Building lock gates
With over 1500 locks on our canals, building new lock gates is a year-round job for us. Every single lock gate is unique, and made to measure at our workshop.
When our canals and rivers were built there was no standard template for lock gates. They were constructed using a variety of techniques and designed to navigate the local landscapes. As a result, no two locks on our canals and rivers are alike, so when we’re building new lock gates, each one has to be sized up and built to the exact specifications for each lock.
An average lock gate lasts for about 25 years. As they come to the end of their working life they will get a visit from our carpenters, who measure it up, ready to be rebuilt back at the workshop. Usually it takes a couple of carpenters two weeks to build a pair of lock gates, but for the biggest gates it can take over a month.
Sustainably grown oak
Each lock gate is still hand-made by our skilled carpenters in the traditional way. We use green, sustainably grown oak. Steel brackets are fitted to strengthen the joints of the gate to make sure it lasts.
Many of the cast iron fittings, for example the working paddle gear, are recycled and then reused on the new gates. Other bespoke metalwork such as hoops and collars are also made at our workshops.
The heavy design and construction is needed so that the gate holds up to the pressure of the canal water and can take the continual wear and tear from boats that pass through the lock.
180 lock gates a year
We make lock gates all year round, though most are fitted during the winter months when the canals aren’t quite as busy. This means the gates can be stored for up to six months before being fixed to the lock.
All this time the gates have to be kept wet to make sure the timber doesn’t dry out and shrink. Each year the two workshops normally build 180 lock gates between them, at a cost of over £2 million.
We can’t predict it all
Our workshops also help out in emergencies when something unexpected happens on our canals.
We get lots of instances where our lock gates are damaged and we need to get them repaired quickly so that everyone can enjoy the canal again. Emergency repairs to gates will normally involve the workshops supplying a part or, in some instances, a whole new gate.
The majority of the lock gates we manufacture are for our own waterways, but on occasion our workshops have built gates for other navigation organisations and canal restoration societies.
If capacity allows, our workshops can also produce many other types of timber structures and machined timber, including bridges.
Last date edited: 5 November 2020