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Just How Long Will it Last?




Not the most poetic title, but it does get to the point and one of the more common concerns of those purchasing Prowell's Garden Gates and Fence Panels, as well as the host of other products.

But how do we govern our claims with anything beyond silvery rhetoric? We can look to the logic of how it's built and the experience of what was brought to the table in developing the products themselves. The obvious assumptions of anything assembled with the proper joinery being ultimately more stable and more structurally sound. Or the selection of the materials specified from the mill far above what is available in a retail lumber yard and drawn again from experience that teaches us how older trees are more stable and less reactive and vertical grain is more predictable, and how a moisture level of between 4% to 9% is absolutely necessary to anything relying on joinery.

But in the end, it's just rhetoric. What to the layman or homeowner can be confusing and conflicting and for those without the time or acumen to research the data to the level of a professional knowledge really know?

The novelist John Irving was once asked regarding the release of the film version of his best selling Garp if he was concerned the film might not represent the novel in the best light. In other words, if the film was a bad film and the associations would trickle down to damage the standing of the book. His answer is a trusim to so many: "Settle on the right director and move on."

So how do we find such a director? How do we know that what he tells us is true? Finding a good dentist when we know little to nothing between good dentistry and poor dentistry? A good attorney, or accountant, and on and on. Do we move solely on the price of their services and assume the more costly practitioners are the better practitioners? Do we network and act on the referrals and advise of our neighbors, friends and acquaintances?

Perhaps the most straightforward approach, beyond the corroborating evidence presented throughout the 800 pages of this web site can be found in the following example:

In 1995, Prowell Woodworks was hired to provide a series of fence panels and gate for a residence on Yulupa St in Santa Rosa, CA. A rare local commission, by a wonderful couple who have long ago sold their home and moved on. Recently, Charles was returning from the golf course and crossed Yulupa and recalled a vague memory of the commission. He explored the street by car and couldn't find the site. he returned again months later on a bike and canvassed the circular stretch of the same street and eventually found the site in an almost unrecognizable state; the trees and hedges had fully matured and established themselves such that the property appeared greatly changed.

But the fence and gate remained. On foot, he approached the work, now some 19 years after the installtion, to support the same findings whenever he happens onto a site drawn from a distant memory of an earlier commission.

The original fence from Spring 1996 still appears on the site as Fence Style #1-3. Finished with a semi-transparent cabot stain.

january of 2013.

The semi-transparent stain is long gone, and yet illustrating how when the finishing maintenance schedule is ignored, the worst case scenario is a pleasant weathered graying of the cedar, and further illustrating how the finish itself does nothing whatsoever to prolong the life of the cedar, or the fence.

graying wood fence

There are no joint separations or cracking or delaminations or bowing,warping, or cupping. There is eveidence of dried algea, or a harmless fungus settled on the top edge of the middle horizontal rail, which shows us that the fungus had no interest in penetrating into the fiber of the resistent tannins of the cedar.
weathered cedar fence

And the gate itself.
On first glance it might appear as if the gate is sagging, but if we return to the original photograph above, we are
reminded that the sidewalk is sloped then, and now


Had the fence and gate been finished with a paint or Cabot solid-body stain, and the maintenance ignored, thepresent-day appearance would a less appealing aesthetic. The fence and gate themselves would be fine, but the peeling and cracking finish itself would upstage the fence the same way it would a house that has been ignored. Paints and Solid-Body Cabots will provide an 8 yr +_ timeline and require that that timeline not be ignored.

A WoodRX finish, discussed under the Pre-Finish Options, will provide a 7-8 yr timeline and if ignored, simply gradually weather to a consistent gray.

The same result for Cabot Semi-Transparent stains.

The danger is in a host of products that tout themselves as exterior finishes, but with a strict, and short lifeline.
Ignore any exterior finish that mentions Urethane, Varathane, Spar Varnish, Oil, Teak Oil.

Clear water repellant finishes are a complete waste of time. They last less than a year and there is no need to seal a Prowell Fence or Gate or any of our products from the absorption of moisture unless you prefer a color or tint or hue and the seal is part of the process.

Prowell's Gate and fences, etc are designed to expand and contract and self-drain. They are designed to last, even when the homeowner, you, moves away and leaves the property to someone who has no interest in maintaining a fence finish.


Prowell's articles have appeared in Fine Woodworking, Fine Homebuilding, Woodwork, Old House Journal, and This Old House, among others.

Example #2

Fence Style #9 with Pedestrian Gate #26. Oakland`


The original Garden Fence Style #9 was created in 1995 for a couple in Oakland, CA. Appearing on the site to this day and the catalyst for one of our most popular fence styles. Both the entry and driveway gates have not enjoyed the same interest, in part because they were designed specific to the geometry of a front and visible window on the original home. A window that may to many seem a little too unique. And yet they remain among the available products because Charles and Ben love the pattern.

The original. Finished with a solid-body Cabot Stain 'Alabaster.'

Rediscovered in May 2013 while having dinner across the street at a Peruvian restaurant to celebrate Charles' oldest son, Sam, completing his graduate studies at Berkeley. Sam parked the car and arrived at the restaurant with a photo on his iphone of this fence a few homes away and recognizing it as something his dad and brother would have built. An investigation leads to the following photos, showing panels and gates that show no wear whatsoever. A new color for the fence, and something very new for the gates.
* The original inspiration for the gate patterns can be seen in the window just above the gates.

Mr Chihuahua on the prowl.



Example #3

Gate Style #70. San Francisco.


The original Garden Gate Style #70 was created in 1998 for a residence in San Francisco. Along with 5 additional gate designs and a series of open grid fence panels--none of which can be seen in this photo. Revisiting the site recently (Fall 2013) for the first time since the original installation results in a few photos illustrating virtually no structural or aesthetic wear whatsoever.

The residence. The front shorter gate barely visible on the lower right is the original Gate Style #77-1. The rest of the property was not accessible on this 2013 visit.

All joints are as tight as the day they were created. No checks, cracks, warping, bowing, or cupping.

There was never a finish applied to the gates or panels on this property.

The narrow drive gate on the left was commissioned at the same time, and revisited here in 2013.

Driveway Gate Style #15.



Example #4

Fence Style #10-1. San Anselmo, CA


The original installation in 2002.

Photographed 15 years later, with the finish long weathered away and the copper caps oxidized to a vertigo patina.




Example #5

Fence Style #2. San Anselmo, CA


The original installation in 1997.

How long does a wood fence last?

Photographed in January 2017. Once again the matured landscape makes it hard to recognize, but the only change in the fence itelf is the weathered finish.

how long does a Prowell fence last?






©1995-Present Charles and Ben Prowell.
This Web Site was launched in the Spring of 1995.

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Unless otherwise noted, products appearing on this site are the sole design rights of Charles & Ben Prowell.