I have a working portcullis

I guess not everyone is a castle nerd and knows what a portcullis is. A portcullis is a (usually metal) grid gate like a lattice that would be in front of the castle gate or door. Possibly behind a drawbridge but in front of the gate or door. Often the first line of defense it would be vertically raised and lowered using a counterweight system such that, in the event of an emergency (orc attack) the counterweights could be cut and the portcullis would come crashing down.

This has very little functional purpose outside of harassing solicitors who might come to the door. However, most castles had these, and I want to be authentic. Typically you’d most often see it in the open position as below:


So I thought about just getting a short section and permanently bolting it into the wall so it’d look like there was a portcullis but there wasn’t really, this would have been cheap but not really ideal to me. I’ve tried to avoid doing lip service to authenticity like that. One of my pet peeves for instance is when people put tiny decorative crenelations on top of a building they mean to look like a castle. Crenelations need to be large enough to hide defenders, smaller ones are entirely pointless so why bother at all? Or to quote one of my favorite authors, they are about as pointless as nipples on a breastplate.

So we had planned from the get go to make it functional and it did require some finagling in the end, but it was planned for in the construction and so we had the spot where the portcullis could go.

But just because we had the spot for it does not mean we could figure out how to work it. We researched it heavily, asked garage door people if they had an option, asked steel people used to hoisting metal into the air, anyone we thought might have input we asked their advice on it. I also tried to figure out if there was a way to make a roll up portcullis as that would have been easier hid in the wall. Some of the solutions they proposed were quite expensive, but in the end we were able to use a $100 electric hoist (not a winch, a hoist, they’re different, something I learned in this process) and it works great. Smooth and quiet.
Then we had to do the portcullis itself, and the same company that did our doors and many of our light fixtures, Iron Gallery LLC, made it for us. But they, and another supplier who had bid it, also talked about doing a track system, and a stainless steel ball bearing glides, or whatever. And that was very expensive, and I didn’t like it. Both the cost, and because I didn’t really see metal rubbing on metal as being a good idea, eventually it was going to scrape and be noisy.
Then I had an idea, and I will pat myself on the back and say it is a good one. We decided to just use composite decking to build a track for the portcullis to slide through. Black composite decking. Probably the weirdest use for composite decking in the history of the world. Real wood may have been an option but wood eventually rots and having it buried in the wall rotting in what is ultimately an exterior installation (even if it is covered by an overhang above) was a bad idea. And then metal of course would have been noisy, but composite decking, largely plastic, and naturally slippery, won’t rot, won’t make any noise, and will look great, and was much cheaper than the fancy metal track option.
There was a surprising amount of labor in getting it installed and the encapsulating walls put up around it, but it is done now and it opens and closes smoothly, quietly, and impressively. For safety we have a lockout on the 2nd floor with some steel bars preventing it from being lowered accidentally, which is good considering it weighs nearly 500 pounds. The bars can also be used to lock it closed as well.
I don’t know how many people in the United States have a functional portcullis on their house, I’m willing to bet it is less than 5 people though.


  1. Oh my word….that is awesome!!!! I have loved castles after going through several in Germany. I certainly do not have your knowledge. But have enjoyed learning from your experience. Love the details you have worked through. Thanks!!! Can’t wait to see the landscaping.

  2. Very cool, so did you use a counterweight system too or just the hoist? Any way we can see lifting mechanism at work too? Love the updates, you’re doing great out there!

  3. I check in every few months and it’s been an exciting journey to watch. Great idea with the composite use! :)

  4. Just found this blog a few months ago. I used to follow Castle Magic, but they aren’t internet savvy. This is something I’ve always dreamed about. Love the use of modern technology while paying homage to the past. Keep it up.

  5. Hello and fantastic job so far. My name is Andy from Andy’s Journeys on Facebook and YouTube. Would it be possible to do a video of this place once it has been completed? I have videos of abandoned places, tourism places and overall amazing places. I have been watching the castle come together with great interest. I have loved watching the details that you have thought out and installed. Can’t wait to see the finished product. On top of everything else, you have picked a perfect place for your castle. The views must be amazing.

    • Sorry Andy, I’m careful about what I release (such as no floor plans), I wouldn’t want to make it easier for a criminal to victimize me in some way by having there be a video.

  6. My wife and I drove up to see what looked like a castle from our house down in Black Creek a few weeks ago. An amazing house! And thanks for documenting your progress on your blog.

  7. Looking forward to an update Sir.

  8. Ishmael, when are you going to update with more exterior progress pics. I am a builder from MI and have been followed every update closely. A beautiful building sir!

  9. andy mendonsa says:

    About once a week my wife and I eat lunch at the Chinese restaurant in a strip mall where the Walmart shopping center is located in Lookout Valley. We have wondered for months what this very large white castle looking building/house was at the top of the mountain across the valley from this restaurant. What has been most interesting is that when there are clouds behind it, it disappears. Thus we have named it the “The Fourth Tower of Inverness.” A few weeks ago we were determined to locate this “castle in the air,” and after searching every route we thought might lead up to it we almost gave up. Then, thanks to google earth, I was able to figure out approximately where it is (even though it only shows the land pre-construction), and on one very sunny Sunday afternoon we finally located it. It was only then that we discovered that the white appearance is only temporary (tyvek covering). Once it is completely covered with stone I imagine it will disappear from sight for anyone trying to view it from the parking lot. Welcome to Chattanooga, from a neighbor just around the mountain, or if this was medieval times, just another serf.

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