Introduction: Hack Your Baby-gate for Narrow Doorways

For some reason, nearly all baby gates start at 28-inches wide.  I live in an older home and it has some quirks.  One quirk is that all of our closets have very narrow openings.  I have scoured the internets for a gate that will fit into a 23-inch opening, but the best I could find is one for 26-3/4".  

Many of you may ask, "Why don't you just close the closet door?"  My response is that I would love to just close the door, but the unusual location and construction of the closet makes that difficult.  This particular closet has a high humidity problem and it needs to stay open at all times.  So rather than expose my boy to the uncertain dangers of an unattended shoe rack, I decided to hack an off-the-shelf baby gate.

I have experience with a few different brands of baby-gates. Most of them use the same linear ratcheting mechanism to get the gate to fit snugly into the door-jam. This instructable should be applicable to most linear ratcheting gates because they typically have excess material that can be cut away.

Materials needed:
  • (1) Safety 1st 23" Wood Gate -- $12.99 at local Babies R Us.  The 23" actually refers to height
  • drill
  • 7/32" drill bit
  • replacement hardware
    • (1) 2" aluminum screw post
    • (1) 1-1/4" aluminum screw post
    • (1) 3/4" aluminum screw post
    • (1) 5/8" aluminum screw post
  • screw driver
  • pair of pliers
  • hand-saw
  • pencil
  • roll of masking tape
This project should take about an hour.

Step 1: Disassemble

The gate needs to be disassembled in order to get access to the parts that must be modified.  The linear ratcheting mechanism needs to be removed and broken into its component parts.  The two main panels must also be separated.

Drill out rivets:
  • Lay the gate on a flat table-top, with the flares of the rivet faced up.
  • From below, grab the edge of the flat end of the rivet with the pliers.
  • While holding the rivet to prevent rotation, drill out the flared end of the rivet.  I used a large bit (3/8") for added strength and to make sure it stayed centered over the workpiece, but you may find it just as convenient to use the 7/32" bit for this operation.  Your choice.
  • Be careful not to put too much pressure or else: A) you may spin the rivet instead of drilling the material, or B) you may score the surrounding material by suddenly breaking through.  A sharp drill bit is key.
  • Remove remaining flared material with the pliers and tap the rivet thought the hole.  Be careful of sharp edges.
Remove brackets:
  • Remove (2) top and (2) bottom brackets with a screwdriver.
  • Pull apart panels.
  • Save parts for later reassembly.
You should now have the following pieces:
  • (2) panels
  • upper linear ratcheting mechanism support
  • lower linear ratcheting mechanism support
  • linear ratcheting mechanism clip
  • linear ratcheting mechanism link
  • (4) panel brackets

Step 2: Determine New Layout

Measure the door opening you plan to use with the gate.  You may find that without the linear ratcheting mechanism, the gate may appear capable of spanning a more narrow opening.  However the gate is relatively useless without the ratcheting mechanism, so you need to determine the narrowest opening it could cover with the mechanism attached.  Use the rivet-pins you just removed to loose-fit the linear ratcheting mechanism and the two panels together.  Compare that measurement with your door opening.  Hopefully you will have enough to continue.  If not, you may have to reconsider this approach.

In order to make the gate work as intended, the linear ratcheting mechanism needs to be more compact.  This typically involves some variation on the theme of removing material. There are three potential points of adjustment.  These points include both ends of the linear ratcheting mechanism, and the link between the top and the bottom support of the mechanism.  The blue arrows in the pictures below give you an idea how they may be modified.

Depending on how much you need to reduce the size of the gate, you might change just one.  In this case, you will need to adjust all three in order to maximize narrowness.  This gate can be reduced to 22-1/2", which is conservative enough to cover my 23" doorway.

In order to determine the location(s) of new holes, you must first establish your fixed boundaries consistent with the limitations of the linear ratcheting mechanism.  They include the fat end of the lower support and the span of the notches in the upper support.

Start on the right side and temporarily pin the lower support to the panel.  Relocate the linear ratcheting mechanism clip so it is flush with the last notch on the upper support.  Slide the upper support so the clip nearly touches the inside edge of the panel.  Tack the three pieces together with a small piece of tape.

On the left side, set the link into the first notch and position the open end of the link over the lower support.  The link should be positioned diagonally down to the left.  Mark the new hole for the lower support.  Then move the upper support over the preexisting hole and transfer the location with a pencil.  Once that is all marked you are ready to drill.

Step 3: Drill New Holes

Drill all of the new holes you marked out in the previous step using the 7/32" bit.  You may find that the existing holes do not fit the screw posts either, so you will have to ream them as well.  

If you are stacking pieces together, make sure you line everything up.  Otherwise the holes are liable to distort as the drill bit "walks" its way through the material.  

Step 4: Mark Excess Material and Cut

Connect all of your pieces together for a test fit.  This will help you double-check your work so you don't mistakenly remove too much material and ruin the gate.  There are three places where you are likely to find the most excess:
  1. the upper linear ratcheting mechanism support
  2. the lower linear ratcheting mechanism support
  3. all four corners of the gate, i.e. two corners per panel
When marking the excess that can be cut off from the upper and lower supports, leave about 1/2" of reveal to ensure that there is enough material to support the connection.  On the other hand, the corners can be cut flush with the edge of the panels.

Step 5: Reassemble

Replace drilled out rivets with aluminum screw posts and reconnect the linear ratcheting mechanism.  The gate will not function correctly until the brackets are reattached.  Align the two panels and tack them together with masking tape.  

Reattach the brackets similar to the way they were attached before.  Position them on the edge of the panels, close to the vertical supports with the rubber feet, but not touching.  Be sure to alternate the orientation of the brackets so they hold the panels together as the gate expands into the doorway.

When mounting the brackets, you should position the gate over the corner of a table.  This will give both panels equal support and make it easier for you to attach the brackets.

Step 6: Conclusions

At the end of the project, you should have been able to take 4-1/4" off of the gate.  It is possible to reduce the gate by another half-inch or so by trimming reinforcement off the fat end of the lower linear ratcheting support.  But then you risk undermining the compressive strength of the gate.  I wouldn't recommend it, but the alternative is available.

UPDATE: At the narrowest settings, the gate does not fine-tune very well. You may find that the gate locks-out too small and pushes over too easily, while the next notch up makes it lock-out too big and cannot fit at all. If you want to make the gate extra snug, resist the temptation to use the larger setting and over-stress the ratchet. The aluminum screw posts are not as strong as the original steel rivets, and I have broken two already. Instead consider using a rubber garden hose washer as a shim and attach it with double-side tape.

That said, any time you mess with baby products, you may reduce their quality or effectiveness. Before you lay your baby's fortunes in your handiwork, your best option is to ask your spouse or significant other. If they don't think it looks safe, than it probably isn't.