How to Build an Arbor Bench

Use sturdy, all-weather cedar to craft a cozy seating spot for your yard

Photo by Kolin Smith

Sure, you could plop a couple of deck chairs in your backyard for an impromptu sitting area. But a hand-built cedar bench, framed by an arbor, gives you a more permanent place to kick back as the weather warms up, and adds an elegant architectural feature. Our design incorporates classic touches such as profiled rafter tails, alternating wide and narrow boards for the seat and backrest, and trellis sides to let your favorite climbers ascend to the overhead structure. Or you can let the bench remain free of greenery—it's eye-catching enough on its own. Follow along as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers puts it all together.

Western red cedar: Find a dealer near you at WRCLA.

Download the arbor bench cut list.


Steps // How to Build an Arbor Bench
1 ×

Overview for Building an Arbor Bench

 
Step One // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Overview for Building an Arbor Bench

overview of an arbor bench
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project timeline
Friday: Set and level the post anchors, and build the legs.
Saturday: Install the legs, seat, backrest, and lattice sides.
Sunday: Cut and install the rafter assembly.

Cut List
2x4 seat-base stringers: 3 @ 18 inches
2x4 reinforcement block for seat base's center stringer: 1 @ 14 inches from square edge to long point, one end mitered at 30 degrees
2x4 backrest supports: 3 @ 22 inches from long point to short point, with parallel 30-degree cuts off each end
1x4 seat boards: 3 @ 48 inches
1x2 seat boards: 3 @ 48 inches
1x4 backrest boards: 4 @ 40 ¾ inches
1x2 backrest boards: 3 @ 40 ¾ inches
1x4 backrest cap: 1 @ 40 ¾ inches
1x2 lattice: 4 @ 70 ½ inches
1x2 lattice: 2 @ 75 ½ inches
1x2 lattice: 2 @ 17 inches
2x6 rafters: 2 @ 72 inches
2x6 rafter stringers: 3 @ 21 inches
2x2 purlins: 5 @ 36 inches

Download the arbor bench cut list.

 
2 ×

Make Pilot Holes for the Post Anchors

 
Step Two // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Make Pilot Holes for the Post Anchors

screwing together a template to make pilot holes in the post anchors
Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut and screw together four scrap 1x4s to make a rectangular template sized to the bench's footprint, per the cut list. Drill a centered 1-inch hole in each corner. Lay the template on the ground and push a large nail or stake through each hole. Remove the template and set it aside.

 
3 ×

Set the Post Anchors

 
Step Three // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Set the Post Anchors

pounding in the post anchors
Photo by Kolin Smith

Place the tips of the post anchors in the pilot holes you made in Step 2. Make sure the anchors are parallel to one another and square with the bench's footprint. Place a scrap block of wood into one anchor and strike it with a sledgehammer until the anchor's base touches the ground. Repeat for the remaining anchors.

 
4 ×

Level and Square the Post Anchors

 
Step Four // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Level and Square the Post Anchors

checking level on the post anchors and base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Place the template on top of the anchors and check it for level, making adjustments as necessary. Again, make sure the anchors are parallel to one another and square to the bench's footprint.

 
5 ×

Dry-fit the Pieces

 
Step Five // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Dry-fit the Pieces

dry-fitting the 2x4s for the leg pieces
Photo by Kolin Smith

Refer to the diagram on the previous page. Each leg is made from one long 2x4 built up with 2x4 support blocks separated by gaps where the crosspieces, bench, and rafter assembly will be attached. Cut the pieces to size per the diagram, then lay out a set of leg pieces on a flat surface, using scrap blocks of 2x4 as spacers between the support blocks.

 
6 ×

Assemble the Legs

 
Step Six // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Assemble the Legs

assembling the leg pieces
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply construction adhesive to the backs of the support blocks. Set them in place and drive 2⅝-inch screws through them and into the longer leg piece. Remove the spacers. Repeat for the remaining legs, laying them parallel to the first one to ensure that the gaps between support blocks are aligned.

 
7 ×

Install the Legs

 
Step Seven // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Install the Legs

setting the leg pieces into the lawn
Photo by Kolin Smith

Fit a front and back leg into the post anchors so that the sides of the legs with the support blocks face each other, as shown. Repeat for the other legs.

 
8 ×

Cut and Assemble the Seat Base

 
Step Eight // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut and Assemble the Seat Base

assembling the seat base
Photo by Kolin Smith

Using a miter saw, cut 2x4 pieces to size for the base, per the cut list. Sandwich the stringers between the long front and back pieces, as shown, so that the middle one is centered and the outer ones are 5 inches from the ends. Drive 3-inch screws through the front and back pieces and into the ends of the stringers.

 
9 ×

Attach the Base and Lower Crosspieces

 
Step Nine // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Attach the Base and Lower Crosspieces

fitting the base onto the lower crosspieces
Photo by Kolin Smith

Fit the base into the 3½-inch gaps in the legs so that the ends are flush with the outer edges of the legs. Check the base for level, from front to back and side to side, and make adjustments as necessary. Secure the base by driving 2⅝-inch screws through the front and back of the base and into the inside faces of the legs. Cut all 2x4 crosspieces to size, and fit the lower ones into the gaps in the legs beneath the base. Secure them by toenailing 3-inch screws through the crosspieces and into the inside faces of the legs. Secure the legs to the post anchors with the supplied lag screws, adding shims if necessary.

 
10 ×

Cut the Pieces and Install the Side Supports

 
Step Ten // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut the Pieces and Install the Side Supports

installing the side supports
Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a miter saw to cut parallel 30-degree cuts to the ends of the backrest supports, per the cut list. Slide the side support between the leg and the seat base so that the bottom is flush with the underside of the base's outer stringer. Clamp it in place and drive 2⅝-inch screws through the support and into the crosspiece. Repeat on the opposite side.

Tip: If you prefer a straight backrest, square-cut the supports and reinforcement block instead of mitering them.

 
11 ×

Secure the Center Support

 
Step Eleven // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Secure the Center Support

installing the backrest's center support
Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut a 30-degree miter off one end of a reinforcement block, per the cut list. Attach it to the seat base's middle stringer, long edge facing upward, using 2⅝-inch screws. Slide the backrest's center support into the gap between the reinforcement block and the back of the seat base, as shown, until the bottom is flush with the underside of the middle stringer. Secure it by driving 2⅝-inch screws through the support and into the stringer.

 
12 ×

Cut the Seat Boards

 
Step Twelve // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut the Seat Boards

cutting notches into the seat boards
Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut 1x4 and 1x2 seat and backrest boards to size, per the cut list. The first 1x4 board at the front of the seat will extend ½ inch past the front edge of the seat's base and must be notched at the ends to wrap around the front legs. Mark the notch positions, 3¾ inches from each end and 2¼ inches from the board's front edge. Use a jigsaw to cut out the notches.

 
13 ×

Attach the Seat Boards

 
Step Thirteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Attach the Seat Boards

attaching the seat boards using 1/4-inch spacers
Photo by Kolin Smith

Set the notched seat board in place as shown. Lay alternating 1x2s and 1x4s behind it, using ¼-inch spacers between them. Secure the boards by driving 1¼-inch screws through each board and into the seat base's stringers. The screwheads will be visible, so be sure to line up the screws uniformly on each board.

 
14 ×

Attach the Backrest Boards and Cap the Top

 
Step Fourteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Attach the Backrest Boards and Cap the Top

attaching the backrest cap for the bench
Photo by Kolin Smith

Starting at the top, place the first 1x4 board against the backrest supports, flush with their tops. Screw the board to the supports as described in Step 12. Secure alternating 1x2s and 1x4s beneath the first one, using ¼-inch spacers between them during installation. Cut the 1x4 cap to size so that it fits between the back legs. Apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the top edge of the first 1x4 backrest board and the tops of the backrest supports. Set the cap in place and secure it to the supports with 1¼-inch screws.

 
15 ×

Install the Remaining Crosspieces and Vertical Strips

 
Step Fifteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Install the Remaining Crosspieces and Vertical Strips

attaching the remaining vertical pieces to the crosspieces
Photo by Kolin Smith

Fit the upper and middle crosspieces into the gaps in the legs (the middle ones act as armrests for the bench). Secure them by toenailing 3-inch screws through the crosspieces and into the inside faces of the legs. Cut 1x2 lattice strips to size, per the cut list. Center the longer vertical strip between the bench's legs, and attach it to the crosspieces with 1¼-inch screws. Center the shorter strips vertically and place them equidistant from the long strip and the leg. Attach to the crosspieces with 1¼-inch screws. Repeat on the opposite side.

 
16 ×

Cut and Install Horizontal Strips

 
Step Sixteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut and Install Horizontal Strips

attaching the horizontal strips to the vertical strips
Photo by Kolin Smith

Attach the horizontal strips to the inside of the vertical strips at the desired height using 1¼-inch screws.

 
17 ×

Cut the Pieces and Draw the Tail Profile

 
Step Seventeen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut the Pieces and Draw the Tail Profile

marking the tail profile on the rafter board with a pencil
Photo by Kolin Smith

Cut 2x6 and 2x2 pieces, per the cut list. Lay a 2x6 rafter board on the flat, and use a pencil to mark the tail profile on one end. We used a combination square to mark the straight lines; for the curve, we used a flexible plastic edge guard for a handsaw, bending it between two thin nails driven into the face of the board, as shown, to achieve a shape we liked.

 
18 ×

Cut the Rafter Tails

 
Step Eighteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Cut the Rafter Tails

cutting the rafter tail
Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a jigsaw to cut the tail along the line you marked. Trace the profile onto the ends of the second rafter, and cut the tails. Then use the second rafter to trace the profile onto the opposite end of the first rafter, and cut the last tail.

 
19 ×

Install the Rafters

 
Step Nineteen // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Install the Rafters

assembling the rafters
Photo by Kolin Smith

Sandwich the stringers between the rafters so that the middle one is centered and the outer ones are 15½ inches from the top tips of the rafters. Secure them by driving 3-inch screws through the rafters and into the ends of the stringers. Set the rafter assembly in place so that the inside faces of the rafters sit against the outside faces of the top support blocks. Secure it by driving 2⅝-inch screws through the support blocks and into the inside faces of the rafters.

 
20 ×

Install the Purlins

 
Step Twenty // How to Build an Arbor Bench

Install the Purlins

installing the purlins
Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay evenly spaced 2x2 purlins across the top of the assembly so that the outermost ones are flush with the bottom edges of the rafter tail profiles, as shown. Secure them by driving 3-inch screws through the purlins and into the top edges of the rafters.

 
 
 

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