Weekend Project: Make your own Custom Baby Gate

This weekend at River Ridge Co…

If you’ve seen any of our other posts, you’ll probably have guessed that we have a little one toddling around – baby blocks, baby blankets and now – a baby gate!  Yup, we’re at that stage where it won’t be long before walking and climbing begin.  We needed something to block our open staircase and we needed it fast!

But first, a few things about us (and why we embark on these DIY weekend projects – maybe you can relate?):

  1. We live in an 1800’s log home which we’re ..s..l..o..w..l..y.. renovating and nothing about this house is square.  In fact, it’s only a slightly toned-down-version of the Crazy Kitchen (if you’re not from the area, click on the link for the reference).  This makes buying pre-fabricated things, like a baby gate one endless source of frustration.  You end up making all kinds of modifications to get it to work and regret not making it yourself from the outset.
  2. The area at the bottom of our staircase is small, so we needed a gate that wouldn’t be overly intrusive when it wasn’t in use and would aesthetically blend in with what’s already there.
  3. Oh, and we have a cat (Arthur) – so we wanted to make sure he could easily travel to all of his favourite nap spots, even when the gate when it was closed.

We looked all over the place for inspiration, and eventually came across this youtube video of a parallelogram baby gate that we thought would do just the trick!  We’ve modified ours to work with our existing banister and stair rails, but if you wanted to see a video tutorial of this concept, check this guy out!    You’ll notice I’m saying “we” a lot, but really in this case it was just one of us 🙂  “We” made it with existing scrap lumber that was lying around… so in the end, the whole thing only cost us a few dollars (for the hinges and dowel).  The paint and stain were things we already had on hand that ended up matching the existing colour of the staircase *pretty* closely.

Here’s what you’ll need…

  • Lumber (we used a few pieces of 2×4 and 1×4 pine)
  • 3/8″ round dowel
  • screws
  • wood glue
  • 3/4″ round over bit for a router (optional)
  • Paint and/or stain (optional)


Step 1. Cut & drill the balusters


–Cut: We measured the existing “balusters” (the vertical pieces on your staircase banister) and made ours roughly the same size for a cohesive look.  To determine how many we needed, we considered how small of a slot Arthur (the cat) could fit through and what is considered safe gap for children (look at your local building codes for what’s required in your area).  We determined we would need 6 balusters in total ( roughly 30″tall, 4″wide; 4″deep), which would evenly span the width of our staircase.


–Drill: On each end we notched out a section (see picture above – it probably doesn’t need to be quite so big), drilled a 3/8″ hole and then rounded opposite corners (i.e. left corner on one end, right corner on the other – this will allow smooth movement of the gate when it collapses into a parallelogram).  Each baluster should be done the exact same way.

Step 2.  Assemble the top rail.

–Cut: Now that you’ve made your balusters, you need to create the top and bottom pieces that will hold them in place.  For the top rail, you will need three pieces of lumber (two side pieces and one top piece).  Each of ours were roughly 29″ long, 2.5″ wide and 3/4″ deep.  To come up with these measurements, we copied the width and depth of the existing banister rail on our staircase and then made it long enough so it spanned the full width of the staircase.

–Add the dowels: This is where you create the mechanism that will allow your baby gate to compact into a parallelogram when you open it.

  • Take your two side rail pieces and drill 3/8″ holes about 1/2″ deep, equally spaced across the span of each rail (each hole represents the position where your baluster will be attached).  Since we had 6 balusters, we spaced our  six holes roughly 5 1/4″ apart.
  • Cut your dowel into equal pieces (ours were 1 1/2″ long) and glue each piece into the holes of ONE of your side rails.  Glue the top piece of your rail onto the side piece with the dowels and let set.


  • You can then dry fit the remaining side piece by fitting the dowels into its holes and attaching it by drilling two screws from the outside of the rail into the ends of two of the dowels below.  When assembled, it should look like the picture below.
  • We also rounded the edges with a router – but this is totally optional.


Step 3.  Assemble the bottom rail, repeating step 2 🙂

Step 4. Dry-fit and make any adjustments necessary.


In this picture you can see that we’ve already sanded, painted and stained our wood – but before we did this, we dry-fit everything to make sure the balusters rotated freely around the dowels, inside the top and bottom rails.  You may need the assistance of a rubber mallet to help get the balusters onto the pegs.  If the fitting is too tight, you could always run a bit of sandpaper around the inside of your holes or dowel to create a bit more space.


Here’s how the second side rail gets attached by placing a screw through the outside of the side piece into the ends of the dowels below.  We screwed ours into two dowels, but you could screw it into all the dowels if you wanted.

Step 5.  Mount the gate to the staircase.


We used a piece of 1×5 board, cut to 22″ in length to mount the gate using two 1 1/2″ metal hinges.


Then, using clamps and a level we positioned the gate at the bottom of the stairs at screwed the mounting plate (on right) into the wall.  On the left bottom corner, we decided to attach a small piece of wood we notched out to allow the gate to rest, relieving some of the pressure on the hinges.  It also helps us know that the gate is in the correct position when we close it.


On the top, we attached this notched piece that “locks” the top rail to the banister when closed.  To open the gate, we lift the top rail up off this notch, and the gate collapses into a parallelogram along the side of the staircase:


And voilla!  A custom baby gate that matches your existing decor, doesn’t get in your way when not in use AND let’s Arthur the cat have the free reign that he has grown accustomed to.


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