Timber gates comparison – Oak, Iroko, Sapele, Idigbo, Redwood

By Edward Viera- Renzland Powergates Ltd

I served my apprenticeship as a joiner making custom made cabinets, paneling and bespoke timber gates. During my 40 years as a time served craftsman and engineer I have since worked on a varied range of projects including royal properties, historical buildings and overseas projects for private clients.

We are often asked which species of timber is most suitable for gate automation. With increased world demand for hardwoods “growing” (pun unintentional), supplies of quality hardwood has become difficult with prices rising. It can sometimes be difficult when choosing the right timber for your new wooden automatic gate system ensuring value for money.

There are a number of factors that need to be considered by your gate installer before making recommendations- elements such as timber density, drying and kilning process, durability, knots (which can be desirable or undesirable depending on the application), machining, moisture, movement , the acceptability of stain/paint finishes, texture, weight/thickness, manufacturing process and hinge geometry all have an important effect on the overall quality and longevity of the system.

In most cases the final decision by the client is almost always dictated by budget and aesthetic preferences.

Whilst this information is not exhaustive, I have put together a list of the most commonly used timbers for gate automation and my review on each. This review is based on some 40 years experience as a craftsman using all types of soft and hardwood for internal and external purposes and personally over 300 timber gate installations. I was also researched with help from the sites referenced below. It is also important to point out that any automatic timber gate whether is be made from hard or softwood is only as good as the individual components that make up the system (gate automation, ironmongery, supporting posts), design, the installation itself, and of course the ongoing maintenance of the gate system.

Iroko     star iconstar iconstar iconstar iconstar icon 5/5

Iroko is a very durable hardwood. The colour varies from light yellow to golden brown and texture is coarse, often with an interlocked grain. It is indigenous to Africa and is often referred too as “African Oak”   Kiln dried iroko is strongly recommended for external gates.  This is a hard wearing timber which is resistant to decay.  Has many of the desirable features of oak and is commonly used for electric gates, external joinery, boat building and marine work. click here for a case study for iroko automatic gates. or here

Iroko        Paint-Stain          Moisture              gate cost                 Durability

Colour                   Poor                          Small                 Medium-High          Very Durable

English Oak  star iconstar iconstar iconstar iconstar icon 5/5

The sapwood is creamy white and is sharply defined from the golden, warm-brown of the heartwood.  If left untreated over time it will weather down to reveal the characteristic silver grain which looks fabulous on older character properties.  The timber is hard, heavy and durable.  Oak is very coarse in texture and straight grained, requiring the correct seasoning, hinging and automation.  It can be worked to a fine finish if necessary. As the name would imply English oak is indigenous to the British Isles, it is probably the best known and one of the most versatile of all timbers, being used more extensively and for a greater number of purposes than any other. However this comes at a cost and using this timber could easily double the cost of the entire gate installation.  For clients looking for top of the range timber electric gates- look no further than Oak. At additional cost we have laser etched crests/emblems into the timber or have it carved for truly personal customisation.

Oak        Paint-Stain          Moisture              gate cost                 Durability

Colour                   Good                          Small                 High                            Very Durable

 Sapele   star iconstar iconstar iconstar icon 4/5

Sapele is another hardwood from Africa, the colour dark reddish brown.  Grain is interlocked or wavy with a medium to fine texture.  It stains fairly easily which makes this use of gates easier to maintain in the longer term.  Common uses are usually internal such as furniture, shopfitting, and flooring but is becoming a popular choice to automate timber gates. Sapele can be used as an external wood however it is less durable than Iroko or Oak and has a greater moisture content therefore is can be susceptible to movement which can be offset with the appropriate adjustable hinges. Using sapele for automated gates is a good compromise if a superior hardwood is not attainable due to budget constraints and the option of using softwood is not acceptable.

Sapele        Paint-Stain          Moisture              gate cost                 Durability

Colour                            Good                          Medium                 Medium                 Moderate

Idigbo/Emeri star iconstar iconstar iconstar icon 4/5

Colour is yellow to light brown.  The grain is straight to slightly irregular with a medium to fairly coarse texture.  This timber works well by both machine and hand tools and finishes cleanly therefore you can achieve very fine finishes with all the benefits of a hardwood.  Idigbo is an excellent utility timber for many purposes due to its medium weight, ease of working, durability and outstanding stability- in particular for use on timber garage doors and smaller swing gates. Idigbo is not as readily available or mainstream perhaps Iroko therefore the price may be higher. It is perhaps viewed as a more exclusive timber but due to the yellowish colour it is an acquired taste.

Idigbo        Paint-Stain          Moisture              gate cost                 Durability

Colour                          Good                          Medium             Medium-High           Durable

 Redwood star iconstar icon 2/5

Redwood is a popular softwood used for gate automation, typically 5 bar farm gates- Usually sourced from Scandinavia, Russia and the UK is is also known as pine and Scot’s Pine, its colour is pale yellowish-brown to red-brown heartwood with lighter-coloured sapwood. Gates made from Redwood should be treated every 1 to 2 with water-repellent preservative stain , depending on the environment. We would strongly recommend pressure treated softwood gates to ensure the longevity of your gate investment.  

Douglas        Paint-Stain          Moisture              gate cost                 Durability

Colour                               Good                        Medium                 Low                     Non-Durable

 

Legend-

Paint-Stain This refers to the ease of accepting a stain or paint finish. Oils are recommended for hardwood gates due to ease of application and finish.

Moisture          Moisture movement- the dimensional changes that occur when dried timber is subjected to changes in atmospheric conditions. For situations where varying humidities are likely to be encountered and stability of a component is important, a small movement species should be specified for electric gates.  The most recent standard for moisture content in general is BSEN 942 1996 Timber & Joinery.

gate costCost- Based on a average 3500mm wide closed board gate. Low- Under £1000, Medium £1000-£2,000 Medium to high £1500-£3,000+ High £3,000 +

Durability   Durability- non-durable 5-10 years; moderately durable 10-15 years; durable 15-25 years; very durable 25+ years.

To get in contact with me I can be reached on eddie (@) universeuk.com or on the numbers above.

Useful links-

The Forest Stewardship Council http://www.fsc-uk.org/

The PEFC Council (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) http://www.pefc.org/

The Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA)    http://www.trada.co.uk/

The Timber Trade Federation http://www.ttf.co.uk/

The door and hardware federation http://www.dhfonline.org.uk/