Graceful Arbor Gate

Project Design by Alan Turner and Mario Rodriguez

This curved-top gate is the perfect complement to your new arbor. As you can see, the top rail, the ends of the stiles, even the custom-made iron hinges (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide) were arched to match the arbor’s ribbed bonnet. Like the arbor, the gate is built to last. The rails attach to the stiles using solid mortise-and-tenon joinery. Matching the curve of the top rail to the top of the center stile might appear daunting, but here you’ll learn how to make a template and use your router for a seamless fit. 

Begin with the gate frame

1 Referring to the Cut List, crosscut the stiles (A), bottom rail (B) and center stile (D) to length plus a few inches, from 2x6 stock. Make the top rail (C) from 2x10 stock. Surface-plane all five pieces to 13/8" thick. Using your table saw, rip a square edge on all pieces, then rip the stiles (A), bottom rail (B) and center stile (D) to 41/4" wide. (The top rail (C) will be sawn to width later.)

2 Cut the frame to fit the arbor. Referring to the Cut List, crosscut the stiles (A) and center stile (D) to final length. The center stile (D) is left long. It will be trimmed to fit later during assembly.  See the note below before cutting the bottom rail (B) and top rail (C) to final length.

Note: Measure the width of your arbor opening before cutting the rails to final length. This gate is designed with  7/8" of clearance on the hinge side and an equal   7/8" gap on the latch side, for a post-to-post distance of 42". You may need to adjust the length of the rails to fit your arbor.

3 Make a template for the top rail (C) by first chucking a 1/2"-diameter straight bit into your handheld router. Then attach the router’s base to a 54"-long strip of plywood. Plunge the bit through the plywood base. Measure 463/4" from the inside edge of the bit and drill a 1/8"-diameter pilot hole through the plywood. Cut an 8 x 36" piece of 1/2"-thick MDF or 1/4" hardboard and place it under your router. Now drive a screw through the pilot hole so that it serves as a pivot point. Proceed to rout the top arch as shown in Photo A. Drill a 1/8"-diameter hole 421/4" away from the outside edge of your bit on the plywood base. Reposition your jig so that you’re using the new hole as your pivot point and rout the bottom arch.

4 Mortise the stiles (A) for the tenons on the bottom rail (B) and top rail (C) where shown in Figure 3 using a hollow-chisel mortiser. Add 1/8" to the depths to allow for glue. If you don’t own a mortiser, use your drill press and a 1/2"-diameter Forstner bit. Pare the opening with a chisel, establishing clean, square corners.

5 Mortise the bottom rail (B) for the center stile (D) referring to the dimensions given in Figure 2.

6 Spray-adhere a copy of the pattern for the stiles (A) found in onlineEXTRAS onto 1/4"-thick hardboard and cut it out. Now trace the pattern onto both faces of each stile end. Use your table saw to cut the horizontal notches, then bandsaw or jigsaw the curves. Use a rasp and file to erase saw marks and work up to your line. When filing, work from the outer edges to the center to prevent chip-out.

7 Saw the tenons on bottom rail (B), top rail (C), and center stile (D) by first cutting the shoulders on the faces of the three pieces with a table saw. Raise the blade to  7/16", adjust the fence to 2" from the outside blade teeth, and cut the shoulders, using your miter gauge.  Raise the blade to 5/8 " and make the connecting shoulder cuts through the edges of the bottom rail (B), stile (D), and in the bottom edge of rail (C). As shown in Photo B, raise the saw blade to 2", and, using a tenoning jig (see the Buying Guide), make the cheek cuts on all three pieces. Finish cutting the edge shoulders with a bandsaw or handsaw.

8 Use the top rail template to mark the curves on the top rail (C). Cut the bottom curve about 1/4" away from your pencil line. Before sawing the top curve, make the mortise for the center stile (D). Measuring against the pencil line, set your mortiser for a 21/8"-deep cut where shown in Figure 2 and cut the 1/2" x 3" mortise.

9 Rough-cut the curved top edge of the top rail (C) using a bandsaw or jigsaw; then attach the rail pattern to the bottom face of the stock with double-faced tape. With a handheld router and flush-trim bit, pattern-rout the “downhill” grain parts of the curve. Then, chuck a pattern-routing bit (see Buying Guide below) into your router, flip the work over so the pattern is on the top, and finish the curve.

Make the center stile and panels to fit the frame

1 Make a curved shoulder template for the center stile (D). Assemble the gate without the center stile (D). Center a 41/4"-wide strip of 1/2"-thick MDF under the top rail (C) and then trace the bottom curve onto the MDF. Cut to the line, smooth the curve and then test the template to make sure that it fits tightly against the bottom of the top rail (C).

2 Shape the center stile (D) to fit the top rail (C). To do this, use a combination square and make a pencil line across both faces of the center stile (D), 1/4" below the square-cut tenon shoulder. Clamp the template to the rail so that its top edge touches the line. Using your router and a pattern bit, adjust the bit height so that the cutter grazes the tenon’s cheek and routs the curved shoulder as shown in Photo C. Remount the pattern on the opposite side and rout the other shoulder. After routing, trim the top tenon so that it’s 2" long from the centerpoint of the curved shoulder to the end.

3 Trim the bottom of the center stile (D) to fit the gate. Begin by dry-assembling the gate, without the center stile (D) and mark the new shoulder location on the bottom of the center stile with a knife. Recut the bottom rail shoulders on the table saw to the marked length and clean up the cheeks with a chisel. Trim the tenon to fit.

4 Groove the gate frame for the panels. First, dry-assemble and clamp the gate with the center stile. Using your handheld router, install a 1/4" slot cutter (see the Buying Guide) then adjust the bit so that when routing from both sides of the gate you produce a 1/2"-wide centered groove. After routing the framed openings from both sides, disassemble the gate and use a chisel to square off the rounded corners that the bit couldn’t reach. Finally, drill a series of 1/4"-diameter weep holes through the slot on the bottom rail (B) where shown in Figure 2 for water drainage.

5 Surface-plane enough 1x6 stock to 1/2" thick to make the inner (E) and outer (F) panels. (See the Cutting Diagram.) Rip the panels to the widths indicated in the Cut List. Using your table saw and dado cutter (or router table and straight bit) cut the 1/4 x 1/4" rabbets where  shown in Figure 1.

6 Cut the panels to match the curved top by assembling the gate frame, minus the top rail (C). Insert the panels (E) and (F) into the grooves as shown in Figure 1. Next, position the top rail (C) as shown in Figure 3. Make a light pencil line along the bottom edge of the top rail. Mark 3/8" up from that previous line and, aligning the top with these marks, scribe a second line parallel to the first. Now remove the rail template and bandsaw or jigsaw along this outside line, allowing the panels to fit the frame. See the TIP ALERT above before applying epoxy.

7 Clamp the bottom rail (B) to the bench. Then insert the center stile (C) and panel pieces as shown in Photo D. (Some 7/16"-thick strips of scrap can help support the free ends of the panel.) Slide the top rail (C) onto the inner panels  (E), outer panels (F), and center stile (D).

8 Mill the panel beading (G) by making the radiused edge first. For safety, the beading pieces are routed, then ripped, from leftover two-by stock. To do this,  install a 1/4" radius round-over bit (see the Buying Guide) into your router table and rout each corner. Next, take the board to your table saw. Set the blade height to 5/16", the fence to 5/16" and free each corner in two cuts using a sacrificial push pad.  Joint the edge and repeat the routing and sawing process to make additional beading.  Miter the bottom corners and cope the top corners to fit the beading to the frame. Attach the beading to the rail and stile edges using pin nails and waterproof glue (see the Buying Guide). Clamp the beading in place, as shown in Photo E, to ensure that it doesn’t pull away from the nails.

9 Sand the gate to 180 grit in preparation for painting. See step 6 in the arbor instructions for advice on finishing. See also “Wood vs. Wild” for finishing alternatives.

Assemble the gate from the bottom up. Using spacer blocks to support the free ends of the panel.
Flex the bead along the top curve to fit it in place. Use clamps and nails to hold it to the top rail until the glue dries.

Install the hinges and hang the gate

1 To install the strap hinges on the bottom rail (B) and top rail (C), strike a centerline for the bolt holes (the hinge does not have parallel sides), then drill and mount where shown in Figure 4. A dummy hinge plate on the gate’s back face gives a similar appearance from both sides and works like a giant washer enabling you to tighten the hinge bolts to the gate.

2 Install the thumb latch (see the Buying Guide) by measuring 13/4" in from the edge of the door (opposite the hinges) with a combination square and striking a 1" line from 41/2" to 51/2" down from the top outside end of center stile (D). Strike a parallel line 21/4" in from the edge. With 2" in as your center, mortise through the door with a 1/2" drill bit, creating a 1"-long slot for the latch lift. Clean the mortise with a chisel and install the latch door hardware.

3 To install the pintles, measure the distance from the bottom of the top hinge to the bottom of the bottom hinge and then make a post boring template shown in Figure 5 from scrap. Drill two  1/2" holes at this exact distance. On site, after the arbor installation, clamp the guide block to the arbor as shown in Photo F, drill, and turn them in. Hang the gate on the pintles.

4 Hang the gate and attach the keeper. The keeper is the last step in the assembly process. Instead of measuring, close the installed gate and transfer the location of the catch onto the post to accurately position the keeper when the gate is shut. Now, fasten the keeper to the post. 

A Trio of Fence Ideas

While the arbor and gate make a grand entrance into an attractively landscaped yard, you might want to enclose the area with a complementary fence. Here are three fence ideas to help you do just that. Consider making the 8' long fence sections, attaching picket assemblies to 4 x 4' posts and maintaining a height equal to or just above the gate’s height. Sink the posts to below frost line for maximum durability. 

Note: In addition to the items listed in the Buying Guide in the Garden Arbor article, you may also need the following products to build the garden arbor gate.

About the Author and the Designer

Alan Turner and Mario Rodriguez operate the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, a full-service woodworking school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They combine over 60 years of furnituremaking and teaching experience and offer courses ranging from power- and hand-tool basics to project building. See PFW on the Web at

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