From the monthly archives:

June 2010

Gate hinges can be likened to the weakest link in a chain, where the gate is the chain and the hinge is the link. Hinges might seem like small and insignificant elements, but they’re what keep gate panels in place, so it’s important to give them serious consideration.

Like other aspects of gate hardware, a hinge can be decorative or purely functional. A butt hinge is the simplest, most commonly installed type. These consists of two evenly sized leaves joined by a pin. Unlike more ornamental types, butt hinges aren’t handed, which is to say they’re not designed for mounting exclusively in one direction. Many hinges require that one plate is attached to the gate, and the other to the post; and the arrangement cannot be reversed.

An alternative that’s better suited to gates than doors is a strap hinge, which can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. The latter version has one leaf in a half-diamond shape, which is attached to the gate panel. The other leaf is in a truncated rectangular shape like that of a butt hinge. These are sometimes referred to as T-hinges or tee hinges, especially when their pivot pin is considerably wider than the strap. These are particularly ideal for garden gates. A tee hing ranges between 4 and 10 inches, with its length determined by the size and weight of the gate. Unlike a butt hinge, whose leaves often need to be drilled for screw holes just prior to mounting, a T-hinge typically comes with screw holes already drilled.

The simplest, most utilitarian versions are plainly designed, made with galvanized or plated steel. Decorative wrought iron strap hinges can cost several times as much, but they’re often worth it since plain versions can stick out like sore thumb on gates made of wood, or ones with a powder coat finish. But iron gate hinges aren’t the only option if you’re looking for ornamental touches. Black coated aluminum and stainless steel hinges can often be purchased for under $10.

Among heavy duty gate hinge products, a barrel hinge is recommended if the width-to-height ratio between the panel and post is less than one. Wider panels create too much of a radial load for ball bearing gate hinges. Barrel hinges consist mostly of the pivot pin. Only the stubs of the plates are welded to the pin, since the stubs themselves are designed to be welded directly onto the gate and post.

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Residential garden fencing doesn’t have to be expensive. In many cases, pricey fence panels can give your garden an overly formal and unwelcoming look. There are definitely a few garden fence ideas that can turn a small budget into a creative challenge to showcase your resourcefulness and creativity.

Bamboo fencing. In a world where hardwood and softwood lumber is becoming more scare and expensive, bamboo is cheap and plentiful, since it’s essentially a fast-growing grass. One of the more unique characteristics of bamboo is its “Wabi-Sabi” aesthetic, which refers to the austere beauty it acquires with age, in contrast to regular lumber that simply looks like it needs to be replaced.

Stone fence designs. Unlike brick and concrete, properly stacked stone fencing requires no additional reinforcement from mortar or rebar. As a found material, the price of stone is unbeatable. More importantly, stone fencing is extremely durable and, like bamboo, only looks better with age; and if replacements are necessary, they can be done one stone at a time, unless wood or metal, which needs to have whole panels replaced.

Recycled brick fence designs. Recycled bricks aren’t just for driveways and tile. Unlike stone, you’ll actually need mortar for brick fencing, and you’ll have to make sure that the weathered look is what you want — there’s a fine line between something that looks antique and something that simply looks second rate. If you’re less concerned with privacy, you can minimize the amount of mortar needed by staggering the bricks for a gapped pattern.

Rusty iron. Rusty iron fence panels procured from the local salvage yard can be covered with vine and climbing plants. This is essentially the Western version of the Wabi-Sabi concept: age adds character. Compared to the huge expense of some decorative garden fencing like wrought iron, which is sometimes patinized for an artificially aged look, rusted iron fences are extremely cost effective.

Bottle fence designs. Fences made from recycled wine bottles are popular in rural areas. These can range from very simple arrangements: a series of upturned bottles with their necks planted into the ground, a series of upright bottles sandwiched between wooden cross-members, or another upturned set mounted on poles between rails.

Picket fences. They might not be original, but good old-fashioned white picket fences are pretty economical in the scheme of things. If you’re willing to spend a little more on the front end, think about installing a vinyl picket fence to virtually eliminate your long term maintenance costs, since vinyl doesn’t rot or fade over time. Always remember that most of your wooden garden fencing costs will go to replacement and maintenance, unless you take preventative measures.

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Garden fence designs are largely determined by the material being used, such as bamboo, aluminum or dry stone. The volume and texture of each type will impart its particular ambiance that either complements the house and garden to which it belongs effectively, or does so less effectively. Let’s take a look at a few popular garden fence ideas.

Vinyl and Wooden Garden Fencing

Stockade and picket fences are the most prevalent types of wood fencing. While wood is usually homeowners’ first choice of material, consider vinyl fencing, which is essentially faux wood. Vinyl is less prone to rot and weather than wood, resistant to insects, and has far lower maintenance costs in the long run. Of course, while vinyl can have a wood-like grain pattern when viewed from a distance, the truth is that, on close inspection, nothing beats the organic texture of an authentic wood fence.

A stockade fence is designed primarily for privacy fencing, typically employing a tongue-and-groove joinery to eliminate gaps between panels. Naturally, the privacy you gain comes at the expense of visibility from the house, or from any direction beyond the perimeter. A picket fence is the most widely installed fencing, allowing a view of the garden from the outside, while still cordoning off the property.

Somewhat related to stockade fencing is bamboo, since a bamboo garden fence is also ideal for privacy. While bamboo fencing is perhaps more limited in application, since it implies use with zen gardens, it’s extremely economical and ages well — it tends to look better with additional weathering. Moreover, bamboo privacy fencing looks less imposing than traditional stockade panels.

Aluminum and Wrought Iron Fence Designs

Wrought iron fencing is a favorite for public gardens, but it’s often beyond the budget of homeowners, who might be willing to spring for a wrought iron gate, but not the cost of a full set of wrought iron fence panels. For residential fences and garden gates, it’s become more common to install a steel or aluminum fence.

Aluminum fencing with a black power coat finish has a look that’s essentially identical to iron gates while being much lighter, more weather resistant, less prone to rust, and cheaper up front and over its lifetime.

A chain link fence, while inappropriate for decorative garden fencing, is a pragmatic choice if the main goal is to keep children and pets from coming in or getting out. It’s possible to soften the utilitarian look of chain link fencing by covering it with vine. There’s almost always a way to make functional fencing look at least somewhat decorative.

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Garden gates can be hard to choose. Should your garden gate be wood or metal? What style of gate best compliments and enhances the look of your yard? Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular materials and styles.

Wooden Garden Gate Options

A good practice for selecting a wooden gate, or having one custom made, is to look for a style that resembles the house to which it belongs. A house that’s more rustic in design would get a garden gate in the back that’s similarly rustic. Consider whether or not you want the gate to be plain or accented with wrought iron ornaments. Do you want a single gate or dual gates? For a single gate, would you prefer a sliding gate, or the more popular swing gate?

Dual, solid arched gates are particularly effective for wood fences or stone uprights. For privacy, it’s common to use tongue and groove lumber for a stockade look, where there are no gaps between the slats. The hinges are traditionally placed on the garden side to keep them from being visible when entering the garden.

A Z-frame gate is another popular option. Z framing refers to gate frameworks where parallel boards that act as upper and lower members of the frame are joined by a longer, diagonal member. As with the hinges, the Z-frame is mounted on the garden side of the gate.

Metal Garden Gates

On paper, iron garden gates may seem incompatible with something as organic as a garden, but seen together, they blend exceptionally well. Wrought iron garden gates are preferred if you can afford them, but galvanized steel is a cost-effective substitute. A black power coat finish is applied to a steel garden gate for a wrought iron look. Metal gates of either type are best used with stone uprights, both for aesthetics and long-term structural stability.

Wire gates are another option if you have a chain link fence, or another style of metal fencing. Some wires gate are themselves made of wrought iron, featuring a garden trellis pattern. Mesh gates offer a lighter touch, showcasing more the garden beyond the entrance. Wire gates can be attached to fencing in a few ways. The most common is to have a pair of hinge tabs or L-shaped brackets welded to the gate to attach to your post.

Your choice of wooden or metal garden gates will most likely depend on the fencing you already have in place, but don’t fail to consider an option simply because it initially seems incompatible with your existing fence. You may be able to make your preferred garden gate mesh very well with your fencing and landscaping by simply replacing the uprights with a different material.

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