Build a Japanese-Style Garden Gate
Versatile assembly can be adapted to any gate design.
When we moved west and bought a fixer-upper in Portland, Oregon, one of my first to-do items was replacing a broken-down fence with one of my own design. I hired pros to set the posts, but did everything else myself, including building a Japanese-style arch over the gate opening. The plan was to cook up an eye-catching gate in a similar style.
I’ve learned not to rush the design stage, so I visited the excellent Portland Japanese Garden, took pictures of every door and gate I found there, and did some digging online. This gate, with falling ginkgo leaves pierced through the lower panel and traditional Japanese gridwork at the top, is the result.
Water, weather, and weight are tough on gates, and over the years they tend to sag. The usual solution is a diagonal rod, surface-mounted and tightened with a turnbuckle. But in my research, I didn’t see any Japanese carpenters resorting to such contrivances, so I didn’t plan to either. Like them, I relied on the right materials and robust joints to keep the gate square and swinging smoothly. After more than a year, it hasn’t sagged a centimeter in its 4-ft. opening. Better yet, the gate is obviously custom-made, and never fails to grab visitors’ attention.
Sturdy frame for gates of any size
The first step in the engineering was to choose the wood, which was easy. Widely available and affordable, western red cedar offers an excellent combination of strength, weight, and weather resistance. I started by picking very straight, 1-1⁄2-in.-thick decking boards out of the lumberyard pile, and milled them down to 1-1⁄4 in. using my thickness planer. This gave me boards that are thick enough to resist warping and bowing, and to accommodate the 1⁄2-in.-thick tenons I was planning, without…