Building a Fence Gate in Osage County, Kansas
Our sheep have a stubborn streak that makes it tough to move them to greener pastures without a fight, especially when the pasture gates aren’t tough and tight. Recently, I had the bright idea to move the flock to the east pasture for a spell of late-season grazing. Less than two hours into the experiment, half the flock discovered that the ancient barbwire-and-batten gate separating our backyard from their pasture was easy enough to squirm right under. When challenged, the girls slipped back into their pasture without incident, and a judiciously placed welded-wire stock panel kept the lambs off the lam for the immediate future, but we really needed a better solution.
That evening, as I contemplated spending more than 120 hard-earned bucks for a 14-foot pipe gate, my Partner in Culinary Crime wondered aloud why we didn’t just make a gate, and a rustic one at that. Good idea, I thought – what better way to spend a late fall day than creating something functional and hopefully beautiful.
The following morning, after a bit of measuring and figuring, we headed off to the woodlot and cut sufficient Osage Orange and Hackberry saplings to make a pair of 5-bar pasture gates that would collectively span 14 feet, meeting in the middle. We chose decay-resistant Osage Orange for the gate’s vertical standards and the top and bottom rails; Hackberry made do for the inside rails because it is lighter and more plentiful.
The first step was to cut a pair of standards for each gate – ours are about 51⁄2 feet long on the hinge edge and 41⁄2 feet long on the latch edge. Next we trimmed the top and bottom rails to length, shaped their ends with a hatchet, and nailed them to the standards with 16-penny nails. Once assembled, we racked the gate frames until diagonal measurements were within 1⁄4 inch of one another, called them square and fit Osage Orange diagonal braces (for proper brace placement, see In the Shop on Page 78).
Next, we peeled the bark from several Hackberry poles using a drawknife (bark-on Hackberry poles rot quickly), then shaped and nailed them to the squared frames. With two Hackberry rails installed, my Partner in Culinary Crime noted that the gates were likely to be “awfully heavy.” She was right, so we substituted twisted barbwire in place of the planned fifth rail, which should keep the cattle from poking their heads through the gap.
We hung the gates using a time-honored method of planting the long end of the hinge standard in a hole next to the fence post for the bottom hinge and wrapping a double loop of smooth wire around the post and standard for the top hinge. Here in Kansas, Osage Orange poles stuck in the ground should last for about 25 years before rotting away, at which point we can install proper forged hinges if we wish.
Shortly after hanging the second gate, the sheep came bleating up to visit. I don’t know whether it was the heavy-duty look of the gates or that the spaces between the rails really are sufficiently narrow, but the entire flock went back to grazing without even giving our homemade pasture gate a test. And that’s just fine with me.
Whether you’re gouging your first dough bowl, ordering your first mail-order chicks or painting a lovely rural landscape, we’d love to know what you’re up to this season. If you keep a country journal and would like to share it through a blog at www.Grit.com, just let me know (hwill@Grit.com).
See you in March.
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 Google+.
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