Canadian Woodworking

Build a Gate

Author: Frank Pellow
Photos: Frank Pellow
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: April May 2014

This stylish gate, with contrasting glass panel, will be the centerpiece of your yard.


  • COST

Recently my daughter Kristel and I tore down the old cedar fence on one side of her house, refinished all the nonrotted wood in the fence, then rebuilt it with a new gate. The old fence was very poorly built, and had even fallen down in the past, necessitating emergency repairs; it was time to do it right.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Once the old boards were dry enough, Pellow sanded them down and put them back to work again.

Structural Frame
 The longest frame members were half-lapped together, for strength. The other parts were screwed in place with exterior screws.

Simple Solution
 Where there was too much material Pellow drilled a 1/2” diameter hole to the required depth, then added a screw to fasten the frame members together.

Cut the Opening
 Lay out and cut the opening to size. Be sure to have the piece of glass you’re using on hand before you start building the frame, as you don’t want to have problems at this stage of the game.

Frame it In
Create the frame with rabbets sized to accommodate the piece of glass you have. Once the parts are machined they can be screwed together.

Hang it High
 Attach all the necessary hardware then hang the gate to make sure everything lines up before applying a finish.

 Make it Yourself
If you are up for a fun challenge, try your hand at making stained glass panels yourself. This way you can customize the panel to any colour and pattern you would like. The same skills can be used to create interior glass panels for future projects, as well.

Reuse what you can

Although poorly built, the fence yielded some wood that could be reused. Only the spots on the boards that came into contact with the ground had to be removed. The posts had been anchored in concrete but the 8″ or so just below the surface of the ground had been left without surrounding concrete and had rotted most, or all, of the way through. I cut all the fence boards and fence posts down to 54″ and 60″, respectively.

The fence, being in bad shape, came down in one morning. The first challenge we were faced with was that it rained steadily for two days before we took down the fence and the boards were very wet. Then the weather continued to be cold and damp for most of the week. We put all the boards in the garage to dry. They eventually did get dry enough that they could be sanded, but with some boards this took many days.

The concrete remained in the ground and this meant that I had to be careful to alter the position of the posts. I utilized the same type of post spikes that I have recently been using on fences, arbours, and small buildings and these were easy to drive into the wet ground.

Rough sanding

After waiting a day, I picked some of the driest boards and cleaned them up using my sander. Using an aggressive sander with good quality abrasives, it took me about five minutes to clean up each of the approximately 100 fence boards. The boards cleaned up nicely and I was able to rebuild the fence, this time properly.

I decided to build a gate with an embedded square of glass in it. A couple of years ago I found several panes of glass in a bargain bin at a stained glass supply store. I purchased them for about $7 each, even though I could not envision using them in a stained glass art piece. It occurred to me that one of these panes would look great in this gate. I do make stained glass panels which could also be used in a gate, but with glass like this available there is no need.

As with most projects I tackle for the first time, I started by making a prototype to work out the design and construction details. Everyone liked the prototype, which meant that the real thing could now be designed and built.

Structural frame

It turned out that the gate itself was fine, only the design of the glass frame needed to be accounted for, and incorporated into the gate. You will have to start from scratch, but it’s not difficult.

The structural frame for the gate was made with cedar 2x4s. I cut the members to size and screwed them together using two 3″ deck screws at each joint. If you’re at all unsure about the exact dimensions you are dealing with, and how long to cut the frame members, make a full-size drawing on some cheap sheet stock to guide you. The design of the frame I made took into account the size of glass panel I was going to use. If you are using a different size panel you will have to make some adjustments. Be sure to stick with the general structural frame shape I have used, unless you can create a different, but equally strong, frame for your gate and glass panel.

Because of the angles the screws were sometimes not long enough to extend into the far piece. A 1/2″ diameter hole was drilled to the desired depth at each joint so the screw could penetrate deep enough into the adjoining board, holding the frame parts snugly together.

Add decking boards

With the frame laying on a flat surface, I attached 5/4 x 6 cedar decking boards to its face, with the gap centered on the gate. I made sure the decking boards were attached evenly and squarely to the frame with cedar decking screws. By locating a temporary center point in the middle of the gate, 20″ above the bottom of the gate, I drew an arc with a long piece of string that reached the top of the deck boards. After marking the arc with a pencil it was cut using my jigsaw. A fine-toothed blade helps reduce tear-out.

Next, a 14″ x 14″ opening for the glass pane was cut into the gate boards, again using a jigsaw. Be sure to create an opening sized for the glass panel you have. I first marked straight lines on the deck boards, then checked my glass panel again for size, before making the final cuts.

Glass frames

Using a dado blade on my table saw, I made two frames out of left over long lengths of 5/4 cedar. The front and back frames are identical except for the extra

3/8″  x 9/16″ notch cut into the inner edge of the back frame in order to accommodate the glass. Again, the exact dimensions you should use are dependent on the glass panel and the Plexiglas panels you are working with. With the frame rabbeted, I mitred the corners of the front and back frame to the correct length but attached only the back frame to the gate for now.

The front frame will be attached once the finish has been applied to both the gate and front frame and the glass panel is in place.

Final assembly and installation

In the interest of safety, the glass pane was encased with a Plexiglas pane on each side, even though thick glass is pretty durable. The gate was stained to match the rest of the fence, the Plexiglas and glass were installed, then the front frame was screwed into place. With the gate complete I attached hinges and hung the gate.

A great advantage of this design is that the glass pane can easily be replaced by removing only four screws. My 12-year-old granddaughter suggested that we “jazz up” the gate for the autumn season. We did this by hanging some garlands on the posts, switching the green glass with blue, and inserting a red maple leaf between the Plexiglas panels. It was very easy to do, and the options are pretty much limitless. This can be done for each season.

Making Stained Glass Panels

I make stained glass panels and could have made some for this gate, but with the glass I already had there was no need.

I read the book “Homegrown Glass from the Garden” by Clara Burris. It can be obtained from most stained glass supply shops. Stained glass art is something that I always appreciated, but it intimidated me. Three years ago I attended a “Stained Glass for Woodworkers” seminar at Lee Valley Tools and learned that it’s really not that difficult. Since then, I have made approximately 30 windows and the time taken to make a small window has dropped to about six hours.

Although there are many small details to consider, this is the basic approach. Start by gluing a pattern to a board. Trace the outline of one or more pieces onto the appropriate glass with a permanent marker, then cut the pieces of glass with a diamond wheel cutter. Wrap each piece with copper foil, fit the pieces together like a jigsaw, then apply solder to the joints. Finally, use zinc channel on the four outer edges.

Rather not use glass for a gate panel? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More Outdoor projects to consider
Username: Password: