. What about gate construction?
There are many different ways of manufacturing gates, from ledged gates to morticed and tenon jointed gates, what’s the difference? Read on to find out more!

Mortice and tenon jointed? Ledged? Wedged mortice and tenons?

The most basic gates are ledged gates; these are gates without a surrounding framework, commonly consisting of two or three horizontal rails (ledges) on the rear of the gates, with the boarding nailed or screwed to the ledges. What you save on price initially, you will most probably spend again replacing the gate in a few years time. Why sign-up for the additional cost and time-consuming hassle?

Mortice and tenon jointed gates consist of a framework consisting of stiles (vertical uprights), rails (horizontal members which boarding is affixed to and in some cases heads or top rails, which is, as the name implies, the upper-most horizontal rail). Where possible choose a gate with a solid head/ top rail (with the boards jointed into the head/top rail), as this avoids the end grain of the tongue and groove boardings or palings being exposed to the elements – no matter how well you coat the gate in whichever paint or stain you eventually use, end grain is notorious for absorbing moisture and can also splitting in the sunlight.

Below left shows a ledged and braced gate, top of cladding is exposed and will show endgrain to elements and will ultimately rot from the top down quite quickly.

Below right is our Curved headed pedestrian gate, cladding is jointed into the top rail so enclosed and protected from weather.

Example of ledged and braced gate with end grain showing on top of cladding
Example of well designed gate with end grain of cladding protected

Mortice and tenon jointed gates come in three main types:

  • Mortice & tenon jointed
  • Dowelled mortice & tenon jointed
  • Through wedged morticed and tenon jointed

Mortice & tenon jointed

If there is no mention of through when mortice and tenon jointed is mentioned, then the gates are based on a stub mortice and tenon joint; basically, the tenons on the rails do not go right the way through the timber into which the mortice is housed. This is a cheaper and quicker alternative to the through mortice and tenon and is not as strong or long-lasting, as the surface area of the tenon is not as great, meaning the area for glue to be applied is lesser. Commonly used in cabinet making where you do not want the end of the tenon showing, the stub tenon should be avoided for gates and doors.

Dowelled mortice & tenon jointed

Dowelled mortice and tenon joints can be either through morticed or, more likely, stub tenoned. The dowel is a weakness as it entails a hole drilled through the face of the gate through the mortice and tenon; in time, the dowel will most likely shrink (and can even fall out) and allow moisture to penetrate the gates where you need it least.

There is actually no such thing as a traditional dowel jointed mortice and tenon joint, nearest is a draw pinned joint that is for use where you may want to take the frame apart at a later date to repair damage, i.e. field gates, which are prone to cattle damage!

Example of dowel jointed mortice and tenon joint

Through wedged morticed and tenon jointed

By far, this is the strongest and most long-lasting of the three methods mentioned. Tenons go right the way through the timber being joined, giving a greater surface area of tenon for glue to be applied to, allowing stronger gate construction. Once the joint is tightened up, wedges are glued and driven in to hold the joint securely.

Once the glue is dry then the wedges are trimmed off and the timber cleaned up.

This is the traditional and proper way of manufacturing wooden gates and the one we’d recommend and use on all our gates.

Sure it takes a bit longer to produce the joint, but we don’t cut corners as we’d rather your gates last!

Example of a through wedged morticed and tenon joint

Do be a square!

There are many different sections of timber available, the most commonly used in gates are 4″ x 2″ (100mm x 50mm) or 3″ x 3″ (75mm x 75mm). These sizes quoted are usually ‘EX‘ sizes (this refers to the sizes of the timber when rough sawn, usually when planed up you will lose approx 1/4″ / 5-6mm). Square stock is stronger than rectangular stock and is less prone to cupping, also, there is more timber left around the mortice in a 3″ (75mm) gate, giving a stronger, sturdier gate, meaning it will last longer!

N.B. Cupping is a defect in timber where the edges of the timber will curve either inwards towards each other or curve away from each other.


Other things to consider

Try and avoid wooden gates with metal palings jointed into the rails or other parts. The reason for this is that you are joining two dis-similar materials together (for instance, timber can contract in heat, whilst metal can expand!) and it is impossible to adequately seal any gaps between the two and stop the ingress of moisture/water. This can result in you spending twice on the gate, as you may need to replace or repair the original gate.


Example of gate showing rot due to metal bar jointed into it

Also to be avoided are gates with rebated meeting stiles (when closed the gates in effect overlap like a pair of doors), the reason for this is rebated meeting stiles are used primarily to stop draughts and moisture gaining access to the internal side of a pair of doors. Gates being external both sides do not need this feature and actually benefit from clearance gaps to allow the clear passage or air to remove any moisture that builds up. Rebated meeting stiles stop the clear passage of air and in turn any build up of moisture will not be removed resulting in a shorter lifespan for your gates.

Automated gates

If you intend to automate your brand-new gates then it’s a good idea to investigate the two main methods of gate automation (above ground, and the more costly, below ground automation) and the different construction methods required for the two. For above ground automated wooden gates, it’s just a case of adding extra diagonal braces, whilst for below ground automation, a solid bottom rail is normally required. We recommend using a manufacturer-approved installer to both supply and fit all gate automation, as if it is incorrectly fitted, the automation can injure and in extreme cases, kill. No gate automater could supply the correct system without first making a site survey – this is why we do not supply the automation equipment.

It’s also not a fit and forget thing, it’s recommended and in some cases a legal requirement for you to have the automation tested every 12 months to BS EN12453. A good place to find a reputable trained installer of gate automation is Gatesafe.

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