Farming, Rural Living

A Good Piece of Gear: Building a Pair of Driveway Gates

In which I expose my DIY efforts to the hilarity and ridicule of the men following me (there are more of you than I have a right to expect at my age, trust me), “weak and feeble woman” that I am. Next time you’re tempted to go down that path, ask yourselves how things turned out for the Spanish Armada right after Elizabeth’s speech. Thank heavens for the (men of the) British Navy, perhaps the most enduring legacy of that rotten toad Henry VIII. Rule Britannia!

Five years ago, I built a set of driveway gates. My driveway is about 13 feet wide and it’s a little tricky because there are buried electric and telephone cables along one side of it. So the first thing I had to do was call Pennsylvania One Call, the outfit one is required to call to check for buried cables (they bring sensing equipment out to find them and trace their path). To be perfectly honest, had it been in an area where I was certain there were no buried cables, I wouldn’t have bothered. But I didn’t want to electrocute myself, or even worse, cut the electric power or the phone, by drilling through the cables I knew were there with the post-hole auger (because when we built the house out here in the middle of a field in 1986, we ran the electric and phone cables underground, under the driveway), so Pennsylvania One Call it was.

Ever since this experience, I’ve called it “Pennsylvania Five Call.” Because that’s how many phone calls it took me to convince the guy that there were, in fact, buried cables along the side of the driveway. I can show you the series of emails. Dripping condescension and an air of superiority on their part; escalating frustration from me, and finally threats of calling “News at 11” after I’d electrocuted myself, until finally they sent a guy out who was willing to deal with a woman, and who acknowledged that there were, in fact, buried cables, right where I had marked the spot where I’d have liked to drill the left-hand post-hole. Imagine my surprise.

So, we adjusted.

I made the gates from 1×6 cedar decking board, following these plans, and adjusting for the actual width of my driveway. The cost of the lumber wasn’t too extortionate. I used my favorite screws, GRK, which have points that actually cut the wood, rather than spreading the fibers apart like ordinary screws. You end up with a much tighter and more accurate join between the pieces of wood you are fastening together. No pre-drilling required in most cases.

Then it came down to choosing hardware.

I’ve always been of the opinion that, when it comes to many such decisions, there are only two alternatives: the cheapest, or the best.

I’ll always be thankful I went for the best, to the extent that the hardware for the gates cost more than the lumber.

The key items are the hinges. I bought them from Snug Cottage Hardware, not the same folks as those who produced the gate plans, as they proved themselves total duds in the customer support department. Snug Cottage was great. They did make a mistake in the first shipment but corrected it immediately at no charge.

These (incredibly expensive) hinges are very special in that they are 1) surface mounted, 2) they wrap around the gate and are bolted through, so they are very stable, 3) they allow the gate to swing open 180 degrees, and 4) they are infinitely adjustable via the nuts on either end of the hinge itself. It is a matter of moments to adjust the top and bottom of the gate so that it hangs true, or to move it closer to, or further away from, either the gatepost or its mate in the gate department in your driveway.

So, why am I waxing lyrical about these hinges slightly over five years later?

Easy. My house and the property it occupies are experiencing all sorts of interesting disruptions as a result of the coal company’s undermining of the place in the fall of 2018.

So, one morning some time thereafter, I went outside to find that something had shifted overnight, that my driveway gates had fallen out of plumb, that they had jammed themselves together in the middle, and that they couldn’t be opened. (This is what they’re supposed to look like where they meet — about a 1/2-inch gap, all the way down, between them):

I got out my adjustable wrench, and fiddled with the hinges, just as you’re supposed to, and in a few short minutes had it all sorted out. The posts are a bit out of plumb East to West, and I can’t do anything about that at the moment, but I’m not too worried. Things are still shifting, and I’m hoping it will sort itself out in the next several weeks.

That’s the first actual adjustment I’ve had to make as a result of subsidence. There are some other issues, cracks, stuck doors, and the house itself is still out of plumb. I’m waiting with fingers crossed that I’ve seen the worst of it and that most of it will resolve on its own. Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you’re building a set of driveway gates, this was a delightful little project, and I highly recommend the materials I’ve mentioned. Even if you don’t have a driveway, or you don’t need gates, you still might find it entertaining and enjoyable.

Have fun!

1 thought on “A Good Piece of Gear: Building a Pair of Driveway Gates”

  1. Years ago my dad wanted to run a drainage ditch, since the whole areas to the south and east sides of the house were perpetually soggy. He called and had the lines marked for power and phone (no cable then – we were in the boonies, though the area now has been thoroughly surrounded by the burbs in the 30 years since). Then he rented a ditch witch and set to trenching. He started by the road and cut right through the phone lines – taking out the phones for miles and miles up the road. The phone company had not actually buried their cable (and it was massive) at the required depth – it was barely a foot down when it was specced at 4+. After that he didn’t trust the power line depth, and he had us out there with gardening trowels for hours like we were on an archaeological dig. Good thing, it was 2 feet down, and he’s have lit up the ditch witch and himself with it if he’d cut that one.

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