Sagging gates are more than an aesthetic consideration. Once a gate gets really droopy, you'll have to drag the end along the ground every time you use it, and it's next to impossible to operate a dragging gate on horseback. A few preventive measures will keep your gate corners square for easier swinging and longer service.
Install Toe Blocks
A wooden block nailed to the latch post or a smooth stone on the ground will bear the weight of the unhinged end when the gate is closed, taking the stress off the hinges. The support should be just a hair higher than the lower edge of the gate, so you have to lift the gate slightly to set it in place. If the gate is left open for long periods, a second toe block at the open position is necessary to keep the gate in shape. Wherever you place your toe blocks, they must be used consistently to prevent gate sag.
Adjust the Pintles
The L-shaped pivots (pintles) that hold a gate on its hinge post can be tweaked slightly to boost a sagging gate. Tightening the top pintle and loosening the bottom one will often change the gate's angle enough to lift the toe off the ground. The gate must be removed from the pintles to perform this adjustment. Well-seated pintles tighten or loosen with a single turn to right or left, but if the hardware turns loosely on its threads, the wood is split or rotten and lacks the "grab" to hold the metal. If this is the case, forget adjusting the pintles and replace the post. Add a brace wire.
If your gate is beyond the help of toe blocks and pintle adjustment, a brace wire running from the top of the hinge post to the middle of the gate may provide enough tension to raise the gate end from the ground. Putting on a brace wire requires a turnbuckle from your hardware store and some know-how; if you aren't brace savvy, enlist the help of a handy friend.
This article first appeared in the January 1999 issue of EQUUS magazine.