A Simple Self-Closing Gate

FSC Self-Closing Gate - 01Langley, a rural town of 1100 people on Whidbey Island, Washington, hosts a robust population of rabbits that have attracted national news. The deer population may not be as noteworthy, but they are common sight around town nibbling apples from trees and grazing lawns. Gardeners erect seven-foot-high fences to keep them out.

When we created Fifth Street Commons, a multi-generational community of 16 households, residents were all for vegetable gardens, fruit trees and flowers (deer’s delight!), which meant tall fences were needed all around, as well as gates between the parking area and the commons.

Fence solutions are straight forward, but gates pose numerous challenges: they are a hassle to navigate while carrying bags; they should open both ways for ease of movement; they should be self-closing if possible (otherwise, you can bet they will be left open just when deer make their rounds); and because they are used every day to welcome residents and guests, they should be beautiful.

In our case, we had an additional factor: the gates would have to span across existing five-foot-wide concrete walkways, which seemed awkwardly wide. As we explored solutions, we thought into ways to reduce the gate width: cutting a hole in the concrete to place a gatepost for a narrower opening (complicated and messy); fabricating a metal extension to a narrower pivot point (complicated); or letting go of a narrower gate and just living with the width as it is.

We went to the hardware store to look at two-way latches and spring closers (not satisfying). Online searching didn’t help much.

FSC Self-Closing Gate - 02My friend Jay Davenny made a sketch of a gate he’d seen that pivoted at about the 1/3 point of a gate. It had a cord attached to the back edge of the gate that went over or through a side post to a counter-weight, which somehow pulled the gate shut. Seemed intriguing. I sketched my own versions trying to understand the details.

JR Fulton, my partner on FSC, said that he had some surplus solid stainless steel bars that we might use for the pivot axis. The possibility of an elegant solution seemed to be getting warmer.FSC Self-Closing Gate - 03

I drew a 3-D SketchUp model to visualize the gate design and details.

I searched online hardware suppliers and machine shop outlets for a rotating bearing base to receive the steel bar and anchor it into the concrete. I’d never seen such a thing, but it had to exist! It needed to fit the bar exactly. Tenacity and persistence drove me to keep searching. I’m a little embarrassed to say how long I stayed at it, but in the end, I found the precise item: a “1.25-inch three-bolt flange bearing” for $15.67 (cheaper in bulk).

For the cord system, I figured we could run the line directly through the side post at the narrow end of the gate, but we needed some kind of gasket or grommet to reduce friction as the line pulled one way then the other at the opening. More searching. At this point, I was getting very familiar with marine rigging suppliers. I found something called a “fairlead thru-deck bushing” to do the trick. And at the local hardware story I found a plastic pipe clamp to guide the line out and down on the far side of the post, reducing the angle of pull on the opening.

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So far, so good. We set out to construct the gate, starting first with 4×4 pressure-treated posts and top beam. This wood isn’t the most aesthetic choice, but it resists rot and is reasonably FSC Self-Closing Gate - 04priced. The wood for the gate frame is made with cedar. We located the position for the pivot bar base, drilled holes in the concrete to receive the flange bolts and set the mechanism in place with epoxy. We left it to harden overnight, and went on to securing the pivot bar to the gate frame and drilling a hole in the overhead beam to receive the top end of the bar.

The idea for the self-closing action of the gate is that a counter weight attached to a cord through the post to the short end of the gate would pull it to a closed position from both directions. For the weight, I found an iron bar used in old-style single-hung windows at the local recycling center.

FSC Self-Closing Gate - 06The moment of truth came when we put all the elements together. Would it work? … Well, sort of. The counterweight was way too heavy, causing a lot of effort to push the gate open. We replaced it with a 3-lb demolition hammer, which made the push easier, but it was still too heavy. A carpenter’s hammer was not heavy enough, but with it we realized that the sweet spot was close.

Our Goldilocks solution came from the recycle bin: a plastic soda bottle, filled with water. We drilled a hole through the cap, ran the cord through it, tied a knot and put the cap back on. With a bit of trial and error we found just the right amount of water as a counterweight to gently pull the gate closed and provide light resistance in opening. Voila! Simple, a pleasure to use, and in it’s own way, beautiful.

— Ross Chapin

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6 thoughts on “A Simple Self-Closing Gate

  1. Deborah Shane

    That is such a neat thing you did with the gate. How is it working out in the real neighborhood? I love your small houses and wish I could afford one myself :0)

  2. Heidi Rose

    I’m new to your web site and blog, but this post caught my eye. I visited Colonial Williamsburg 2 years ago and loved the self-closing gates they have everywhere. The gates close by a weight (7 lb. cannon ball) and chain system. Very simple and very efficient!

  3. RON WILLIAMS

    i HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO VISIT A COUPLE OF DEVELOPMENTS THAT YOU DESIGNED IN SEATTLE WHERE MY SON RESIDED FOR A FEW YEARS. EVEN THOUGH I WAS A “STRANGER” TO THE AREA (I LIVE IN TENNESSEE), I FELT RIGHT AT HOME IN THEM. I ADMIRE YOUR DESIGNS-NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE “FLASHY” AND “HIP” BUT BECAUSE THEY FEEL COMFORTABLE.
    AS AN ARCHITECT MYSELF, I ENVIOUS OF YOUR TALENT FOR “GETTING IT RIGHT.” WHILE I DON’T DESIGN IN THE SAME IDIOM, I NONETHELESS THINK YOU’RE ON TO SOMETHING BASIC ABOUT WHAT THE WORDS “HOME” AND “NEIGHBORHOOD” MEAN.
    I’M SURE YOUR LEGACY WILL BE SAFE FOR MANY YEARS AFTER YOU HAVE HUNG UP YOUR T-SQUARE.
    ALL THAT’S NEEDED NOW IS FOR YOU OR SOMEONE WHO KNOWS AND APPRECIATES YOUR WORK TO ASSEMBLE A MONOGRAPH OF THE HOUSES AND NEIGHBORHOODS THAT YOU HAVE DESIGNED. I’D BUY ONE AS SOON AS IT CAME OFF THE PRESS.
    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

  4. Daimon

    An elegant solution. I did something similar with a self-closing mailbox once. I could imagine the deer figuring out that they could push through, but apparently that hasn’t happened.

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