Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Building A Rustic Front Yard Gate

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief


Tags: gates, fencing, farms,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.I finally got around to building a rustic yard gate for the newly fenced front yard (read about the fencing project here). I chose green Osage Orange wood for the rustic gate project because it is durable and we have plenty of it growing in our hedgerows and woodlots. Since this rustic gate would be used several times each day, I wanted it to be light and strong so I split the standards and rails from billets rather than using full dimension billets. Once the green wood dries it will lighten up further. As an added bonus, splitting the billets exposed the bright orange heartwood, which adds some nice color to the gate -- it will oxidize to a rich brown before too many seasons pass.

Rustic Osage Orange and wire gate. 

It took me a couple of hours to construct this gate, including time spent in the woodlot sourcing the timber. I haven't built my shaving horse or other riving aids so the splitting and shaping aspects to the project weren't quite as efficient as they might have been. To see a photo of the gate hung, check out Karen Keb's blog here.  

Sizing up the woodlot. 

The first step of the project was to select the right tree for the job. While looking for just the right Osage Orange tree, I noticed a copse of young American Elm trees that I hadn't seen before. We have a few mature American Elm trees but these are the first replacements I've found so far.

Harvesting a regrown Osage Orange tree. 

I eventually decided to cut a several-year-old Osage Orange sprout that was growing from a large stump that had been cut years ago. This stump has yielded us several fence posts and material for other projects. That Osage Orange re-sprouts several trunks from a stump makes harvesting them a little easier on the mind.

Splitting an Osage Orange billet with a froe. 

Using the 1964 IH truck's spare tire (on the rim) and its replacement as a tool to stabilize one end of the piece of Osage Orange tree, I slowly but surely split the billet with my ancient froe. The resulting halves will become the gate's upright standards.

Shaping an Osage Orange billet with a coopers axe.  

I pared and shaped the split Osage Orange billet with an ancient cooper's axe I found at a local junk shop. This hatchet-like device has a blade with a bevel on only one side and a slight curve to make it easy to hew without whacking your hand on the wood you are hewing upon.

Boring through mortises in Osage Orange wood. 

The next step was to cut and split out the top and bottom rails for the gate. You can see the end of one rail in the background. Yes, that pipe gate in the '69 Chevy pickup's bed is serving as a workbench for boring the 0.75-inch wide through mortises in the gate standards. 

Fitting the rails to the standard. 

The ends of the rails were trimmed with the cooper's axe to fit the through mortises. I drilled three holes per mortise and chopped out the waste with a one-inch wide chisel. The rails were pinned in place with a pair of 6 penny nails. 

Completed Osage Orange gate frame. 

The final step in building the gate frame was installing a diagonal brace -- I'm measuring for it here. Once that was installed, I stapled the fence wire to the frame and cobbled together a serviceable hinge mechanism that consists of some scrap steel strap and round rod. The gate swings nicely and should serve its purpose for decades to come.

Photos courtesy Karen Keb.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

chiot's run
9/3/2011 9:33:31 AM

Quite lovely, I enjoy seeing rustic DIY projects using items we can all find around. I have a large number of saplings from clearing out a few lots we purchased and I've been debating on building fences & gates with them, maybe an arbor and a nice garden bench too.


nebraska dave
8/10/2011 6:42:47 PM

Hank, I am jealous of you being able to harvest such great wood for building fences and gates. We have Mulberry and Cottonwood here and I suppose it would work OK but I never let them get big enough to harvest in my Urban back yard. I really like the rustic look of your gate and it's quite interesting how you used tools from long before power tools were invented to split the wood. Did you use a brace and bit to drill the holes to make the mortise? How long does it take to grow usable sprouts from your favorite stump. I thought it a novel idea to keep harvesting branches from a stump. I'll have to keep that in mind if I ever get property with trees on it. This was a great how to homestead post. Thanks go to Karen for getting the action shots for the post. Have a great day on the Kansas homestead.