Japanese-style garden gate, pt. 1

When I replaced our old dilapidated wood fence with my own funky blend of wood and galvanized metal, I put a Japanese-style arch over the gate opening, planning to cook up an actual gate in the same style. I’ve learned not to rush the design stage, so I visited the excellent Portland Japanese Garden, took pictures of the gates I found, and also did some digging in Google images.

This gate, with falling ginkgo leaves pierced through the lower panel and a traditional Japanese gridwork pattern up top, is the result.

I’m now a proud owner of a PantoRouter, and I knew that the big, perfect-fitting mortises and tenons it produces would be perfect for my wide gate. Water and weather are hard on gates, and over the years they tend to sag. So I chose 1-1/4-in.-thick cedar for the frame, just thick enough to accommodate sturdy 1/2-in.-thick tenons but not an ounce heavier than it needed to be. I made all of the tenons the full 2 in. long that the PantoRouter allows. You probably don’t have that machine, so just make the the joints any way you know how.

Adding to the strength, I designed the rail widths for a single wide tenon in the two upper rails, and a two-tenon array in the wider bottom rail. A wider bottom rail also just looks good in a big frame-and-panel assembly, grounding it somehow.

All of this adds up to eight deep, thick mortises and tenons, four down each side of this wide door, plenty to keep it square over the years.

The details are up to you

I won’t go through every mortise-and-tenon step, but once you know how to make a big sturdy frame like this, you can design any gate you like.

I my case I filled the lower frame with 1/2-in.-thick cedar boards. Those are lightweight and would be easy to pierce with the ginkgo leaf pattern I had in my head. You can see how I did the leaves below. I didn’t want gaps to appear between the boards over the years, so I fired a brad through the frame into the end of each board, top and bottom. A single brad or finish nail will do in each spot, letting each board shrink and expand without moving around much.

In the next part, I’ll show you how I glued up the gate and made that cool grillwork for the top. It was a real blast working with those tiny pieces.

There’s the beauty, now here’s the how-to:

I used single tenons in the two top rails.
The PantoRouter nails the fit with no fiddling.
I managed to fit two tenons into the lower rails. Again the PantoRouter is awesome, making double mortises and tenons as easily as single ones.


To accommodate those boards that make up the lower panel, I needed to cut grooves in the vertical frame parts, from the lower mortises to the middle ones. 
I went 1/4 in. deep with two passes, to get a 1/2 in. deep grooves.
The lower and middle rails needed grooves too.
Bingo bongo.
I found nice silhouettes of ginkgo leaves on Pinterest, scaled them on my printer, glued them to some cardboard, and cut out these two templates, which are slightly different sizes.
Then I laid out the boards in their actual array, and played with the templates until I had the falling, windblown array I was going for.
Enter my trusty jigsaw. To make it around these tight corners and curves, I dropped in my narrowest blade.
Just drill holes for access, and make a series of cuts to shape each leaf.
Sandpaper is the great fixer. I wrapped some 80-grit around a dowel to smooth out the bumps and tight curves. I also sanded away the whiskers at the edges. Stay tuned for part 2!






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