self-adjusting gate latch

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored project/product by National Hardware, but my opinions are, as always, 100% my own.

My backyard gate: it was one of the first projects ever completed at the house. So, of course, it’s also one of the first things to break.

Twice. Or maybe three times. I’ve lost count. At least this time I didn’t have to fight with new gate hinges. Easy installation for the win.

broken fence latch

The first time, I don’t even know what happened to make it break. I simply came home to missing parts. But, the latch had also originally been installed on the wrong side of the fence (in that it was on the front of, or outside of the gate, instead of behind it). So when I did the last fix, I simply flipped the replacement around, but didn’t really think it through. The problem, as you can see above, was that I didn’t think to install it along the support of the gate and instead attached it to one of the fence pickets, just as the last homeowner had it originally had on the other side. It worked for a while, but a windy storm this past winter split the picket down the middle, and off came the hardware along with it.

broken gate and fence

The last time it broke, I was able to fix the malfunction with a zip tie. But now that the other side broke off completely, I decided that it was finally time to upgrade and put the hardware in the right spot.

old hardware

Luckily enough for me, National Hardware reached out and asked if I’d like to work on a few projects with them this year. Uh, duh. I have like 30 things on my to-do list that could use some hardware, so this was a perfect match. They make SO many different types of latches so I described what I needed, and they immediately sent me a heavy duty latch:

national hardware heavy duty gate latch

Not only was it stronger, but twice as wide (insert dirty joke). The reason for this being that the original 4-inch latch needed only to span the distance from the post to the first picket; but because there was existing hardware attached to the end of the gate support, the new latch would need to fit on the other side while still reaching across to the same spot on the gatepost. If that sounded like complete gibberish, let’s try a visual demonstration:

To do this project, you’ll need (affiliate links):

Also optional: your curious fur helper who just wants to bark at flying flower tufts floating in the air.

Charlie 2016

Step one: remove the old hardware and toss it in the garbage.

remove old hardware

This includes the rusty old screws of the fence board still stuck to the gate.

remove old screws

The only tricky part about installing a new latch is remembering what goes where. For example, there is a piece that gets screwed into the post (the “striker”, A in the photo below) and a piece with a long arm (or latch bar) that gets screwed directly onto the gate frame (B). I wanted to screw the post side in from the left rather than the right, so it required unscrewing the bolt that held the striker in place (the part that catches the latch’s arm when closing the gate). This could all be done by hand, and I was able to flip the mechanics of the keep around by simply turning it upside down and tightening the bolt back down.

flip hardware to other side

As always, drilling pilot holes will keep the gate screws from slipping away from you and help the installation go much faster. Once you’ve lined up where the new hardware is going to be, mark the holes for your placement of screws with a pen, then use a bit that is slightly narrower than the width of the screw to create your pilot holes (using an exact width will prevent the threads on the larger screws from catching in the wood).

mark pilot holes

I chose to start with the gate side because that seemed easier (attaching the self-latching bar side, then using that as a guide for figuring out where the striker needed to be on the left in order to catch it).

drill pilot holes

Unlike the previous hardware I’d installed, this set came with lag screws (or lag bolts, whatever you prefer), so I had to use a different bit on the end of my drill (the instructions say to use a wrench, but this also works!).

hex nut driver bit and lag bolt

Even though I have lots of bit sets, this was definitely not a bit I get to use very often, so the novelty of it was actually kinda fun.

screw lag bolts with hex nut driver

For the final screw, thread the adjustable arm through the hole on the right and tighten the bolt down like the others, but leave a little wiggle room so that the latch’s arm can move up and down like so:

adjusting gate latch arm

And before ya know it, my heavy duty gate latch was in place, looking spiffy and solid:

new hardware on gate

Another thing I made sure of with the new latch was that it still had the same adjusting feature of the old one. Over time, fences settle and move around a little, so it’s better to spend a few extra bucks and buy a latch that can handle a slight shifting every now and then (on this particular model, this feature is called “Adjust O-Matic”, which makes me think of those funny infomercials for kitchen appliances that dice onions or peel boiled eggs). This new hardware can adjust on both sides. On the left (the part that was screwed into the post), the screw holes are taller than needed for a single screw to fit. This longer notch means that if the fence ever settles more and the latch piece could stand to shift down by a quarter of an inch or so, I can easily accomplish this by unscrewing it slightly, moving the hardware down slightly, and tightening the screws again — no new pilot or new holes needed.

screws left side

On the right, the screw that holds the arm of the latch in place is a little loose, so it has a small range of motion that helps it move up or down as needed to catch itself on the other side. This means that if it too ever needs a slight adjustment, I won’t have to break out my tools again.

adjusting gate latch arm

With the new hardware in place, I could now unscrew the old, split picket and replace it with an equally old one that I just happened to still have left over from this project and this project (which were leftover scrap projects of their own!). Done!

new gate hardware 2

how to install self adjusting gate hardware

how to install automatic adjusting gate hardware

how to install an adjustable arm gate latch

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  1. Love your post! We just moved into a home with a shabby little gate that connects to the alley. I’d prefer to have a better lock and these instructions are perfect! Thanks!

  2. This entire post absolutely ROCKS! Thank you for all the hard work you put into it. It really shows.

  3. I have a shabby old gate and the latch is broken. However I don’t know where to buy a good one. Can you please some recommend some stores to me!? And… I think you need to paint the gate to make it more colorful and attractive. Nice work anyway. You really made your gate spiffy and solid!!

  4. I ran across this post (meaning an electronic essay, not a vertical piece of wood!) and enjoyed reading it. But it seems like the name ‘self-adjusting latch’ is a bit of a stretch. The arm floats a little, and you explained how you could adjust the other piece manually. I don’t see the ‘self adjusting’ function. I assume the vendor came up with the name – and I would have used the product myself, even if it was a little more expensive.

    I actually found your website while checking out the Sika fence post mix – glad I did: I will use something else!

    1. Glad to help, Dan! I don’t know if this will help: over time, the way the latch matches up to the other piece on the other side will change/drop slightly with age and use (I can say with certainty since it’s been several years since this post was written, that’s true). The latch still catches and wasn’t necessary to re-install it lower. That differs from the previous latch that I had on the fence prior — it had completely fallen out of line, making this a for-sure upgrade as far as my gate is concerned. So, yes, the arm floats and that may not seem like much, but I think I’d definitely go with one that “self-adjusts” (and yes the vendor made the name!) in the future if I were to install a new one someday.