Introduction: Building a Backyard Speakeasy Gate
For the most part, I hate rustic design. I loathe the idea of non-smooth surfaces littered with tear out and oblong pieces fitting together. Things that are friction fit without regard for whether they actually fit and there's some sort of conical tenon crammed into a reamed hole and the maker is claiming "it's rustic bro". Well maybe I don't hate proper rustic design but just what it's been made out to be. And yes, for the most part rustic furniture and rustic design has become a cop out for folks and their mistakes. Oh I dropped something on this table top surface and it left a dent and I don't feel like dealing with it? Rustic. Oh I sanded through one layer or paint on some stupid thing I found at a garage sale and now I'm putting another layer of paint but i want to make it look like there's been ten layers of paint on this over five years? Rustic. But I digress...
I was approached by a local design influencer who I never expected to be approached by to build some clean but rustic inspired round top gates. She wanted them done in speakeasy style (we didn't know the terminology when we started), but there were three... one to close off the yard, one to block off her utilities [A/C, pool pumps, sprinkler controls, etc.] and another used as a dog gate to keep them from charging out to the street when the front gate was open.
The end product was awesome and while these are simple, yet approachable builds. The principles in them are not often used in outdoor furniture. For the most part, I've found outdoor gates to be whipped together from fence pickets and 2x4's. This build, is similar to a table top in the sense that it's constructed primarily from 2x8's and kept mostly flat with a breadboard end. There's a million ways to do this, but hopefully this article inspires you to work this your own way.
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Step 1: Joining the Door
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a quality project begins with surfaced and squared stock. Yes, I know, I don't have a jointer (I'm accepting donations if you're interested but you'll have to pay for the space to house it too) so I use the track saw to give me a 90 degree edge as an alternative, and then use my thickness planer and table saw to get me to final dimension.
For this specific video, I’m really focusing on one of three gates for this commission, and the primary source material is western red cedar 2x8’s, with a 2x4 as a breadboard end at the base to keep everything flat. The other gates are largely built of the same material in varying lengths, but the concept is the same. I essentially have two full length and width gates, and one much smaller gate, that'll explain later. We'll call that the "baby" gate as it's primarily for keeping the dogs in the yard.
I shuffle everything around to find the most appealing grain direction before numbering the boards, and then mark them to get dominos to join them together. Biscuits would also work fine here. Honestly, there's a million ways to join these boards. However, whereas for the most part I say pocket holes work fine in a lot of these applications, pocket holes will not work fine here for a couple reasons. 1) The v-groove between the boards is gonna make the hole placement weird and 2) plugging them is going to look stupid. If you're on the more budget conscious side, dowels or even the rockler bead lock system is also a viable option for this.,
With the domino mortises I go with tight on one side of a seam and loose on the other to ensure that I’ve got a bit of flexibility in the glue up, which ultimately takes the stress out of that process. Then to get that more rustic feel with a visual break, or a V groove between the boards, a 45 degree chamfer will go on all corners. And since this is an outdoor project, I’m going to use epoxy for the major "glue" applications.
This product is called crackzilla from MAS epoxies which they sent out to me a while back. I was jonesing to find a good use for it and this was a great option. I like the fact it has the self mixing syringe and you can use it in a caulk gun. If you don’t use it all in one go, it stores nicely as well.
Step 2: Prepping the Breadboard End
So there's a few things going on here with science and physics. Number one: by eliminating the corners of each board to create that V groove you're going to lose some lateral strength across the width of the board. Essentially, the door is going to want to flex across it's width like a wave or waggling a rug. So secondly: a breadboard end on at least one side is going to counteract that and make the gate more streamline as opposed to your typical rustic or shadowbox style gate. What is a breadboard end you ask? Well it's a tenoned in end that runs perpendicular to your grain direction of your major glue up. It caps the end to keep it flat and in this instance will also keep the overall profile of the gate thin.
Here, I'm using half inch cedar stock to create a floating tenon, which is not traditional of a true breadboard end, but by epoxying the floating tenon into the door stock itself and at each seam between the boards sitting perpendicular to the breadboard end, we'll create increased strength as well as an ability for the entire door to remain flat. There is a chance it may flex at the top, but over time, I find it highly unlikely and that the bottom breadboard should be the controlling factor in limiting or managing the wood movement so that this door doesn't end up as a potato chip.
Step 3: Mounting the Breadboard End
Mounting breadboard ends is simple draw bore mortise and tenon joinery ultimately. Pre-mark your mortise for your dowel with a brad point bit then offset the hole toward the shoulder anywhere from 1/16-1/32 of an inch. This can depend on whether you're using softwoods or hardwood but the ultimate concept is that you want the breadboard end to draw closer to your perpendicular stock and the dowel is supposed to bend ever so slightly in the hole. It certainly helps to chamfer your penetrating end I would advise a pencil sharpener to be a great way to get the dowel to set properly. Once driven through, the excess can be safely trimmed off with a flush trim saw.
Step 4: Cutting the Rounded Top
Here I’m just marking for center to figure out the mounting point for the router circle jig. Marking for center is a pretty simple concept but when you have a lot of real estate to cover, picking an equal length spot on both edges and drawing from those to the opposing corner will create an X, and that will give you a more accurate center than trying to pin down a measurement with a tape measure.
Then running the circle jig I'll do multiple passes until only about a 1/4 inch is left and I'll trim that off with the jig saw and flush up with the router.
Step 5: The Port
Before moving to the port everything is hit with a round over to smooth out all the edges and transitions. A hallmark for a Speakeasy style gate or door is a look through port, essentially a giant peep hole so you can see folks on the other side. This particular gate doesn’t have a door inside the port. The nearly identical one that I didn’t film does. The processes between the two are extremely similar. I use a plunge cut with the track saw which can be a bit awkward because of the riving knife but a jig saw a fair bit of clean up work would also be effective. If you’re going to have the door in the port, you’ll want to do your best to save the cut out piece so you can clean it up and use it.
Step 6: Trimming the Opening
I couldn’t with good conscience do the port without trimming it out so I decided to take the opportunity to experiment with some cove cutting on the table saw to make some trim. I’m not going to go into crazy detail here but I will say it’s phenomenally less sketchy than you think it is. If you’re going to be making trim and need fairly identical pieces it’s helpful to do identical passes on all your stock. I wanted to do one profile on one side of the door and another on the other, so I’m ultimately cutting these coves and then will snip off a bit to create two different profiles. Therefore, what would potentially be waste, is just another profile off trim.
Step 7: Install and Finishing
These gates were done for a local design influencer Galey who wanted to be a part of the install. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been able to put the client to work and among her talents she was great at helping with attention to detail such as painting over all the screw heads and paying attention to aesthetics like hinge placement. I honestly can’t thank her enough for the opportunity and I’m looking forward to a few more projects coming up with her in the future.
As far as actually installing the gate between posts, have plenty of shims on handy and if your'e planning on using a lockset, the lockset kits by Ryobi or honestly any other brand are extremely useful and relatively inexpensive. I found it helpful to have the hardware and hinges screwed into the gate itself first and then using the shims to align it just right so that the reveal was even and the look was aesthetically on point.
Step 8: Closing
And that’s a wrap on this one. I’m really thrilled with how this project turned out and more importantly Galey is just as excited if not moreso than I am. As I said before, this was a three gate project and this video really only focused on the one. There was also what I dubbed the baby gate which was a dog gate that created a puppy air lock of sorts between the front gate and the back yard. And the front gate had a speak easy port with a door as well as a keypad entry. If you’re interested in this hardware, check out VanDyke’s Restorer’s, I’ll have a link to them back in the supplies section. They’re not a sponsor but all the hardware was sourced from them.
Step 9: Aaron Mattia
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge the maker community's loss of Aaron Mattia and briefly talk about my encounter with him. I was up at Maker Camp a couple weeks prior to this posting and had the opportunity to meet Aaron at Jimmy Diresta's shop as well as work with him during the timber in. We didn't say a whole lot to each other but his excitement and love for Jimmy as well as the community was clearly palpable. From talking to the other folks up there, it's clear that he was adored and will be greatly missed. This video is dedicated to his memory and it's my hope that others will step up to be even a fraction of the man he was for this community. Keep loving and keep making.
Participated in the