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Gate Design and Gate Hardware

Latches, Hinges

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Picture of a gate hinge.

Picture of a gate hinge.

David Beaulieu

Perhaps you’ve noticed some gorgeous gate designs in your travels and are considering one for your own yard. Before deciding on a design, you’ll obviously have to take aesthetic considerations into account. What may be less obvious is the need to get down to the nuts and bolts of the matter. I’m talking about hardware. In an email interview on the subject that I conducted with landscape designer, Paul Corsetti, we touched on both the aesthetic considerations and the necessary gate hardware. A portion of that interview follows:

Q. Let’s discuss gate design a bit, Paul, especially how gate hardware can be dictated by practical constraints.

A. A 9 foot long gate has to be very strong to stand the bouncing and twisting it will endure in its lifetime. The gate design has to deal with its own weight and the possible weight of a human hanging on it, plus wind loading and so on. So the ornate wrought iron gate designs you sometimes see have to follow structural gate designs before they can look pretty. Cross bracing on a door that is tall and long is an important element of gate hardware, and so it is up to a good designer to work that into the gate design.

Q. Still on the subject of gate hardware, tell us about choices for gate hinges.

A. For gate hinges in iron or steel driveway gate designs, they are almost always custom fabricated to suit the gate and its span. Things like that get engineered into the overall gate design or architecture of the gate. For wood gates, usually you would run through a catalogue of gate hardware and pick what best suits the look of the gate design or the look of the home. One thing to look for is gate hinges that have ball bearings in them. That will make it easy to open and keep it working properly for years to come.

Q. For people not interested in hi-tech gate design (perhaps for a smaller fence gate, rather than a driveway gate), there’s another element of gate hardware to talk about: gate latches and gate locks. Are there any DOs and DON”Ts to discuss regarding this aspect of gate hardware?

A. In some cases with gate hardware, one should consider the size and weight of the driveway gate being installed. When a gate is repeatedly used and slammed shut, over time, the gate latches can fail if the gate door is made from a heavy material and they have small screws holding them in place or they are made from a flimsy material like cast aluminum. With enough repeated force, the aluminum gate latches can bend and warp to the point where the gate no longer latches shut. Some of the best types of gate latches and gate locks are similar in construction to that of a door handle being used on your home’s doors. It should be made of a heavy steel material and properly sealed against moisture to avoid corrosion of the locking mechanism.

The only problem with using higher quality gate latches and gate locks is that if the gate pillars are not installed properly and a shift due to frost or soft ground occurs, they are not easy to adjust because they are built into the gate frame like a door knob. Other types of gate latches held in place by screws on the exterior of the gate frame can be easily taken off, and new holes are made for the screws to relocate the gate latch so the gate would still close if it has shifted slightly.

Q. Tell us about gate post construction. What are the different types of gate post materials, and what are their pros and cons?

A. Gate post construction choices are important too. Some of the choices are:

  • Stucco
  • Natural stone
  • Cultured stone
  • Wood

All of the above can be used to achieve the look you desire in a gate design. It all depends on the budget. Natural stone is the nicest look you can give a gate post and will last forever but also costs the most to construct. Stucco and cultured stone are really just a cladding that would cover up a substructure of cement block for the pillar construction. Stucco gate posts can be painted different colors over the years to help keep them looking up to date. Cultured stone can be removed at a cost and a new style of stone can be placed on the gate pillar if you wish to change the look. Otherwise both materials will last for a great many years, provided they are cleaned of dirt and debris and sealed against moisture.

For gate post caps there are really only two choices; precast concrete or natural stone. Both materials are durable and will stand the test of time, although I am biased towards natural stone because it is a timeless look that ages and weathers nicely over the years.

Q. How closely does the architecture of the gate design have to match the style of the house? Could you give us some examples of great matches?

A. When considering gate design or the style of any outdoor structure, consistency between the style of the home and the architectural design of the structure is an important thing to have. When a designer dreams up a concept for the exterior structure, they look at scale, balance, proportion in relation to the house. A designer should also take some of the existing design elements from the home and incorporate them into the concept. Could be something as simple as a window trim feature or a design in the front door. The point is that this type of consistency will lead your eye to pick out patterns present on the property that are the same and tell the brain, “This belongs to the same home.”

Q. Any other gate design tips?

A. One of the things you see on occasion in a gate design is a beautiful header piece that sits over the driveway gate entry and gives the entrance a fancy look. When contemplating that as an addition to a gate design, consider the height of a delivery truck or moving van. If your yard is a large one with a long driveway, it can be a hassle to limit large vehicles from entering should you need them to be close to the home -- especially if it is a fire truck.

Paul has a Landscape Architecture degree from Ryerson. He owns “Hands In Nature, Landscape Designs” and practices design in co-ordination with GardenStructure.com.

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