Curb appeal starts at the front gate. Whether you’ve installed a new gate or freshened up an old workhorse with a paint job, it deserves well-coordinated hardware. When you reach for the gate latch, the way it looks and feels beneath your hand should send a subtle message: you’re home.
Gate latches fall into a category of essential landscape elements that everyone has but no one talks about. No more. With the help of Jana Lombardi, founder of Portland, Oregon-based 360 Yardware, a retailer and manufacturer of high quality exterior hardware, we’re deconstructing the details of latches and other elements that can make your gate swing smoothly.
Read on for everything you need to consider—style, material and installation—when choosing a gate latch. Gate hardware is deceptively tricky, so for more details, visit 360 Yardware’s technical information section online.
What is a gate latch?
While there’s no doubt a gate’s structural integrity hinges in large part on, well, hinges, it’s the latch—our first tactile contact with the gate and perhaps the garden—that can make us smile or scream.
At its simplest, a latch is a mechanism with a metal bar and lever that raises and lowers to open a gate. Traditionally made of hard-wearing metal components, it should operate smoothly each time. For a latch to do its job properly, it must be paired with the right hinges and be part of a gate or fence system that’s expertly designed and built. (Stay tuned for our upcoming post on how to choose the proper size, weight, and style of gate hinge.)
First, the big picture
Lombardi stresses choosing with longevity in mind, paying particular attention to your geography when selecting materials and to quality workmanship to ensure reliability. Well functioning mechanical goods are often a blend of fine craftsmenship and expert engineering and that’s often reflected in the price, though not always. Lombardi suggests first getting ideas on design and hardware websites, viewing gate builders’ online galleries, and looking around the neighborhood. With a clearer idea of style and budget, clients will then send her pictures to help winnow options. Functional questions abound: Do you want an in-swinging or out-swinging gate? Does the latch need to be operable from both sides? Does it need to be lockable?
What type of latch should I choose?
Above: The Nero Contemporary Lever Gate Latch, designed and produced by 360 Yardware, coordinates with the numbers on this Portland home; $350.
Most likely the architecture of your home guided the choices you made when designing your gate, or perhaps your gate was grandfathered in and replacing it isn’t in the cards. Regardless, the style of your gate hardware should coordinate with your home and also work with your existing exterior hardware, such as your light fixtures and door hardware, says Lombardi. To start, take a long look at your house. Identify whether the facade has stylistic impulses that lean toward modern, rustic, traditional, Colonial, Victorian, Gothic, or another era. Next, look at the hardware on your front door: If you like the door handle, you may want to echo the look with a gate latch of a similar style. Notice what metals are already in play on your house.
Gate latches generally can be broken into four types—thumb, ring, lever and bolt—and Lombardi explains how each works.
Above: A traditional cast bronze Two-Sided Thumb Latch with a drop bar is $295 from 360 Yardware. Operable from both sides, this latch fits gates 1.75″ to 2″ thick.
Thumb latches are typically for in-swinging gates and are double sided, meaning they can open and close from either side of the gate. Mounted on the street side of the gate typically is a decorative plate with a thumb depressor. Push the thumb and the latch-arm on the inside lifts, allowing the gate to open. A well-mounted latch arm, when activated, will fall into the catch on its own. Some thumb latches are lockable.
Ring and Lever Latches
Above: From Sun Valley Bronze, a Gate Latch Privacy Set has two handles (one for each side of the gate), a bar latch with locking mechanism, receiver strike, and spindle. For more, see Made in the USA: The Ultimate Gate Latch.
Ring latches also are two-sided and work on both in-swinging and out-swinging doors. The street-side hardware features a backplate with a ring. The interior side has a backplate and ring, attached to a latch arm. Turning the ring moves the arm out of the catch so the door can open. The latch arm of the gate latch is installed on the side that the gate opens toward.
Above: Lever latches mimic ring latches in function, except they have a lever handle instead of a ring. Rocky Mountain Hardware’s Rectangular Keyed Gate Hardware Set has a keyed locking function; $894.
The old-school bolt latch is another type to consider. It’s a straightforward, one-way gate latch, but not without its sense of style.
Above: Sun Valley Bronze offers this hand-crafted solid bronze Slide Bolt Gate Latch.
Tried and True
Then, of course, if you’re looking for something simple, functional and inexpensive, there’s always this tried-and-true fingertip release latch. Lombardi’s been known to recommend this straightforward solution in certain circumstances. “All them have a place,” she says.
Above: Home Depot sells a Galvanized Gate Latch for $7.14.
For more details on each style of latch, visit 360 Yardware’s rundown of latches by type.
Another variation in the ever-complicated gate latch hardware matrix concerns security. Generally, says Lombardi, there are four typical options. For locking from just one side, consider the slide bolt or the padlock eyes. Two-sided lock options are the keyed deadbolt and the keypad deadbolt. Each option has its own form and function concerns.
What materials are best for gate latches?
While mulling style and type, you’ll also need to consider material, which sets the tone for your color, finish and design. When choosing your material, Lombardi emphasizes keeping geography front and center. “It’s extremely disappointing to find a beautiful cast iron latch for your oceanfront house, only to see it rusting three weeks later,” she says. Likewise, people living in cities with industrial pollutants need to know those particles can dig into finishes. “Just knowing what environment you’re in really does impact the longevity of what you’re installing. It’s important to manage expectations.”
Iron, steel, stainless, bronze, and brass are commonly used for latches and none are trouble-free. “With all outdoor hardware, you’ll have to do maintenance for it to look good and last,” says Lombardi. “My broad approach for any material is: rinse it with fresh water and wipe it down.”
With that said, let’s get her take on gate latch metals.
Cast or wrought iron is the most common latch material on the market. Iron is often powder-coated to protect from the elements. Lombardi likes iron for homes in dry environments, where a rustic aesthetic is in order.
- Pros: Iron is long-lasting and a good value.
- Cons: It will eventually rust; especially vulnerable is the metal-on-metal interface.
- Maintenance: Some like the rustic look and don’t mind the rust spots. If that’s not you, use steel wool to remove them and then coat with a spray paint like Rustoleum
- Tips: In highly corrosive areas, like the seaside, stay away from iron.
- Common styles in iron include Old World, antique, Colonial and traditional.
If you’re looking for a long-wearing, modern option, stainless is an excellent choice.
Above: Stainless screams modern with this Alta Stainless Steel Contemporary Modern Gate Latch hardware set, $625 from 360 Yardware. It outfits this gate built by Northern California guitar maker Russell Fong, who also crafts gates.
- Pros: Stainless steel is rust-resistant except in the most salty of areas.
- Cons: It’s style-specific, meaning it’s ideal if you’re after a clean, modern look.
- Maintenance: Wash with mild dish liquid and warm water, wipe dry.
Looking for luxury and living at the coast? Bronze is the answer.
- Pros: Substantial feel and beautiful patina. No risk of chipping because there’s no powder-coat and bronze won’t rust.
- Cons: Higher end of the price spectrum.
- Maintenance: Applying wax annually will protect your latch and prevent patina, if you so desire.
- Tips: Bronze will darken to a dark copper penny color and then eventually patina green. It’s appropriate in many styles from traditional through contemporary.
Most prevalent in the Northeastern U.S., brass latches tend to be a niche market.
- Pros: Feels hefty in the hand.
- Cons: Tarnishes over time, which means brass can be a headache for those who want that shiny appearance.
- Maintenance: Polish to keep its glow.
- Tips: Traditional and Colonial styles pair well with brass hardware.
Specialty Materials and Custom Work
Mild steel (steel mixed with a bit of carbon), copper, and high-tech polymers are other material options for gate latches, each with specific characteristics. Depending on your needs, they may be worth checking out. Lombardi suggests those interested in custom work should first check out websites of local fabricators. “There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and for this type of work seeing it is really important.”
What do I need to know to install a gate latch?
When it comes to installation, the devil really is in the details. Here Lombardi offers some advice for getting the job done.
Above: Marin County fence builder George Salladin installed two stainless gate stops on this custom redwood gate. Photograph courtesy of 360 Yardware.
- Install a gate stop on every gate. This prevents the gate from continuing past the opening and out the other direction, prolonging the life of hinges, latches and the gate itself.
- Hire an experienced, detail-oriented contractor. Or, if you’re super particular, do it yourself. Ideally, says Lombardi, “a woodworker with extreme gate building experience is the person you want.”
- If you haven’t hired an expert, do make sure your handyman or contractor has read the latch directions.
- Before choosing your latch, pick your hinge. Hinges need to be based on the size and weight of your gate door and that decision is vital to structural integrity. Then your latch will follow. A sturdy latch can’t make up for weak hinges.
- In conjunction with selecting a gate latch, don’t forget to coordinate other gate hardware, such as ring pulls, hinges, dummy hinge fronts, clavos (decorative nails), gate stops, speakeasy grates and grills, and security features including deadbolts or padlocks. Gate latch sets guarantee that everything coordinates well and looks right together
- Know your gate thickness so you order the proper spindle. Extension kits are often available for thicker doors.
- Never use interior door hardware for an outdoor wooden gate. Gate latches are designed to accommodate seasonal wood movement. Only an internal deadbolt would be recommended for exterior use.
Above: Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.
A final note: pool latches
Many communities require that pool gates be childproof, which mean they must be self-closing (likely with a spring hinge) and too high for a child to reach. Check with local ordinances before making your final latch selection. For more information, see Lombardi’s column on Pool Gate Latches and Pool Gate Hardware.
Ready to choose a gate latch? See our earlier posts:
Finally, learn how to successfully design a fence for any landscape or garden project with our Hardscaping 101: Fences & Gates guide.