When we moved to our homestead a couple years ago, one of the first things we noticed was that over the years the resident squirrels had most graciously planted a black walnut grove in the yard. The entire yard. The trees would have to come down because they were taking up our outdoor living space. We hated the idea of having to cut down those little trees, but we knew that we would put the wood to good use! And thus, our rustic outdoor garden gates were born.
Wondering how to build a garden gate from small trees and sticks?
Looking to build a cheap but beautiful garden gate?
Want a natural looking door for an orchard, garden, or backyard?
Now, we’re not professional builders by any means… in fact, we’re quite novice at it. Which means that our methods are probably not perfect, and my explanation of them will be crude. But if we can do it, you can too, and we’ll try to show you how. It’s a rustic garden gate after all, plenty of room for error, um… creativity.
How to Build a Rustic Garden Gate
These instructions are for double- or french style doors. Making a single door gate is easily adapted from these instructions.
1. Determine the width of the gates.
Measure the space that the gates will cover- how wide will your gates need to be? Also consider any equipment that you will need to fit through the space before deciding where your posts will go. For our gate posts, we used treated cedar-tone 4X4s.
Our gates are each (about) three feet wide, for a total of a six foot wide opening. We contemplated four foot wide gates and ultimately decided against it, which I am glad we did because they might have been too heavy and saggy otherwise.
For building the gate frames, we left 1/2″ on each door for the hinge allowance, and another 1/2″ for the space between the doors. 6 feet door span = 72″… minus 1.5″ for allowances = 70.5 inches of total gate needed. Divded by 2 gates = 35.25″ per gate exact frame width.
2. Build the frame.
Remember that you’re working with sticks, so it should be close, but it isn’t going to be perfect.
For each gate, make a frame with the 2×4 on the outside, a larger and fairly straight stick on the inside, and two horizontal sticks on top of those for the top and bottom. We chose a piece of lumber (instead of another stick) for the hinge side of the door so that the hinges would sit flush and the door would swing nicely and not be a pain in the rear. We used our biggest, nicest, straightest sticks for the frame. And as you can see, we cut off almost all of the side branches on the frame sticks except for the inner vertical stick, which we left wild on top!
We measured (a lot) and used a carpenters square to make sure the frame was square, pre-drilled the holes (because we were using very hard black walnut) and used either 2″ or 3″ coated deck screws (we used green coated and they totally disappeared into the sticks!). For this step, we used one screw in each end of each horizontal stick to screw them into the verticals.
The last step of the frame was to add a diagonal stick to keep the door square and prevent sagging. Make sure it goes from the top hinge side to the bottom where the doors meet- not the other way around. This diagonal stick goes in the same layer as the horizontal sticks, essentially making a “Z” shape- don’t place the diagonal on top of the horizontal boards, otherwise you’ll have three layers deep of sticks.
3. Place the vertical sticks.
We laid out all of the sticks we had to work with, propped the frame up and started determining which sticks would go where, simply by looking at what looked good where and what fit nicely together. We had about 10 big sticks (1.5-2″) and unlimited smaller sticks (1″ or smaller). We would space out and place the big sticks first, then fill in the gaps with smaller sticks. All of these sticks go in the same layer as the vertical side frame sticks.
And if you’re wondering, my cabbage patch is evidence that a full grown rabbit can fit through a 2″ gap in the fence. So space your sticks accordingly and fill in those gaps!
This was the artistic part- to fit all the sticks together and weave them in and out. We looked at each stick, determined which plane of branches we liked the best and used our favorite ratchet lopper (an indispensable tool that we use ALL the time) to take off all of the branches not in that plane. See what I mean? We didn’t want branches protruding out from the door, we wanted them all fairly flush with the door. And of the branches we left on, sometimes we cut length off of really long ones, or got rid of one all together if it just didn’t play well with the others.
We spent close to two hours cutting, weaving, and securing all of the sticks in both gates. We put one screw in the bottom of every vertical stick, and most of the time, one in the top also. Where we could, we also put a screw into the cross stick.
I left the sticks tall and wild on top. I wasn’t sure the exact look I was going for or if I would want to cut them when it was all finished. Turns out, that I loved the way it looked and didn’t want to cut them. If you’re not feeling quite as wild and crazy, at least wait until the very end, until all the sticks are placed and screwed in, before cutting.
4. Add the hinges.
The hinges should be equally spaced vertically along the length of the 2X4. Karl says ours are 8″ from the top or bottom of the gates. We used two heavy duty gate hinges, but you may need three if your gates are bigger than ours.
Use the longest screws possible without them poking out the other side (we used a 3″ screw for the post side and a 1.5″ on the door side). If you don’t know how to match up the right screws with hinges… maybe you can ask for help in the hardware department.
Karl’s directions: “Open the hinge so that it is flat. The center hinge-pin (the part that sticks out in the middle) should be facing whichever way you want the door to open. There are likely two notches on the top and bottom of the hinge you can use as a guide to evenly line them up. The goal is to make sure the hinges are lined up with each other. Line up the hinge on the board and use a pencil to mark the holes. Pre-drill the holes and then screw the hinge flap to the gate.”
5. Hang the doors.
To screw the hinge to the post, Karl used a rock under the door as a spacer to prop and hold the door up about where we wanted it. Keep in mind the space under the gates- try to get them as close to the ground as possible, while making sure they will still be able to swing. Also consider that it might be easier to add dirt or rocks underneath the door, than it is to get the doors hung perfectly where you want them.
With the hinge attached to the door and flapped open, leave about 1/2″ between the post and the edge of the 2X4. A buddy here is helpful to hold things up. Put one screw in each hinge first… that way if you mess something up, you don’t have to take out a lot of screws. And do one screw in each hinge on both gate, so you can make sure they line up nicely, before fully committing with all the other screws.
If everything looks and moves good, screw in the rest of screws.
6. Add a latch.
The final touch was to add a hook and eye latch on both the inside and outside of the gates… we did both sides because I like the doors to stay firmly shut when I’m in there, so chickens and barn cats don’t sneak in (and then get locked in!) when I’m not looking. We used a three-inch latch, which you can get in boring steel color, or neat decorative latch with antique finish.
Then you can stand back, enjoy your resourcefulness, and plant some veggies!
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