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How to Build a Stunning Pergola

Pergolas provide shade for your patio and can add an element of design to your backyard. Read this to learn how to build a pergola in your yard.

Wood Pergola iStock

Typically found in gardens and backyards, a pergola is a structure that says, “Sit here. Let’s visit awhile.” It includes vertical posts supporting a lattice of crossbeams that provide limited shade. Pergolas come in all shapes and sizes and help to define an outdoor space, often for backyard entertaining. Vines like wisteria, honeysuckle, and jasmine provide additional shade on hot summer days.

Always check with your homeowners association and your county’s building department before erecting any structure in your yard. Ask about permits and local codes, particularly the depth required for setting your posts.

Steps for Building a Pergola

Follow these instructions to construct a simple 6-by-8-foot DIY wooden pergola in your backyard.

Step 1: Choose a Location

Choose a flat level area of your yard. If you don’t have a level area, grade the area by removing soil.

Save the removed soil to use elsewhere around your property. When choosing the location, keep in mind your pergola will have overhangs of about 18-20 inches past the support posts, so account for overhangs when placing a pergola near your home or other structures.

Step 2: Setting the Posts

Before digging, consult with your local utility company to make sure you aren’t going to dig into power, gas, or cable lines.

Measure a 6-by-8 foot rectangle in your chosen location. Mark the corners with brightly colored spray paint. Then measure diagonally in both directions. If square, both measurements will be exactly the same. If not, adjust accordingly.

Dig post holes nine inches in diameter using a clamshell digger or power auger, or shovel the required depth for your area.

Set the posts. With someone holding the post upright, check for plumb with a level. Brace with a 2x4 by nailing one end to the post and securing the free end with a stake driven into the ground.

Mix fast-drying cement in a wheelbarrow according to the manufacturer’s directions, and pour it into the holes to within an inch of the surface. Don’t fill it to the top as it expands as it dries. Use a shovel to stir the concrete as you pour to work up any air bubbles. Let cure for at least 48 hours.

Step 3: Prepare Support Beams and Rafters

The support beams attach to the posts and carry the load of the structure. You need two support beams on each end of the pergola. The rafters sit atop the support beams.

Using a circular saw, cut your four 2-by-8 support beams and nine 2-by-6 rafters to the desired length. To create a decorative look on the end of the boards, draw a design on the wood with a pencil and cut with a jigsaw.

Step 4: Installing the Beams and Rafters

Before adding your support beams, use a 2x4 and level to make sure all the posts are the exact same height. Trim with a circular saw if needed.

Set each 2-by-8 board on edge on top of the posts, with an equal distance of overhang at each end. Mark with a pencil. Then temporarily fix a beam to the outer side of the posts at each end with two 4-inch screws. Attach the other three beams in the same way, using a level to check for evenness at the top.

Next, set each rafter in place on edge on top of the beams spaced 1-foot apart on-center with the end rafters over the support posts.

Measure to make sure the overhang of each rafter is the same all the way around.

Mark rafter positions in case they get shifted while you work. Then, one by one, fasten each in place with two 5-inch galvanized drive screws at each end.

Once all the rafters are in place, permanently secure the beams with 8-inch galvanized bolts. Use a ½-inch drill bit to pre-drill a top and bottom hole in the center of each post. Use a hammer to pound the beams through the holes. Secure with a ½-inch nut.

Now you can stain, paint, or finish your new pergola to match your home. Consider laying patio pavers for a low maintenance floor, adding furniture, a grill, and potted plants.

For more on pergolas, read TOH’s How to Build a Garage Pergola.


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