Project Profile: Japanese-Inspired Redwood Gate

Tad Davies is an artist-woodworker from Northern California. We’re pleased to share this thoughtfully crafted gate project with you, as well as a discussion of the project in Tad’s words. What stands out for us–besides the gorgeous finished product–was the elaborate Shoji-inspired window and the wonderfully elegant gate stop that’s painted to match the posts, so it blends into the background. 


Inside view of Japanese Style Garden Gate with Shoji-Inspired Window, Gate made of redwood


Tell us a bit about yourself, your woodworking background, and your business

My name is Tad Davies, and I have been doing woodwork for about 8 years. I have a shop on the ocean side of a rather lonely stretch of Hwy 1 between Santa Cruz and Half-Moon Bay in Northern California. Our shop sits atop a bluff over-looking the Pacific Ocean which can make it hard to work through sunset as the colors come blasting through our big shop doors, beckoning our attention towards the ocean.

I’m open to doing all kinds of custom woodwork—from landscape features, to cabinets and furniture. I’m a bit of an omnivore when it comes to drawing inspiration, and I like trying new things. I do have a cache of woodworking heroes that I draw from, but I hope to express a unique style in my work that reflects a combination of the time and place I live in, with an appreciation for the vast history and tradition of woodworking. In the end it comes down to a functional need, an appropriate material, and what I think looks good—a need turns into an idea, an idea a drawing, and finally a drawing into a beautiful, tangible object. It’s a lot of fun.

What joinery and technique did you use on this project? What inspired this gate’s design?

Firstly, this gate’s design was motivated by the garden of the courtyard it went in. The garden prominently featured a beautifully trained Japanese maple, many well-groomed flowering plants, some well-placed stones, and mossy ground cover.
Like I said earlier, I love many styles of woodworking, there is so much wonderful tradition in nearly every culture, but if I have to pick one that I connect with most easily, I must say it is Japanese woodworking. So elegant and clever, without overstating their brilliance.
The Japanese aesthetic is clean, but without being sterile. It is highly conscious of its environment and functionality, and doesn’t waste energy or material on unnecessary flourishes, but then through brilliant joinery expresses patience for what counts—strength, integrity, and grace, resulting in an organic piece of work that feels like it grew right there.
Japanese Shoji-Inspired Asian Redwood Garden Gate with Ginkgo Gate Hardware
A glimpse through the Shoji-inspired window


To express a Japanese influence I did a few things. I brought the top and bottom rails in from the perimeter a bit and notched them into the stiles. Allowing the stiles to run long like that offers a bit more detail and interest, without adding anything unnecessary. I also took off the corners of the interior sides of the stiles to improve the profile—give it more intention. Notching the rails into the stiles was a bit more work, but I could not resist the effect, once again giving more interest to the design, while accentuating the strength of the joints. I love seeing how stuff goes together…because of this, even at a glance, one intuitively feels that it is strong. I put a slight chamfer on the parts making the joint so it would reveal from a distance.

The other thing I did to bring in the Japanese feel, was add a Shoji-inspired look-through. This was also a practical consideration. The home-owners wanted the gate to be big enough to give them privacy, but did not want the gate to feel imposing like a fortress. The gate is tall, standing at 84 inches, but the look-through, while being above head level, still suggests a friendly invitation.

I’ve always loved Japanese Shoji screens, and was delighted to design this small reflection of that art. To come up with the details of the sticking I played off of thirds and threes—a pleasing number for patterns. And for a few dimensional decisions I went with the golden ratio. Keeping those themes in mind I just played with it until I thought it felt balanced. That was a lot of fun. And finally I stained it black, because I love color contrast.


What wood did you use on this gate?

Japanese Shoji-Inspired Asian Redwood Garden Gate with Ginkgo Gate HardwareThis gate was made entirely of redwood. The stiles and rails are kiln-dried clear redwood from a local mill that’s been in business in our area for over half a century called Big Creek Lumber. And the panels and sticking were made from old-growth redwood recycled from a water-tank. We have a stack of this, what we affectionately call tank wood, that we are slowly working our way through. It’s just incredible wood to work with. In some pieces the grain is so tight you’d need a needle to count the lines.
Working with a wood like that makes such a difference in the finished product, it’s difficult to describe, but it’s like the chamfers and details are expressed more cleanly—side by side, you can’t miss it. I am just amazed at how much variation there is to be found in one species of wood.

What advice do you have for home-owners planning for a gate project?

I think gates are a very important feature that often get over-looked, and when that happens, a great opportunity to add an expressive dimension to your yard and house has been missed. How many times have you seen some 1 by 8 boards with a Z-frame nailed to them for a gate? Boring!

When building a house, or designing a yard, I know there are so many decisions to be made, that a gate (just by the diminutive nature of the word) is often forgotten about, and then thrown together at the end of the project. But a gate is so important . . . it’s the portal to your wonderland, the moment of transition. It’s the beginning of the story that is your home.  And because a gate doesn’t have to perform some of the strict duties necessary of a front door like hold out weather, the opportunities for creativity and expression are boundless. My advice when planning a gate is to have fun with it. Let it be the thesis of your property—it’s your mission statement—your best foot forward, be bold.


…a gate is so important…

it’s the portal to your wonderland,

the moment of transition.

It’s the beginning of the story that is your home.

Japanese Shoji-Inspired Asian Redwood Garden Gate with Ginkgo Gate Hardware
An elegant and barely noticeable gate stop blends into the blue post.

In your opinion, what role does gate hardware play in the function and appearance of a gate?

Gate hardware is absolutely crucial in both the functionality and the appearance of a gate. I would never go through all the effort of building a beautiful gate, and then throw some standard, buy-it-anywhere hardware on there. The look of the hardware must fit the style of the gate. Most of the handles, latches, and hinges you’ll find at an average hardware store, beyond being as generic as can be, just don’t function that well. I don’t know why, but it seems that standards and expectations for run-of-the-mill gate hardware is low, low, low. I want a gate that works well—I want it to swing smoothly, support the gate with brawn to spare, and latch and unlatch with a satisfying, easy click. There are so many cool options for gate hardware, and a nice set is really necessary to put the proverbial cherry on top of your gate project.


To speak with Tad about a woodworking project, contact him via phone or email:


Phone: 831.359.1877