I made this with the help of Grace Crabb and Bob Shaw at the Centre for Alternative Technology’s coppice crafts course. During the five days we learnt how to split and turn wood, make charcoal and weave a wattle – all of which more later.
This is how I made the gate.
I started of by measuring the size of gate I would need and drew a rough plan on a piece of paper, with measurements. There are lots of different gate designs and as I drew my own its probably not as effective as some of the more traditional time honoured designs. If you get into it I’d recommend one of the green woodworking pattern books, which are just fantastic and will give you endless hours of creative opportunities.
I’m using freshly cut so called ‘green wood’, which means that I’m working it before it dries out. This makes it easier to turn on a lathe, and cut. This gate design requires no turning, but it does require a few basic green tools – a draw knife, a Froe (a tool for splitting the wood), a tapometer (a large piece of wood or mallet used for tapping the froe into the wood to start the split) and a cleaving break (which helps you split it). You’ll also need an axe and drill for making the tenon joint, a tape measure and a pencil.
I used ash to make this gate but you could use chestnut for a longer lasting gate. I tried splitting willow too but willow twists when you split it which makes it difficult to use for mortice and tenon joints. Chestnut and ash split very well in a straight line down the middle.
Step one – Start with some round pieces of wood, measure and cut the pieces you need to the size required. To make this gate you’ll need the two end pieces, the three cross pieces and the four smaller uprights across the bottom of the gate.
Once you have cut the round wood into the sizes you need to split it with a froe. This is easier to do on a cleaving break.
The cleaving break as you can see here is the frame into which Bob Shaw our teacher has placed the round wood. It is made quite simply with three old fence posts bashed into the ground with two pieces of wood laid between the posts at slightly different heights. If you look closely at the picture you’ll see what I mean. This is great frame for sawing wood too. Bob is holding a froe with his left hand and what he calls the tapometer in his right. This is like a Captain Caveman club, a big piece of wood for knocking the froe into the round wood to start the split (or cleave) off.
Always put the blade of the froe in the centre of the wood, right in the heart, which you can usually see in the middle of the rings. Once fixed into the wood you can discard the tapometer and start to cleave the wood. This is easy to do in the cleaving break. Because the wood is held between two other pieces of wood the pressure keeps the split in the middle of the wood so you just have to exert a slight downward pressure on the froe and the wood will start to split.
As the wood splits you can move the froe further down the wood and keep on exerting the pressure as you go. To make the gate you have to split one piece of wood to make the two side pieces, four pieces of round wood to make the three cross pieces and the four small uprights.
Once you’ve split the wood, you need to take the bark off. This is very easy too but requires skill in handling a draw knife well. Taking the bark off helps the wood last longer and gives it a nice finish. You can also use the bark peelings for lighting fires. The process of removing the bark is made easier if you have a post vice but you could do it any vice.
The tool Bob is using is a draw knife. He is keeping the wood in place by pressing his foot down on a hinge on the post vice. To remove the bark keep the blade face down and gently pull towards you. It looks slightly dangerous but actually its very safe so long as you do it gently and don’t try to force the wood off. It’s also very satisfying.
Once you’ve got the bark off you can start to make the mortice and tenon joints. To do this you have to take the cross pieces and point them to fit into the holes you will make on the two end pieces. Traditionally you would use a template to make each of the ends and the holes but you can do it by eye, although it is less easy.
You can see from these two pictures how Bob holds the wood to point the ends. Use an axe to make the points. Actually the word points is slightly misleading as you don’t want points you want tapered ends that end with a flat butt rather than a point. You just work on one side of the wood and taper that side so it runs parallel to the other.
This is so the wood will fit snugly inside the holes when you match them up. Once you’ve tapered your cross pieces you need to mark where the holes need to go on the end pieces. Measure up from the base where each piece should go and mark a hole the size of the tapered end of the cross piece you are going to use in this position.
Then do the same with each cross piece marking the correct size hole to match the end of the cross piece. You should label the hole on the end piece to match the end of the cross piece you want to place in it. So match a one with a one, a two with a two and so on. That way when you come to assemble the piece you know where everything will fit.
Once you have marked the size of the holes you can use a drill to make the holes. Drill twice using drill bits to match one half of the size of the hole and then chisel off any rough edges in the hole.
You can then fix the cross pieces into the sides. Once these are in position you can fix the uprights using nails.
The first time you make a gate like this there are bound to be problems unless you’re already used to carpentry. I feel my next gate will be much more correct but as a first attempt I don’t think its bad, and I really enjoyed the process of making it, the feel of the wood, being outside, listening to the bird song – a complete pleasure.
And here it is in situ at home. The ties are made from chestnut bark I peeled off some fence posts I split. I’ll show you how to split wood another time.
If I haven’t made anything clear enough ask a question?