By Heather Thomas Smith – Keeping metal and wooden gates in good repair can sometimes be a challenge, but is an important part of homesteading today. A sagging or broken gate can be a chore to open and shut, and may also tempt an animal to jump, lean over or crawl through, possibly injuring itself in the process or getting out on a road or into a neighbor’s place. Here are a few tips for making your life with gates easier.
Fixing a Sagging Metal or Wooden Gate
A metal or wooden gate can become a heavy burden to open and close if it begins to sag, no longer swinging freely. Gate posts should be sturdy and set deep in the ground, to keep a gate from sagging, but sometimes the posts “give” a bit over time, unless set in concrete. Some ground is unstable and won’t hold a post well, especially for a heavy gate. Sometimes frost pushes posts upward, making them less secure. Occasionally a simple pole panel is used as a gate, in an opening that does not have a sturdy post for hanging a proper gate. Having to lift or drag the panel to open or shut it can be a backbreaking chore.
This problem can be solved, however, by putting a small wheel on the moving end of the panel or sagging gate. The wheel takes all the weight and supports the gate. It cannot sag any farther and also enables it to move easily when you open or close it. You no longer have to pick it up and carry it to keep it from dragging.
Just about any type of small wheel will work for this purpose. On our metal and wooden gates, we have used old wheelbarrow tires, or small metal wheels, the kind you sometimes find in old junk piles or might salvage from a piece of ancient common farm equipment. A wheelbarrow tire can be easily adapted so you can bolt the uprights (or even just one of themthe piece of metal that comes down either side of the tire to hold its small axle) to a pole or wooden gate.
An old wheel or tire with any kind of long axle attached to it can be securely wired to a metal gate. The horizontal piece of axle can be fastened to the bottom rail or pipe. If you use stiff, strong wire and securely wire it at each end of the axle (close to the wheel, and at the opposite end also) the wheel will stay solidly in place and the weight of the gate will not alter the angle of the wheel very much, if at all. You want it securely attached so the wheel or tire will stay upright, with no wobble. Then it will roll freely and easily on the ground, taking the weight of the gate without binding or catching.
A well-hung metal or wooden gate should never sag, but some posts will “give” during the spring thaw, and over time a heavy gate may droop lower on the far end and start to drag on the ground. Sometimes you may need a gate or panel in an opening where there isn’t a secure post to hang it. In these instances, a wheel on the end of the gate or panel can keep it working with a minimum of effort (reducing the risks for injuring your back!) eliminating the problem of having to drag or pick up the gate or panel.
An easy fix for a gate latch: Metal gates are handy and some of these have latches that work with a handle to pull or push. The latch is a metal prong that inserts into a hole in the post next to it when the gate is shut. To open the gate, you push the handle the other direction, pulling the latch out of the post and freeing the gate. These latches work fine if the posts are solid and never move.
Sometimes, however, the gate posts shift over time, and the latch no longer reaches the hole it is supposed to go into on the post. A simple way to fix this without having to reset the gatepost or rehang the gate is to securely nail two small poles or boards on either side of the latch hole on the gatepost. Then the metal latch (when shut) will insert between the two poles or boards and “catch” to hold the gate shut. Electric fence gate crossing: If you use electric fencing for horses and livestock around pens or pastures (to keep the animals from rubbing or chewing on the fence, or from crawling through it), you’ll generally have an insulated gate handle everywhere you have a gate, so you can open it to get through the “hot” wire to go through the gate. On some gates that you go through a lot, you may find it easier to put a tall pole on each side of the gate, so you can route the electric wire up over the gate, high enough that people, animals or machinery being driven through will not touch the hot wire.
On many gates, however, you may just use a plastic or rubber fence handle so you can undo and move the hot wire when you open the main gate. In these instances, always situate the handle on the end toward the fence charger, so that the gate “wire” will have no electricity in it when the handle is undone and the gate is open. Then if the wire “gate” is looped over the metal or wooden gate, or thrown on the ground while open, it won’t shock anyone nor short out and possibly start a fire in dry grass or weeds.If the hot wire is spanning a metal gate, the wire may become a nuisance at times if it happens to touch the metal while the gate is closed. The wire may occasionally touch the gate and short out the electric fence or electrify the gate and shock anyone that touches the metal gate or tries to open it. It can be tricky to open and shut the gate if you forget to unhook the electric handle before touching the metal gate. Even if the electric wire and its insulated gate handle are a few inches away from the metal gate, the wind may sometimes cause the wire to touch the gate. A way to eliminate risk of having the hot wire touch the gate is to put that segment of wire through an old garden hose. Cut the hose to match the length of the metal gatewith a couple inches to spare on each end so there’s never any danger of the wire hitting the gate. The rubber or plastic hose will adequately insulate the wire where it travels along the metal gate and prevents any shorts or shocks if it does happen to touch or brush against the gate.If the wire you use for the gate portion is stiff, it’s easy to gently push it through the length of hose, and then attach the electric fence handle to the end of it. This is a good use for old garden hoses. Even if they leak or have a ruined screw-end, they will still make good insulation for an electric gate wire.
Occasionally you will have a wire gate versus a metal or wooden gate. Wire gates (made of netting, or 6 to 8 strands of smooth or barbed wire, with “stays” to keep the wire properly spaced) can sometimes become difficult to close, especially if they are tight gates that livestock can’t crawl through. One way to make such a gate easier to close is to put a handle on the gate post to give you more leverage for pulling the gate shut. A metal handle with a wire loop attached can be securely fastened to the top of the gate post by means of a flat platform that is bolted onto the post. The handle, when open, with the wire loop attached, gives you an extra 12 to 18 inches of reach for shutting the gate, eliminating the struggle to get the end of the gate into the wire loop. Then when the gate end (small upright post) is put into the loop, you can use the handle for leverage, pushing it up and over, which automatically tightens the gate and brings it up snug to the post. When it’s closed, and the metal handle is folded back over the top of the gate post, it can be secured with a pin in the raised metal tab, to keep the handle from ever popping up or coming open accidentally. Thus a cow or horse cannot pop open the livestock gate by rubbing on it. For a barnyard or pasture gate that needs to be nice and tight yet still easy to open and close, this arrangement works very well, especially for those of us who don’t have long, strong arms for getting the gate shut.
Originally published in Countryside March / April 2011 and regularly vetted for accuracy.