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How to Build a Pergola

Give your family a relaxing place to enjoy an outdoor meal or gaze over the farm by building a pergola over the farmhouse patio area.

Text and Photos by Greg and Stephanie Staton


After laying pavers to create an outdoor sitting and dining area adjacent to our kitchen sliding door, it quickly became apparent that a shade structure would be necessary in order for our family to fully enjoy our expanded living space. The full-sun area overlooks the yard, swing set and nearby barn, but the midday summer sun’s blazing heat often drives us from this planned place of respite.

To diminish the strength of the sun’s rays and add a touch of rustic elegance to our newly crafted area, we researched ideas and designs for pergolas, aka arbors with open roofs consisting of cross rafters or latticework supported on posts, usually with climbing vines. As DIYers by nature and upbringing, we were determined to design and build a pergola that fit in with the scenery and functioned as well as it looked. With personal touches, such as curved corner supports and cutouts on the cross-board ends, we designed a pergola that can be open to the stars or shaded with a retractable cloth canopy.

Materials:

  • 4 4x4s in 10-foot lengths
  • quick-setting concrete
  • gravel
  • 5 2x6s in 166½-inch lengths
  • 4 2x6s in 39-inch lengths
  • 4 2x6s in 32-inch lengths
  • 10 2x6s in 154-inch lengths
  • 4 2x6s in 14-foot lengths
  • 8 7-inch bolts, washers and nuts
  • 50 6-inch anchor screws
  • 120 3-inch anchor screws

Tools:

  • posthole digger or shovel
  • jigsaw
  • circular/table saw
  • drill with wood bit and screw bits
  • channel clamp (optional)
  • reciprocating saw

Pergola step 1

Step 1: Dig footers.
Place your 4x4 corner posts 118 inches apart on the short sides of the pergola and 144½ inches apart on the long sides, forming a rectangle. Make sure the corners are square.

Use posthole diggers or a shovel to dig the four holes 2 feet deep.

Pergola step 2a

Step 2: Set corner posts.
Insert corner posts into the holes. Secure with temporary supports and gravel in the bottom 8 inches, followed by quick-setting concrete. Check to be sure it’s level.

Pergola step 2b Pour concrete mix in hole, add water and stir, using a stir stick to compact the mixture as you go. Let set until concrete hardens. (Follow the directions for your concrete mix.)

 

Pergola step 3a

Step 3: Precut 2x6 boards.
Design and cut a pattern in the end of each 166½-inch board using a jigsaw. We created a flattened quarter circle that went 2 inches from the top and extended 9 inches from the end to create the curved design (3a).

Pergola step 3b

Make 45-degree cuts on each end of the 39-inch and 32-inch boards. Create a decorative curve on the long side of each board using a yardstick as your guide: Start 4 inches from one end and stop 12 inches from the other end, peaking at 1 inch from the outside edge. (Have an extra set of hands for bending and holding the yardstick while you mark the line.)

Pergola step 4

Step 4: Notch cross boards.
Cut 10 1-inch-deep and 2-inch-wide notches in the narrow side of the 166½-inch cross boards with a dabo blade on a table saw. Start the first notch 11 inches from the end of the board, making the second notch 4 inches from the first.

Cut four 1-inch-deep and 2-inch-wide notches in the 154-inch cross boards with a dabo blade on a table saw. Start the first notch 11 inches from the end of the board, making the second notch 4 inches from the first. Repeat at the other end of board.

Pergola step 4

Multiple passes with the blade will make it easy to knock out the notched sections. Measure and cut the third notch 29 inches from the second notch, and the fourth notch 4 inches from the third. Continue alternating space between notches—29 inches and 4 inches—for the remaining six notches.

Pergola step 5

Step 5: Install support boards.
Measure 8 feet from the ground on the lowest corner post. Attach one of the four 14-foot 2x6s at the 8-foot mark. Level the first board and remaining supports from the first 8-foot mark—this might not measure exactly 8 feet from the ground if the surface you’re working on isn’t completely level. Use the wood bit to predrill the bolt holes, and secure each board to the post using two counter-sunken bolts with washers between the bolt and wood as well as between the wood and nut.

Pergola step 6a

Step 6: Attach first row of cross boards.
Position and attach the first two 154-inch 2x6s on top of the support boards so there is a board on each side of the posts—a channel clamp is useful for holding them in place when a second set of hands isn’t available.

Pergola step 6b

Secure these boards with counter-sunken bolts, too. Measure 29 inches and secure third board with a 6-inch screw through the top, then another board 4 inches from third. Continue installing posts at 29 inches and 4 inches, ending with the last two boards sandwiched on each side of the opposite posts.

Pergola step 7a

Step 7: Mount top row of cross boards.
Position the first 166½-inch board on top of the 154-inch boards 11 inches from the end, running perpendicular to the previous layer.

Pergola step 7b

Drill 6-inch screws through the top. Install remaining boards 27½ inches from each other, ending with the final board at 11 inches from the opposite side of the pergola.

Pergola step 8

Step 8: Install corner supports.
With wood screws, mount the 32-inch boards to the post and on the inner edge of the outside board of the horizontal support boards so that the corner support runs between the two support boards.

Mount the 39-inch boards to the post and inner edge of the outside board of the second layer of runners.

Pergola step 9

Step 9: Trim posts.
Trim the posts using a reciprocating saw, cutting the post level with the second run of boards.

Pergola step 10

Step 10: Enjoy.
Add a cloth canopy or plant trellising vines to provide shade, then sit back and enjoy the view.

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How to Build a Pergola

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