How to Build Wood Pergolas


Building a wooden pergola adds an artistic flair to any garden. A pergola is a covered structure that usually stretches across a garden path. Pergolas also are called arbors or overhead garden structures. With the right tools, some lumber, and a little building experience, you can build a beautiful pergola for your own home landscape design. Using a kit or plan makes it easy to get started building your pergola right away.

Things You'll Need

  • Pergola kit including:
  • 4-inch by 4-inch lumber for the posts
  • 6-inch by 2-inch lumber for the rails and rafters
  • Wood screws and bolts
  • Power drill
  • Pencil
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Concrete
  • Wood preservative
  • Stakes
  • Construction string
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Sturdy ladder, about 6 feet tall
  • At least two helpers
  • Decide where you want to install your pergola posts, according to the guidelines in your pergola kit. Allow headroom of 7.5 to 8 feet so you can walk underneath when there is hanging plant growth.

  • Use the stakes to mark holes, 1 foot in diameter, where the posts for your pergola will stand. Typically, pergola posts stand 3 feet across from each other for the width of the pergola, and 6 feet apart from each other for the length of the pergola. Dig the holes 2 feet deep.

  • Put the posts in the holes. Use a level to make sure they are standing completely upright. Have a helper hold the post level while you fill the hole with wet cement. It should be wet enough to bond but crumbly in texture, like homemade cookie dough. Leave a few inches at the top.

  • Use a stake to pack the concrete down in the hole, while your helper continues to hold the post level. When the cement is packed, it should be level and about 3 inches from the top of the hole. Repeat these steps for each post. (If the pergola will touch a building, bolt the posts to the building for additional support.)

  • Wait a day or two for the concrete to set in the holes.

  • Bolt the long side pieces of the pergola to the posts. (Use a ladder to get a good angle at the top of the posts.) Larger pergolas will have a set of rafters which go across the pergola to lend support between posts. Place the rafter piece over the post and use a pencil to mark where you need to cut it to fit over the post. Use a saw to cut the notch and set the rafter in place. Some pergola kits will already have notches cut in the rafter pieces for an easy fit. From the top, secure the rafter to the side piece with screws.

  • Check all bolts and screws to makes sure the structure is secure.

  • Apply an outdoor wood protecting finish to the structure and allow it to dry.

Tips & Warnings

  • Installation methods may vary among pergola kits. Consult your pergola kit instructions or pergola design for model-specific information about installing your pergola.
  • Follow all safety instructions and make sure your ladder is always placed on level and secure ground, away from holes.

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