The Latches

The fence project started on the 4th of July, and ended for now in November. The final piece was to add some latch hardware to the three gates. We have two simple gates and one big enough to drive a truck through into the back yard if we need that. We used different latches for each of the gates.

The front gate of course has self-closing hinges. Just a little preloaded spring in both top and bottom hinges. I used a latch that you can’t see from the outside, and if you enter from the outside, you have to reach inside the gate and dare that snarling terrier not to shred your fingers.

The gates were just sections of fence that I took apart and reassembled, and added hardware. After putting the fence sections on hinges, we let the gates settle for a few weeks, and allowed them to see some weather. We noticed that rain causes the wood to swell and makes the latches come out of adjustment to some extent. Each gate has also required some bracing. We used wire supports to keep the lower outside corner of each gate from sagging. This consisted of a couple of angle braces, a wire and a turnbuckle.

Just a word to non-engineers about bracing – don’t believe in fairy tales. The strongest angle is 45 degrees, even if one support is not at the end of the gate section. Here’s a picture of the setup. I had to add a small block behind the picket at the top to hold the angle bracket, and then the lower bracket fit over the fence cross pieces. The wire had to be clamped to itself, and the kit from Lowes included the hardware to do this. You could do it two ways: with a long wire, and 2 short loops, one on either end with one clamp per loop, or with a shorter wire with 2 clamps on a single loop. The advice here is that 2 clamps on a single loop gives you far less chance of the wire connections failing, and the 45 degree angle is the strongest. So while aesthetically, you might have wanted to make the wire go from the hinge to the lower corner, it really just need to go from the bottom to the top at 45 degrees. It doesn’t really matter if it attaches at the hinge or at the lower corner. The brace going the other direction (to make an X with the wire) really would add more in weight than it would in strength, so I left that out.

Even the wider fence just got a brace at 45 degrees. It took a while to convince Kim of all of this engineering, but we agreed that I would not try to argue with her about architecture if she would not argue with me about engineering.

The walk-through gate in the back was going to see a little more use, so we got a different latch. This one you could open from the outside. To make this work, I had to drill a hole through the gate for the thumb lever to move the latch on the inside of the gate.

With the wire brace and the turnbuckle, the gate is highly adjustable. With the spring loaded hinges, it closes itself. So it wound up to be a nice set of latching, self closeing gates.

The big gate for the riding lawn mower and truck in the back was a little different. We needed to gate the entire 8 foot width, so I hinged a 5 foot section for the most common usage – the riding lawn mower. This section just has a dead bolt type of mechanism that goes straight down and into a little pipe in the ground. The remaining 3 feet were on a bit of a hill, so a hinged gate really wouldn’t work here. I built an angled section of fence which is held to a post by a couple of brackets, but you can remove the panel if you need the full 8 foot opening for the truck. Then another sliding bolt latch connects the top of the 5 foot section to the top of the 3 foot section. A picture is worth a thousand words, really, so here’s the pic of this arrangement.

The hinges were harder to select than you might think. You have to think of how the hinges will attach to the fence, which direction they will open, and if you will have enough range of motion in that direction. Of course self-closing hinges are one option, but there are other options for springs or weights with pulleys to get gates to close automatically. Because this fence does not have a solid outside (there are gaps between the pickets), the hinges had to be on the inside, which limits the motion in both directions. We might have solved this another way by adding pickets to the areas of the fence and gate near the hinges so the hinges could be placed on the outside of the fence, which would have been much easier and cleaner. But now we’ll know that for the next fence we build.