How to Build a Pergola
Pergolas that adorn yards and gardens always capture attention and elicit compliments. Interlaced with trailing plants like fragrant jasmine and wisteria, colorful bougainvillea and honeysuckle, pergolas shade pathways and patios, acting as a kind of second garden above the head. Classic pergolas often extend for miles, shading pathways for horseback riding or strolling. Most residential yards do not have enough space for lengthy pergolas. When adapted for the realities of today's yards, a pergola can be any partially-roofed open outdoor structure that is longer than it is wide. Simple to build, this basic garden pergola measures about 8 feet wide by 16 feet long and requires only low-cost materials and minimal carpentry skills.
Permits, Zoning, and Utilities
Your pergola might require a building permit if it falls within certain size or structure-type criteria for backyard structures. Exterior structures also typically cannot be built within a certain distance of property lines. Consult your local permitting office for guidance. Call 811 to have local utility companies visit and mark the location of buried services.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Tape measure
- Speed square
- Circular saw
- Cordless drill
- Step ladder
- Laser level
- Electric miter saw
- Bubble level
- Framing hammer
- Carpenter's pencil
- Chalk snap line or twine
- Post hole digger
- Drill bits
- Clutch style bar clamps or trigger clamps
- 6 10-foot long pieces of 4-by-4 boards
- 8 8-foot long pieces of 2-by-8 boards
- 9 8-foot long pieces of 2-by-6 boards
- 18 8-foot long pieces of 1-by-3 boards
- Bagged crushed gravel
- 12 bags ready-mix concrete
- 3-inch galvanized screws
- 1 1/2-inch galvanized screws
- 1 inch galvanized screws
- Wood stakes
- 10 Stainless steel hurricane ties
Pergola Building Options
Buying pressure-treated lumber helps your pergola last longer and reduces maintenance duties. Ground-contact pressure-treated wood is the least expensive type, but it is speckled with injection points where chemicals have been forced into the wood. You may wish to spend a bit more for appearance-grade pressure-treated lumber which has no visible injection points. Cedar lumber, about twice as expensive as the ground-contact boards, is a favorite exterior building material for fences and gates. It will attractively weather to a gray, silvery color if left untreated.
Paving Under the Pergola
Lay stone or concrete patio pavers below the pergola and around the posts. For a smooth appearance, miter pieces of 1-by-4 boards at 45 degrees and nail around the base of each post as trim.
Changing the Pergola's Dimensions
This pergola takes full advantage of 8-foot-length boards, resulting in very little wasted wood. However, you can change the proportions of the pergola in any way you choose. For example, you can create a long, narrow walkway pergola by cutting the upper 2-by-6 boards in half, thus halving the pergola's width. Add more 2-by-8 beams, vertical posts, and 1-by-3 boards to add as much length as you wish.
Mark the Dig Points for the Posts
On a flat, level section of ground, establish a rectangular pattern of six points where you will mount the vertical posts. With the framing hammer and wood stakes, mark three points in a straight line, each 7 feet apart. Now 7 feet away, mark another three points in the same manner parallel to the first line. Use a chalk snap line or twine to ensure that each set of three points is straight.
Set the Posts
With the post hole digger, dig 3 feet down or below your area's frost line, at each of the six staked points. Scatter a bed of crushed gravel about 4 inches thick at the bottom of each hole. Set one post in each hole, first tamping down the gravel with the post.
Now you will add the concrete. Hold a post so that it is plumb, then pour dry ready-mix concrete around the post. Fill the hole with water. Nail two pieces of scrap wood per post in a tripod fashion to hold the post plumb while the concrete cures.
Level the Posts
While your posts may end up being the same height, it's expected if they vary by an inch or two. With the laser level or a chalk snap line and bubble level, establish a uniform height for all of the posts. Use the lowest post as the measurement to which the other five must conform. With the circular saw, cut down any of those five posts as needed.
Shape the Top Beams
Mark with a speed square and cut one end of each of the 2-by-8 boards in any decorative fashion. The easiest way to do this is to make a straight 45-degree cut with the miter saw. For a more graceful look, cut the end as a quarter-circle with a jigsaw. Cut one end only. The other end of each board must keep its 90-degree factory edge.
Mount the Top Beams
Place the 2-by-8 boards at the top of the vertical posts, one on each side. You will have a total of eight 2-by-8 boards, with the eight decorative ends facing outward.
After drilling pilot holes, affix with 3-inch screws, using four screws per attachment point. This will comprise a total of 16 screws per board, eight on one side, eight on the other side. It is helpful to temporarily hold the 2-by-8 boards in place against the posts with clutch style bar clamps or trigger clamps.
Cut the Lattice's Decorative Ends
Nine 2-by-6 boards will rest on top of the beams and will be perpendicular to the beams. Similar to the 2-by-8 boards, cut decorative ends on each 2-by-6 board. The difference with this step is that you will be cutting both ends of each 2-by-6 piece.
Notch the Lattice Boards
For a flawless look and a tighter fit, notch the pieces of 2-by-6 boards so that they can rest on and within the 2-by-8 beams. Create two notches using a jigsaw at each end, each notch 1/2 inch deep. After cutting the notches for one 2-by-6 board, test it at various points down the length of the beams. If it works, use this as a template for cutting the eight other 2-by-6 pieces of lumber.
Build the Top Lattice
The 2-by-6 boards and the 1-by-3 boards will form the top lattice. Rest the notched 2-by-6 boards on the beams, perpendicular to the beams, and spaced two feet apart from each other. Lay the 1-by-3 boards over the top of the 2-by-6 boards, spacing them 1 foot apart from each other. Lay them perpendicular to the 2-by-6 boards in a grid-like pattern. Screw down the 1-by-3 boards with the 1 1/2-inch screws, using one screw at every place where the two boards cross.
Secure the Lattice to the Beams
While the lattice is sufficiently heavy to remain in place by itself in good conditions, a strong wind is capable of upending it.
With the cordless drill and 1-inch galvanized screws, secure the lattice to the 1-by-8 beams with stainless steel hurricane ties.