Fence Gate Question

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Forum topic by Jonathan posted 09-28-2010 02:58 PM 1738 views 1 time favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2609 posts in 3592 days

09-28-2010 02:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: fence gate arbor trellis cedar shrinkage

We have recently completed building a cedar fence in our backyard. I want to add an arbor over the gate area that leads into the alley as not only a decorative element, but also to help keep the gate posts square.

I sunk two-4”x6” cedar posts well into the ground. The posts are about 57” apart. I want to add two-2”x6” cedar beams across the top of the posts as the crossbeams for the arbor slats on top. There will be one crossbeam on the inside of the fence and one on the outside of the fence. I plan on running carriage bolts through the posts and securing it all together.

This is all fairly straightforward and easily accomplished. My question lies in the use of the wood itself. I’ll be using regular cedar 2”x6” for this from the local lumberyard, or possibly big box store. Since the wood is all still “wet”, I am concerned about the shrinkage once the wood begins to dry. I don’t want the stringers cracking, or potentially trying to pull/draw the top of the posts towards each other.

I just don’t want to make a mistake that’s actually going to compromise the work I’ve already done. The beams running across the top are supposed to make the gate stronger, not weaker.

Is this a potential problem, or am I worrying too much about this? I know people build gates with little arbors like this all the time. Is there something I’m missing?

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

5 replies so far

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4416 days

#1 posted 09-28-2010 03:23 PM

Jonathan – it’s a good question. Wood shrinks across the grain much more than along the grain. I doubt that your posts will be pulled together enough that you could see. Splitting is possible, but I think it’s not very likely – cedar is frequently used in outdoor construction because of it’s stability as well as weather resistance. Maybe someone who does decks and arbors can weigh in on your question …

-- -- --

View Berg's profile


116 posts in 3731 days

#2 posted 09-28-2010 03:33 PM

Hi Jonathan,
I doubt you need to worry about shrinkage pulling the posts together. The shrinkage you will see will be on the 2” and 6” dimensions not the length. As for cracking, you can minimize that by sealing the pieces now, especially the end grain. No guarantees though. Also look for crowning along the length and install them crown up as with any header. Don’t forget to post pictures of your project. :)

-- Pete - "To every thing there is a season Turn! Turn! turn!" [Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger]

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2172 posts in 3392 days

#3 posted 09-28-2010 05:38 PM

This all sounds fine. Will there be two gates? As you think about the stresses the gate(s) will bring to the picture, consider the possibility of something diagonal up there.

Now to the gates. You’ve heard about the two guys who traveled the country recently, fixing typographical errors on signs and then wrote a book about it?

I want to do the same thing only I’d fix gates that have the diagonal going the wrong way. Jonathan, if you do your gates right, it would be one less stop for me on the trip, and one day sooner I’ll be able to start the book tour.
And I thank you.

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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2609 posts in 3592 days

#4 posted 09-29-2010 02:16 AM

Thanks for the replies guys.

Lee, I boxed the gates and used 3-heavy duty hinges per gate. And since they’re only 28-inches wide, or so, they’re not very heavy, so hopefully there’ll be no sagging at all.

I’ll make sure to get some pictures up once it’s more “complete” looking. Right now, there’s just a fence with pickets on 1-side. We’ll probably end up picketing the inside of the fence as well, but just went ahead and put pickets along the alley side for now, for security’s sake.

I sunk the 4×6 posts almost 30” deep, with a pea gravel bed below for drainage. I set the posts directly on top of the pea gravel, then shoveled the concrete in around them so any water that gets in there will be able to drain out through rocks. Oh and I put 5-bags of concrete in the one hole, and 6-bags of concrete in the other hole.

I’ll go ahead and throw the 2×6s up then and not worry about it. I figure I’ll run 2-carriage bolts through each post and tie everything together that way.

Thanks again guys.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 3592 days

#5 posted 10-03-2010 12:51 AM

Just wanted to post a quick update, mainly so that the information I found is available for anybody else that might want it for decorative arbor, trellis, or rafter tails.

I found a great link that has 17-different patterns that you can download for free in PDF format:

The templates are for a 2×4, at the true dimensions of 2”x4”. I simply enlarged the image a bit on a copy machine to fit the 2×6 dimensions of the cedar I purchased for the project.

I used some pallet wood and cut out some templates at full-size, then clamped the different ones up to the top of the posts. We actually only made these templates about 3-feet long so that we could clamp one template to one post, and another template to the other post in order to compare them side-by-side. My wife and I figured out quickly which one we like the best… “Design 2”, on page 4 of the above link. Nice and simple. It was nice to see it full-sized and it also allowed us to figure out how wide we want the arbor to be overall without having to heft full-sized timbers 7-feet overhead.

I think we’ve settled on 93” wide at the top of the beams, tapering down to 65” at the bottom of the curve, next to the posts. Since the posts are 4”-wide, 93” will give us 4” on the outside of the posts at the bottom of the beam before the curve starts towards the top. I’ll post pictures once it’s all up.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

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