For today’s project, we’re showing you how to breathe new life into an old fence gate by remaking the frame, and adding a hidden latch to make it a bit more secure.

The fence gate we repaired was around 20 years old, and while the front-facing boards were structurally sound (even if quite weathered and grey), the frame had rotted and was in need of a rebuild. With the price of new lumber, and because the existing boards were in pretty good shape, we decided to save and reuse them. 

In the process of redoing the frame, we also adjusted the latch position. On the original gate, the latch was near the top and anyone north of four feet tall could easily reach over the top and gain entry. To make it a little more secure, we moved the latch position down so it’s unreachable. We then devised a hidden mechanism to open the gate from the outside that’s subtle enough to go unnoticed unless you know it’s there. 

Ready to get started?

Step 1: Remove fence gate

Unscrew the fence gate from its hinges and place it atop a pair of sawhorses or another open work surface. 

Because our gate was so old, when we went to unscrew it, the heads of the screws sheared off. If you run into the same issue, you’ll need to adjust the location of the hinges slightly when remounting and use new screws, too.

If you do end up adjusting the hinge location, make sure the new screws don’t hit the old ones stuck in the wood.

Remove fence gate to repair.

Z frame fence gate diy repair

Fence gate hinge repair

Measure for accuracy

Step 2: Take measurements

Before disassembling the gate, we recommend taking photos and measurements of everything. You’ll specifically want to measure the width of the cross braces and their vertical position on the fence boards, as well as the spacing of the fence boards if there is a vertical gap between boards.

On our gate, we opted to create a new Z-frame on top of the old one, as some of the old nails and screws had become embedded in the wood.

Measure for accuracy

Measure and mark the boards accordingly

Dunn Lumber project plan for z-frame fence gate repair.

Step 3: Disassemble gate

To deconstruct the gate, start by removing the hinges and gate latch and set aside.  

If you’re going to reuse the fence boards, we recommend labeling each board before removal so it’s easy to reinstall them in the right order.

Make a cutting template using the old Z-frame before disassembling it by laying the new pieces of wood on top, then cutting each to match the lengths.

Cut the top rail and the bottom rail (duplicates of the existing frame). If you need to shift their positions due to sheared-off screws on the post, move the top rail up ¾” and the bottom rail down ¾.” A piece of ¾”-thick wood here can help you adjust the height of the rails.

Cut the diagonal brace to the correct length by marking where it intersects the top and bottom rail.

Disassemble gate with a drill.

Remove screws from existing hardware

Mark each board to reassemble.

Measure and mark your boards.

Use a saw to make your measured cuts.

Place boards on top of one another.

Mark at the proper angle.

Make your diagonal cut.

Once you’ve cut all three pieces (top rail, bottom rail, diagonal brace), it’s time to anchor them together. Pre-drill and fasten the diagonal brace to the top and bottom rails with 3" screws.

Remove the Z-frame you just built with the new wood, then use a pry bar and hammer to remove the old fence boards gently. Remove any old nails from the old boards as you go.

(One of our old fence boards split, so we used a sawzall to help remove the remaining boards and nails. To do this, clamp the far end of the fence boards down to the sawhorses, use the sawzall to help with removal, then use the prybar and hammer to knock them loose.)

Remove old wooden boards.

Continue removing screws from all boards.

Step 4: Reattach fence boards

Use clamps to attach the Z-frame you just made to the sawhorses, outward-facing side up. Then double-check the dimensions against the measurements you took in Step 2, or by holding it up in the gate opening between the posts. Adjust if necessary by trimming the boards or replacing them with longer ones. (It’s mostly the width you’re concerned about here.)

Reattach the first and last fence boards first. Then attach the rest of the boards in the same order and with the same spacing as used originally (using ⅛” spacers worked well for us). Note: If you care about having all the screws in a straight line, you can lay an extra board down or draw a faint line to use as a reference. 

Use clamps and saw horses to attach Z frame

Drill boards together.

Use spacers to verify accuracy.

If you care about having all the screws in a straight line, you can lay an extra board down or draw a faint line to use as a reference.

Place screws into boards using drill

Step 5: Add vertical braces (optional)

If you’d like to give your gate extra strength, you can add vertical braces at this point.

To do this, flip your new Z-frame gate over on the sawhorses. Take measurements again, then cut and mount vertical braces that run between the top and bottom rails.

Add vertical braces for extra strength.

Make your cuts.

DIY z frame gate repair

Drill boards together.

Step 6: Attach hinges and gate latch

Using the old upper and lower rails of the gate as a reference, position the hinge wings in the same spot on the new rails.  Then mount the gate latch. If you’ve added extra braces, mount the latch on top of the brace, in a spot well below the top of the gate (where only Elastigirl could reach).

Attach hinges to fence gate repair

Attach latch.

Step 7: Mount gate onto post

Move the gate off of the sawhorses back to where it’s going to be installed. Mount it to the post: Hold your gate in place, mark the positions for the screw holes, and fasten with one or two screws in the top and bottom hinge wing. (Because of the screws that sheared off when we removed the gate and left screws in the post, we lowered the hinge position by ¾” from the original placement.)

After you’ve installed a few screws, swing the gate back and forth to make sure it swings smoothly and doesn’t bind. If everything looks good, install the remaining screws.Mount gate to post.

Measure and mark

Attach hinges to post.

Step 8: Mount gate latch

With the gate hung on its hinges, find the spot to fasten the post side of the latch to its new position. Hold the gate in a closed position and find the right spot for this second part of the latch. Mark the holes for that latch and screw it into place.Mount gate latch

Attach using screws and drill.

Step 9: Rig hidden latch release

Now you have a solid and sturdy reworked gate that’s really easy to open from the inside, but not the outside. 

To rig up the hidden latch release, use screw eyes and a thin cord or fishing line. We suggest tying one end to a screw eye, threading it through another screw eye a few inches away, and then tying it off to the moving portion of the latch. Then, to open the gate, you can just reach the string and pull—like pulling the ‘next stop’ cord on a bus.

Rig the hidden latch release

Test and mount to board

DIY Z frame fence gate repair

Hinge repair on fence gate

Latch on fence gate repair

And that’s all there is to it! For more gate maintenance tips and tricks, check out this article on when to repair your gate and our tips for fixing a sagging gate.