Cardinal Gates Stairway Special Safety Gate (SS-30)
After careful research through price and feature shopping online, reading purchaser feedback, perusing manufacturers' websites, watching Youtube videos, and visiting baby stores to physically see products, I selected Cardinal Gate's Stairway Special Safety Gate for both my top of stair and my bottom of stair baby / dog gate. I purchased and installed 2 of these gates which now have been in place for several months so this review includes real life testing with twin babies and a 65 lb German Shorthaired Pointer. I just had our wood stairs finished and stained so the gates are to not only protect the twins from injury but to also protect my stairs from my dog running up and down them with her dinosaur claws. In this article I will tell you why I selected this gate and provide my experiences with installation, Cardinal Gate's customer service, and last how it performs in the field.
As mentioned above, I purchased 2 of these gates and I did it through Walmart.com but it was a toss-up between there and Amazon.com where I am a Prime member. The gates shipped quick and were easy to unpack. I will talk about installation later.
Other stair gates to consider:
The aesthetic of the gate played a large factor--along with functionality, safety and other criteria--in choosing a gate. I typically weigh the aesthetics heavily because this gate will most likely be up in use for years to come. We will probably leave it up after the kids even need it so we can control passage of the dog on the stairs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so this section is probably more subjective than others. I find this gate to have the cleanest lines and the curved bottom is a departure from all of the rectangular gates on the market, adding a level of sophistication to match decor. I also like that the mounting hardware is metal, giving gate and mounts a nice uniform look. Many of the other gates are metal with plastic mounts. Not to mention there is no bulky plastic latch which is a positive for me. For some the aesthetics may not be as important but being in such a prominent location in our house I wanted something that blended and would look great. The mounting hardware (mounts, hinges, latch), while not as minimalistic as with some other gates, is cleanly designed and draws curiosity in a good way. I will talk more about the mounting bracket adaptors we purchased separately from Cardinal Gates later but from an aesthetic point of view the adaptors are simple and low tech; maybe a bit too industrial looking though with the exposed bolts. However, we have received compliments on the brackets, especially how they blend in to our post/stairway. I didn't want adaptors with exposed zip ties or something that didn't have an integrated look.
The gate comes in black, white, and outdoor brown colors and as you can see from the photographs we chose white to match our staircase. Overall the gate is simple, clean looking, conveys sturdiness, and looks high end without being over-engineered.
At the time of purchase I paid $62.99 for each gate. After researching many gates I found this price to be not on the high end and not on the low end. For the features, construction, and aesthetics I found this to be a good value. Again aluminum construction to keep the weight down while maintaining strength and also there are no plastic mounting brackets for the walls. Additionally some of the other adapters for mounting to stair posts (aka newels, banisters, etc) are more expensive than the Cardinal Gates adaptors, which keep the overall price down. In comparing price, I was looking at stairway gates in specific which can be different from normal doorway gates. Additionally I was comparing to other gates that are wall mounted which are different from pressure mounted gates.
For a gate, I like that all the parts are metal. For other applications plastic is perfectly fine and in fact we just purchased a baby fence--to enclose an indoor enclosed play space--that is all plastic. The Stairway Special SS-30's metal parts include the gate itself, mounting brackets, and hinges. Many other gates are steel but this one is aluminum which keeps the weight down (good for opening and closing) and because it is aluminum it should not rust. While many other gates have mounting parts and hinges that incorporate plastic, I just think the metal brackets/hinges will wear better over time but I don't have any empirical data to back this. The only plastic pieces are two small bushings that go over the top and bottom part of the metal rod which serve as the hinge. These small plastic bushings help the gate swing smoothly - basically used in place of bearings which would be overkill here.
On the Cardinal Gates Website there is a video showing an adult male sitting on top of this gate to show the strength of the gate. I personally will not be sitting on my gate but I like the point that if my kids put pressure on it, it should hold up. While the twins are still small they do like to use the gate to prop them up while they learn to stand on their own and they also like to rock the gate every now and then. So far no issues.
Another thing I like about the quality here is that the brackets on each side are one piece rather than separate top and bottom brackets on each side. This adds to the strength of the brackets and overall rigidity. I also think these single brackets on each side make installation easier because I don't have to separately line up and measure the distance of the top and bottom brackets to match the hinges on the gate.
One area I see for improvement is where the gate dowels are welded to the gate frame. I think this could be beefed up a bit. It seems like there is only one contact point welded where each dowel meets the frame. Maybe this is sufficient for this application but seems like it could cause issues over time with my kids repeatedly grabbing and shaking the rods.
The latch, the mechanism which locks the gate shut, is a major feature of any gate. How safe is it? How hard is it to use? How smooth is it? Is it durable?
I was looking for a latch that would be difficult for my kids to figure out even when they get a little older and this one should do the trick. I have even had numerous adults that are stumped by it. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this but once you get the hang it is no issue - kind of like when you are a tourist in the NYC subway and it takes you 5 times to swipe your metrocard with the right rhythm and pace to get through the turnstile while the local next to you does it so fast from muscle memory alone. Opening the gate with one hand is no problem and I do it everyday with one kid in my other hand.
To open the gate there are two tabs that need to be independently pressed down at the same time with 2 different fingers. So I need to use my thumb and index finger to push down on the tabs at the same time which releases the locking mechanism. At the same time as that I wrap my last 3 fingers under the top bar and lift up. So you actually have to push the tabs down (at the same time) while lifting the gate up. This sequence will be challenging for any little one. Since the latch is made of all metal parts it can be a bit noisy if care is not taken when opening/closing. When the kids are asleep I just use a bit of extra care and precision, especially when locking the gate back up, to use the gate in silence.
This gate is not an auto-shut gate and I did not want auto-shut functionality for stairs. Auto-shut is when the gate will swing shut, such as via spring loading or other method, on its own and also engage the lock shut on its own. For stairs we do not want to take the risk that the gate auto-shut feature doesn't work that one time for whatever reason. Hence we don't want to take the risk assuming that a gate on the top of the stairs is shut when it really might not be. Without the auto-shut feature we need to explicitly shut the gate ourselves. Yes, this is prone to human error too but it becomes a routine that when you open the gate you also close the gate - they go hand in hand.
Apart from the latch the gate opens in both directions which is not a concern for me at the bottom of the staircase. However, this is a concern on the top of the staircase because I wouldn't want to be able to swing the gate out over the stairs, lose balance and fall down the stairs. As a result, during installation, I attached the included stopper tab which prevents the gate from swinging in both directions. So on my top of stair installation, I configured it to be able to just swing away from the staircase.
After you unlatch the gate, it swings pretty smoothly. The gate needs to be lifted, as mentioned above, out of the latch mechanism and this is where the light weight of the aluminum helps. The gate also needs to be lifted back to lock it. I think that concept is common with other gates' functionality too. It is easier to open the gate with two hands because when I perform the lifting action more towards the center of the gate it lifts easier. When I open it with one hand, by engaging the latch and lifting with the same hand, towards the end of the gate it is a bit tougher to lift the gate. This makes sense because of physics but we won't get in to that here. Again though, my wife and I open and close the gate with one hand most of the time and have no problems but it is easier to use two hands.
Some gates have a bar that goes across the bottom and sits on the floor. That design is probably more appropriate for a gate that is not a stair gate. However, I have seen some people install these types of gates on stairs. This seems dangerous as it is a tripping hazard, something I don't want to do on stairs. The SS-30 does not have this design so nothing to worry about here.
This gate is pretty versatile for several reasons. First, it is expandable and can be adjusted from 27″ to 42 ½”.
Other gates are adjustable to different widths and some are fixed width (e.g. 32" width). My stair case is fairly wide and with the mounting brackets and stairpost adaptor there was more than enough width for me. Adjusting the gate is not that difficult - there is a bolt which I can loosen with the supplied allen wrench and I just pull apart or push together the 2 pieces of gate that overlap each other. Then I retighten the bolt which secures the 2 pieces in place at the length that is chosen. If the mount, where the latch latches on to, is not installed lined up with the gate, I can fine tune the alignment in the same way I set the width of the gate - I just tighten that bolt to lock the 2 gate pieces in place but in the width I need and in the alignment I need too.
Next, I also like that I can actually remove the whole gate easily. Let's say I need to move furniture up the stairs or am having a party and need unobstructed passage. All I need to do it undo a keychain like ring at the bottom of the gate hinge, lift the hinge rod out, and my gate is now completely detached. All that remains are the mounts on each side which are affixed to the wall or stairway post but they are not obtrusive i appearance.
Another plus with the versatility is that these gates can be installed at angles. This means the gate doesn't need to be installed in a traditional manner directly perpendicular to 2 parallel walls or between a standard door jam. This gives me a lot of options especially on stair cases which may have one side attach to a wall and the other side attach to a part of the stair case like the post. Both sides can be attached to angled walls and it will still work.
Last, Cardinal Gates offers clean, integrated looking adaptors for staircase posts.
These adaptors enable the gate to be mounted to stairway posts in lieu of walls. My stairway post is actually square in shape so I could have actually mounted the gate directly to the post but I didn't want to stick screws directly in to my nice new posts. Also, I figured installation would be easier because I could affix the gate to the adaptor and then since the adaptor is adjustable on the post, I could fine tune the installation that way. Otherwise, if I mounted the gate directly to the post, I would need to get it right pretty much the first time to avoid a bunch of holes in the wood post and frustration. The adaptors are also good for round posts, enabling the gate to be installable on round dowels. They even have adaptors to enable mounting to the railing pickets, the smaller posts between the large posts/newels. The brackets have a simple design and in truth can be made by anyone that has experience using a power drill. I usually make things like this on my own but have too many other projects going on right now. The wood on the brackets come unfinished so I actually painted mine to match the white color of my staircase newel/post. The adaptors are a bit expense for what they are but I figure by the time I buy the materials and spend the effort making them myself, it would be a wash for the most part. I had no problem paying the small extra price here to not make these on my own.
Instructions and Installation
The gate comes with a single page of instructions that are thorough and easy to follow. Each gate took me about 30 to 40 minutes to install and that is with my extra meticulous approach. If I was installing between a standard wood doorjam, I am confident the installation would be quicker.
The setup requires some assembly to the gate itself as there are a few bolts to screw in to each side of the gate frame. On one side eyelet bolts need to be screwed in -- this is where the rod goes through and the gate swings/hinges on. On the other side of the gate frame the latch bracket screws on to the frame. Basically you can do most of it by hand and tighten with a screwdriver. I also needed to mount the brackets to the wall and stairway post. As you can see in some of the pics above, I mounted the hinge side of the gate--which takes most of the weight of the gate--to the stair post via the stairway post adaptors. I did this because the stairway post is stronger than my drywall so it can take more abuse and weight load. On the other side I mount the latch receiver piece directly to the dry wall, and I purchased drywall anchors to make the connection extra secure. The drywall side barely carries any weight load, especially if you open and close the gate correctly.
When figuring which width gate you need, I needed to take in to account the mounting bracket and adapter width. Given that the gate is expandable, I knew the total width would fit my opening without an issue. However, if the opening is just wider than the gate max width, then factor in the width of the brackets and adaptors.
The wall mount on the hinge side is longer that the wall mount on the other side but it doesn't extend to the ground. This helps because it can be mounted higher up than a baseboard. As long as the baseboard is not taller than 6.5" there should be no issue. For those with taller baseboards, fret not, and extension piece of wood can be used but I won't go in to detail here about that.
I had positive experiences with Cardinal Gates support even though I didn't buy the gate or adaptors directly from them. On the stairpost adapter, the bolts I received didn't work for me - I don't know if it was just the size of my post or that wrong bolts were included. In any case, Cardinal was very helpful when I called up. They looked in to a few things, even called me back in a timely manner, and sent me new bolts at no charge. I also asked them a few questions about some of the models and they were very helpful. Additionally, the Cardinal site has different videos of the products in use and installation which were really helpful for me, especially prior to purchase.
- Gate width is adjustable 27″ to 42 ½”
- Height 29 ½”
- Bar Spacing 2 ½”
- 10 ½ extension (Model BX1) is available for openings 42 ¼” to 53″
- 21 ¾ extension (Model BX2) is available for openings 48 ¾” to 64″
- Size of Allen wrench used: 1/8th inch
- Colors: White, Black, and Outdoor Brown
- Seal of certification by the Juvenile Protection Manufacturers Association
Other stair gates to consider: