Introduction: Garden Gate in an Afternoon With Zero Metal Fasteners

About: I am an employee of Autodesk, Inc.

This is a simple gate design that's strong, light and fun to build. It should be do-able in an afternoon, but requires a small amount of joinery. If, like me, you're pretty handy, but interested in building your woodworking skills, then this is perfect for you. This would also make a good teaching project!

I usually start with an abstract concept, and develop the design - sketch, think, repeat. Usually, only the core concept lasts all the way through to the final version. This particular design is flexible. You can easily modify the pattern to suit the width and height you will need. I have attached a sketchup file of my gate. Feel free to use this exact file, or modify it to suit your needs.

Since this was a weekend project, I didn't want to spend a lot of time preparing lumber. So, as I developed the design based on pieces of hardwood that I new were available at my local home improvement store. I made allowances in the design to tolerate the probable warping or inconsistent dimensions of their lumber.

Note: spend a good deal of time selecting your lumber. You want to look for straight even grains in hardwood. Also, it helps to look with one eye down the length of the board to detect and warping.

For this project, I purchased the following lumber:

  • (2x) 0.75" x 3.5" 6' Poplar Boards
  • (1x) 0.75" x 1.5" 6' Poplar Boards
  • (8x) 0.75" x 6' DIA Poplar Rounds
  • (3x) 1.75" x 1.75" x 3' Poplar Boards
  • (1x) 0.5" x 3' DIA Walnut Dowel (oak will do just fine)
Note: a commenter has pointed out that poplar isn't the best choice for an outdoor setting. He recommends white oak, among other species. See comments for more information.

I recommend that you have the following tools available:

  • 0.75" and 0.50" DIA forstner bits (Regular drill bit will do in a pinch) need one?
  • Drill Press (If you try to use a handheld drill, you're gonna have a bad time)
  • Medium Chisel (keep it sharp!) need one?
  • Mallet or Dead Blow Hammer
  • Japanese Saw (If you've never tried one of these, you're missing out.) need one?
  • 220 Grit sandpaper

A note on sealing/finishing: Normally, I use a molten mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. However, due to the outdoor exposure of this gate, I'll be using a simple low-voc oil based clear finish. Use whatever you like.

Step 1: Measure and Layout the Crosspieces

Take your time here, this is the most crucial part of the process. Since we will be relying on the precise alignment of the rounds to give strength to our gate, we need to make sure the holes are perfectly aligned in each cross-piece. You should be able to get the dimensions from the sketchup file.


  • Measure from one side only. Mark it with pencil to remember.

  • Transfer measurements from the first cross piece to the others.

  • Don't forget about pencil width. Make notes to yourself ON THE WOOD about which side of a line to hit, etc.

Step 2: Bore and Chisel the Cross Piece Thru-Holes

Use the 0.75" forstner bit to bore the holes for the rounds. You will get a cleaner back edge if you use a piece of scrap under the coss piece to drill into.

We will also use the same forstner bit to remove some of the wood from the square thru-hole to make our lives easier. After the holes are bored, we just have to square up the corners with our (sharpened!) chisel. Press the chisel into the pencil line first, then use the mallet to tap the chisel through the wood while keeping it square.

Step 3: Bore the Holes for the Hardwood Pins

Now is the time to bore holes for the hardwood pins that will hold the frame together. Use the drill press with the 0.50" forstner bit. I recommend locating the pins at quarter-points or third-points of the tenon's width.

Step 4: Create the Forked Edge Mortises

Use a bandsaw if you have one. Otherwise, a Japanese saw will do splendidly. Cut out the forked mortise, but leave the back face of it round. The reason for this is to avoid a sharp corner which could eventually split the wood.

Step 5: Layout, Cut and Shape the Rounded Shoulders in Edge Pieces

This is probably the trickiest bit of carpentry because you'll have to do it by hand. Basically, we need to turn the outer frame pieces into tenons which will fit nicely into the forked mortises on the ends of the cross pieces. We will be giving it a small shoulder to interlock for strength. Also, we will be rounding this shoulder to fit right into the rounded mortise.

Step 6: Assemble Gate Frame and Insert Rounds

OK! now the fun part.

Slide the center square frame piece through the cross pieces to align them. Then drop in the outer frame pieces. They should be pretty snug in their mortises.

Now, you will have to slide the rounds through the aligned holes in the cross pieces. You will need a mallet for this. Don't worry too much about damaging the ends of the rounds with the mallet, as we will be trimming them later.

Tip: If you have a round that gets stuck halfway, rub a bar of soap against it to help it slide.

Step 7: Fix Hardwood Pins

Now, its time to pin the frame in its final shape. Get everything nice and squared up, then clamp it down if you feel like it might move. (It will likely be incredibly stable at this point)

So, at this point, the pin holes are through the cross-pieces only, and not the frame pieces. We did this to allow some wiggle-room in our carpentry. Now, we need to use a drill bit to bore a precisely aligned hole through the frame piece. After each hole, we need to push a length of the 0.50" dowel through. This will make the very strong. You can either pre-cut the pins, or trim them off the dowel as you push them through. If you pre cut them, be sure to leave some extra room to trim off when finishing.

Tip: Measure diagonals to check if the frame is square.

Step 8: Cut Gate to Shape

Use a push-pin, pencil and a piece of string to create a crude compass. This will allow you to scribe the radius of the top of the gate. Also, mark a line across the bottom of the gate to make sure we have a square bottom.

Now, use the Japanese saw to cut the gate into its final shape.

Step 9: Trim Hardwood Pins and Cross Pieces

Use the Japanese saw to trim off the extra pin-length and any projection of the cross-piece mortises.

Step 10: Sand and Seal Gate

For this project, we don't need a high polish. Just give it a once over with some 220 grit sandpaper torn into quarter sheets.

I will be using a simple oil-based clear wood sealer. You can use something else, or nothing at all. Follow the instructions on the can. (typically I use a beeswax-mineral oil blend)

Step 11: Hang the Gate

Get the beefiest gate hardware you can find. Mounting instructions will vary, but here is how it worked out for us. I ended up using one of the hardwood pin holes to pass through a bolt for the strap hinge.

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