The sagging gate: When geometry fails, make a power move


September 10, 1994|By ROB KASPER

It was a contest between a bunch of boards and my brains. The wood won the early rounds. I made a comeback. Now the situation is a standoff.

It began when the wooden gate on my back fence went into a serious sag. Like most of us, the gate had times when it was dragging. This usually happened after a bout of wet weather. After the sun began shining, the gate perked up.

Recently the gate went into a major slump. The gate was so out of line that my wife and kids had to struggle to open it. I had to take action.

I did what a lot of guys do when they are forced to undertake a household repair project: I made a pilgrimage to the hardware store. Visiting the hardware store before undertaking a repair project is uplifting.

You feel reassured because you are getting the ammo you need to wage the approaching battle. At the same time, just walking through those aisles filled with products and people devoted to the fight against wood rot lifts your spirits. A trip to the hardware store acts like a pep talk for the doubt-filled home repair guy. It is a stop that makes sure a guy's head as well as his toolbox is ready for action.

To prepare for my struggle with the sagging gate, I bought a two-part contraption called a gate hinge. One part of the gate hinge is an L-shaped bolt that screws into the fence post. I had read that the root problem of most sagging gates is a crooked fence post. However, the recommended remedy, straightening the fence post with a turnbuckle, was more than I was up to. The only thing I was going to do with the fence post next to the gate was screw a bolt into it.

The other part of the gate hinge contraption I bought was a 6-inch long piece of metal -- a strap, if you will -- that fastens to the gate support with lag bolts. The end of the strap fit over the bolt screwed in the fence post.

The sagging gate already had two hinges and straps, one at the bottom and one at the top, attempting to hold it up. I figured that adding one more hinge, in the middle of the gate, would coax the gate into proper posture.

Next I got out my power drill and the long, bright orange extension cord and ran the cord from an electrical outlet at the back of my house out to the gate.

Draping the landscape with bright orange stuff is the sign that serious work is under way. This is a tip I picked up from watching road repair crews, like the one that has been camped on Falls Road near Joppa and Greenspring Valley roads. All summer long, the crew has draped bright orange barrels and cones over the roadway. Significant work is going on. I am not sure what it is, or why it is taking months to complete. But judging by the vast amount of bright orange stuff in the road, this is a project rivaling the building of the Grand Coulee Dam.

I drilled a new hole in the fence post, screwed the new bolt in and fastened the strap on the back of the gate. According to my calculations, the hinge should have made the gate stand up straight. The gate did not go along with the calculations. Like a teen-ager who refused to be corrected, it remained in a defiant slouch.

Then I tried to think like a geometrician. If the top left corner of the gate was rubbing, then lowering the hinge on the lower right side of the gate would, I figured, make the gate stop rubbing.

It made perfect sense. It was just wrong. After I lowered the hinge the gate rubbed in two places, at its old spot, the top left, and at a new spot. The bottom of the gate was now dragging on the ground.

Defeated, I quit for the day. After a week of study, I knew what I had to do: I had to go to the hardware store again. This time, I bought an even bigger gate hinge. So much for the subtle geometrical approach; I was going for power. I got a hinge with a longer strap, one that could reach out and grab more of the slouching door and yank it back into place.

Once again, I hauled out the power drill and the extension cord. This time, I moved the top hinge up higher on the fence post and put thicker lag bolts on the top strap of the gate. This action, coupled with the threat of a bigger strap, seemed to bring the gate into line.

Never mind that moving the top hinge meant I also had to move the gate's lock and latch. Never mind that the gate is now taller than the support post. The gate had stopped sagging.

The other day, the gate was starting to sag -- just a little bit. If it keeps that up, I'm afraid I will have to speak softly, and use the big strap.

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