The ultimate guide to buying a wooden gate that lasts!
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?
Timber gates made by joiners.
Anybody can grab some wood and knock a gate together, but not everybody makes gates that last; a lot of gate companies you’ll find online proclaim that they make the ‘finest quality gates’ yet don’t even mention they are joiners…?!
Those that do just mention a cursory ‘we’re joiners’ and don’t back it up with anything. Us….we’re joiners: my dad is a joiner and his dad was a joiner, so it runs in the family.
You can find our joinery certificates for the world to see here (Just don’t expect to see Ted Westie’s joinery certificate, he doesn’t have one as he is a dog!) and we’re also British Woodworking Federation Code of Conduct Assured (the first stage, of many, of getting approved by the BWF is to show your joinery certificates: don’t have any? Then you don’t get in!
You can read what the BWF Code of Conduct is all about here. If you’re online, or out and about, looking for timber gates then do make sure that the people who are making them are joiners, that way, you’ll know they last and the people giving you expert advice actually know what they are talking about and won’t be here today and gone tomorrow with your deposit!
What timber for gates?
What timber you’ll decide upon for your gates depends really on what you want to do with them when they are finished.
Do you want to paint them, stain them or leave them a natural finish to weather naturally? We don’t recommend the latter as you’ve no protection against UV damage, and the timber will split. Some timbers take a paint better, others take a stain better…
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.
However, there is a new timber on the block that makes a mockery of ‘hardwood outlasting softwood’, it’s called Accoya. In reality, Accoya is actually a timber called Radiata Pine which has been non-toxically modified with Acetic Acid (basically vinegar); this gives the timber great durability, so much so, that the timber is rated as Class 1 durable (the highest class) and out performs every timber in its durability class. So if you’re looking for the most long lasting wood for your gates, then you want Accoya gates, just don’t expect a softwood price for anything made in Accoya, as it is a pricey timber that’s getting on for European Oak prices!
We’re also an Accoya approved joinery manufacturer.
Made-to-measure gates versus ‘standard’ size.
There are many companies selling off-the-shelf standard-sized gates; ask yourself, is my driveway ‘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, i.e. 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?
Mass produced or made to order gates?
There are various companies around that make timber gates to stock and make these gates in vast quantities; we get sent their catalogues regularly and I dare say we could import (from say, Poland, Latvia etc) these mass produced gates in bulk and sell them at a great profit for very little work on our part. We won’t. If there is one material that you should avoid buying a product in that has been (cheaply) mass produced, then it is timber.
You see, unlike metal gates, you can have the greatest made gate in the history of woodwork, BUT, if it has been stored haphazardly, it can and will twist and warp; the longer it is stored haphazardly, then the more it can twist and warp.
You also have no idea where they have been stored, whether or not they been kept out of doors in the blazing sunlight or pouring rain? If stored in blazing sunshine and not protected, they can twist, warp and split. If left to get sodden, then at some point in the future, you’ll more than likely have problems with rot!
That’s also saying nothing about construction methods that are employed in mass produced gates; the least said about some the better (see below)…and you do want your gates to last, don’t you?
So, you know the style or shape of gate you are interested in, you’ve decided between made to measure or standard sizes or mass produced 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?
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 or 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 split in the sunlight.
Ignoring the differences in gate styles, the pictures below show what I mean!
Bad gate, no protection for the top of the pickets – this gate will rot in no time as you can see!
Good gate, the top of the boards are jointed into a top rail, protecting the endgrain from water damage!
Morticed and tenon jointed gates come in three main types:
- Mortice and tenon jointed
Doweled morticed and tenon jointedDrawn mortice and tenon jointed
- Through-wedged morticed and tenon jointed
Mortice and tenon jointed gates
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.
Doweled mortice and tenon gates Drawn morticed and tenon jointed
Doweled mortice and tenon joints can be either through-morticed or, more likely, stub-tenoned. The dowel (it’s actually called a draw pin!) is a weakness as it entails a hole drilled through the face of the gate through the mortice and tenon; in time, the dowel (draw pin!) will most likely shrink (and can even fall out) and allow moisture to penetrate the gates where you need it least.
We only really recommend this on gates 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, as this is the whole point of the joint, so it can be taken apart at a later date with ease, as well as not needing a cramp when putting the gates together, as the draw pin is driven into place, it should, if done correctly, pull the joint tight.
‘Dowel’ jointed mortice and tenons are often quoted by those who do not know what they are doing as being a traditional joint; there is no such traditional joint, it’s actually a ‘drawn tenon‘ and the ‘Dowel’ is actually a draw pin!
Through-wedged morticed and tenoned gates
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. This is the traditional and proper way of manufacturing wooden gates and the one we’d recommend.
If you want to know whether the gates you are looking at are through-wedged morticed and tenoned, then the visible joint on the edge of the gate should look like the picture on the left.
As mentioned, this is the way we manufacture our gates; if you want to know more about how we make our gates then please watch the video below, or if you prefer, you can find more information on our main website at how we make our gates.
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.
Sorry boys, but the girls are right…size does matter… well, in thickness anyway!
You can get gates in all manner of thicknesses, usually if based on a morticed and tenon jointed frame, the smallest thickness is 45mm, or in old money 1 3/4″; we don’t make gates this thin, as they twist, and flimsy, they warp. As around the mortice and tenon joints, there is very little timber to secure the joint, meaning they fall apart! All our gates are based on a 70mm or 2 3/4″ thick frame; this gives strength on the joint areas and more resistance to twisting and warping.
But timber garage doors are usually 45mm / 1 3/4″ thick so what is the difference?! Garage doors sit within a rebated frame and usually (unless your garage roof has blown off!) only get hit by the wind from one direction unlike gates, which can get hit every which way! Unlike gates, garage doors and doors sit within rebated frames, this all helps keep them nice and free from twist and warp!
Whether your gate will outlast the weather?!
Like it or not, our climate is wet, in most cases, the only difference between summer and winter in the UK is that the rain is warmer, and yet, you will still find people making and selling gates with flat rails, with no way for the water to run off…WHY?
Every horizontal rail needs a water run off on the top edge, don’t believe me?! Go outside and look at any of your window cills and you’ll notice a 9 degree angle; this is for any water that hits the cill to run off, you get a build up of water on any of the cill and it can lead to fungal decay (a fancy way of saying rot). Gates are no different, this is an absolute must and is so basic if you want your gates to last.
Shown, is a top rail or head from our Denbigh gates; the heads are double-angled so water runs off in both directions. Other rails in the gates would just have the one angle, to guide the water away from the boarded area of your gates!
Timber gates with metal infills.
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.
Any timber gate with metal spindles/infills jointed into the rails will not last, it will let water in and in turn, rot from the inside.
Better is the timber gate where any fancy metal work is built on a separate metal frame and then usually screwed into the gates; this will last longer than in a gate where the rails are independently jointed into the rails; however, it will still rot, as water will get inside the screw holes and again rot the gate from the inside!
If you want a timber gate then avoid all intricate metal spindles or infill! Don’t think you can do an intricate gate in timber…think again!
Rebated meeting stiles and/or rebated gate posts.
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 (our garage doors are made this way). 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.
Again, any gate posts should not be rebated for the gate/s to close into, this stops the clear passage of air again!
Metal name plates on timber gates.
This is a pet hate of mine; call it bad marketing on our part or whatever, but these are bad. You buy a cheap nailed up, rough sawn wooden fence panel and it comes with a aluminium name plate attached: fair enough, it’s a fence panel.
You don’t go and buy a front door or a window and expect to find a name plate on it, so why should you with a gate?! If you do get a gate and it has a aluminium (or plastic!) name plate nailed or screwed to its face, then do yourself a favour and remove, it as not only will you not be able to paint or stain behind the name plate, but it will trap water there; combine these two together and your gate is off to a bad start in life.
The names have been changed to protect the…cowboys?!
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 automation, 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 Gate Safe installer for all gate automation (for both supplying the equipment and installing it), as, if it is incorrectly fitted, the automation can injure, and in extreme cases, kill; this is why we do not supply the automation equipment.
National gate fitting services
Finally, be wary of anybody who will give you a price for the installation of your new timber gates without them having first made a site visit to assess what actually needs doing. Every installation is different and if you do get a price that is fixed, you are more than likely paying over the odds to cover every possible situation the gate-fitter will come across when they turn up to fit your gates.
Fitting the gates is not really a speciality, unless they are being automated (see above). Any carpenter or joiner will have no problem whatsoever in fitting the gates for you. We do work with many joiners across the country, so we may well be able to put you in touch with somebody who can fit your gate for you.
Fancy having a go at fitting them yourself? We’ve a comprehensive timber gate fitting guide here with video!
If you are instead looking to buy wooden garage doors then please do check out the buying guide here Garage doors for sale!
Related guides: Everything you wanted to know about locks for timber gates in our Gate locks for wooden gates guide