A pergola is a type of gazebo that beautifies your garden by forming a shaded sitting area or walkway. It can also be an extension of an existing building or a passageway between buildings or outdoor areas. Pergolas are generally made of vertical posts that support cross-beams and open latticework. They can provide sitting areas that offer protection from the elements, they can function as trellises for climbing plants or they can be links to your special outdoor areas.
In the past, Pergolas were made of brick or stone and have been built since the Early Renaissance; they were prevalent through the 18th and 19th centuries, as well. Modern designs are gaining in popularity and can be easily created from wood, for a more affordable and easy to build garden feature.
You do not need to be an expert carpenter to build your own pergola, and with your own tools, you can create a structure that is made of 4 or more support posts, beams, and rafters, and, if desired slats. Use a wood that is weather-treated, such as Western Redcedar, or pressure-treated wood, making sure that the pressure-treated wood is rated for ground contact.
Building your Pergola
Select your site and design
Layout your plan on paper, for placement and design. Establish the dimensions and procure your permit, since in many states pergolas are considered structures, and may require permitting. Pre-designed pergola plans are also an option.
Position your posts
First, layout the placement of the structure with markers or string. The size of your posts will depend on the size of your structure and can be from 4” x 4” to 6” x 6”. Use a post hole digger and create 1-foot diameter holes, 2 feet deep or more, depending on the frost line, whichever is the deeper measure.
Set your posts
Once you place the posts in their holes, use a level to make sure they are plumb. Then brace the posts with 2” x 4” angle braces and stakes. Add concrete and allow a few days of drying time.
Time for the beams
2” x 8” lumber will suffice unless your pergola is longer than 12 feet, in which case you could use 2” x 10” beams. Temporarily clamp the beams in place, and then attach them along the long axis using 3” galvanized lag bolts. You will use 2 beams, one on either side of your posts, for a total of 4 beams. You can leave the ends as is, or finish them in angled or curving decorative patterns.
Now the rafters
The rafters should extend beyond the beams by 1 foot or more. Use 2” x 6” or 2” x 8” wood as needed for your design. Rafters can be plain or curved and should be evenly placed at 16” to 24” inch intervals across your beams. You can notch the rafters to fit them over the beams and then screw them into place, or you can simply screw the rafters into place across the girders.
Finally, the slats
Slats should be 2” x 4” and will provide additional support, as well as shade. If you choose to use slats, simply screw them into the rafters with 3” screws.
Voila! You now have a permanent architectural feature for your home. Sit and take advantage of the breeze while enjoying a just a bit of filtered sunlight, or be wowed at the grand entrance to your garden or pool. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is sure; your pergola will give you, your family, and guests years of enjoyment.