Finishing the Garden Gates


Its been a long time in the making! There seemed to be almost constant interruptions for other things that had to be done, so the gates took a long time. That’s just part of the growing season. With all of the joinery cut and the final finish planing done, the gates are ready for assembly.


For the top and bottom rails I haunched the tenon to give it extra resistance to twisting. With this gate exposed to the harsh extremes of Colorado winter and summer, it needs all of the strength it can get.


I started by assembling my kumiko. Normally the kumiko notches alternate, at least on the horizontal, but having all of the vertical kumiko with an uninterrupted line is a cleaner look. If the lap cuts for your kumiko joinery are too tight the lattice will bow. Thankfully my practice has paid off and I’m getting pretty consistent with good fits.


Darla thinks my pile of finish shavings are a nice place to bed down. Adorable!


With the kumiko jigumi glued together I started assembling the frame elements. No glue on these mortises. I’ve been wondering about that of late, not using glue here. My primary source for skipping the glue is Toshio Odate. Both Jay Van Arsdale’s book and Des King’s book have you cutting kumiko mortises that are less deep, and King seems to glue absolutely everything that touches together. You’ll notice with Odate’s kumiko mortises that they are always as deep as humanly possible. Like, you know you’re deep enough when you’re ready to throw your mortising chisel across the room because the mortises are so difficult to clean out. That’s what I went for here. The kumiko mitsuke (thin edge) is 1/2″, the mortise 1/4″ wide, and 13/16″ deep.  Though, this is the first time I’ve used a brace and bit to speed my mortising up. A single hole down to depth in the middle of these small mortises makes things much faster. My bit was slightly undersized so that the chisel always sizes the width of the mortise.

Maybe I’m crazy for putting so much work into something that will be outside. How else do you know how your work will hold up than to see it weather? After all, these gates are just made from 2×4 construction lumber.


With eight foot ceilings in my shop I was cutting it pretty close to get the top rail and kumiko attached.


I set my planing beam down on some low saw horses to get the stiles on. I decided not to glue the mortises on the stiles either. If this piece holds together, it will be because of solid joinery.


With the doubled tenons I used, and two wedges per tenon, I had to cut a lot of wedges. These are red oak, about 1/2″ longer than the depth they will be driven to.


Okay, so finally I used a little glue. I don’t know if its technically necessary, but it can’t hurt. If I get six years from these gates and the wedges are still holding strong I’ll be happy. When you’re using a wedge either side of the tenon make sure to start and drive both wedges at the same time. If you only drive one it will make it really hard to get the other wedge started in the kerf.


After the glue dried I trimmed the wedges and tenon flush with the stile. The stiles were made slightly thicker than the rails so that the edges could be chamfered, necessitating a shallow recess be cut in the stile to have the hinge lay flat. Its still feels funny for me to take a finished set of shoji and start drilling holes for hardware.



I used some pretty standard stock gate hinges, with threaded bolts. You always wonder if you took your measurements correctly when dimensioning something to fit an opening. There’s added variables when you add space for hardware, and I wasn’t relaxed about the installation until both gates were up and hung plumb. I still need to buy a gate latch. For now, a piece of rope works a treat.

Well, how’d they turn out? The kumiko for the asanoha pattern was cut from redwood to set it off a bit from the rest of the kumiko. Hand plane finish, all natural. Finally, some gates that are tall enough to keep the deer from jumping!

2 thoughts on “Finishing the Garden Gates”

  1. Wow! Such nice work…. Excellent job!

    Personally, I get a kick out of making something beautiful out of the most common materials. That you have accomplished in spades. I too have been using less glue on nearly everything that I build, but is there actually any reason to NOT use glue? Now that I don’t use much, on the odd occasion when I do use it, it seems like such a PITA, haha. Joinery is so much more fun, and definitely more elegant.

    It will be interesting to see how the perfectly planed surface weathers. Maybe you would consider an update somewhere down the road?

    Now if only we could do something about those hinges…….

    1. Thanks! Lol, yes those hinges, very cheap. Though they still cost about as much as the lumber for the gates…Oh, and I just realized that I mounted the hinges on the wrong side of one of the panels. Don’t you just love the Japanese craftsmans ethic of living with your mistakes? I have yet to make a set of screens without a single mistake, just a poor apprentice tategu shokunin. Apprenticed to myself, by the way.

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