Here’s a structure that won’t provide shelter from wind or rain, and is only marginally better when it comes to the midday sun. So, why build it? Because in the absence of walls and a roof, it defines an outdoor space without constraining it. It’s a unique architectural blend that places you both inside and out at the same time. The structure is called a pergola, and it’s just the thing to bring backyard landscaping to life. Pergolas were common features of Italian Renaissance gardens, often covering walkways or serving as grape arbors. Today, the same design can be used to define a passageway or frame a focal point in your yard. Add a climbing plant such as wisteria or, yes, grapevines, and your pergola will provide color and shade as well.
Our pergola fits on an 8-ft. square, but it’s easy to modify it to suit your site. Cedar is our material of choice because it resists decay. Leave it unfinished and let it gradually turn gray. Or, apply a stain or sealer designed for exterior use.
Download a larger animated PDF of this project with a printable step-by-step guide.
INSTALLING THE POSTS
The posts are composed of pressure-treated 4 x 4 cores that are sheathed with 1 x cedar. We secured the post cores to a concrete pad with steel post-base anchors. If you’re not building on a pad, use longer posts and set them in the earth below the frost line.
Lay out the post positions and mark the screw locations.
We used 1/4-in. Tapcon screws that thread into 3/16-in. holes bored with a hammer drill.
Hold each post plumb and drive nails through the anchors into the wood. If necessary, brace the posts so they stay plumb.
ATTACHING THE SUPPORT BEAMS
Cut the four 2 x 6 cedar support beams to length, use a template to mark the curved notches at the ends and cut the notches with a jigsaw. Clamp the beams in place, and check that they’re level and that the posts are plumb.
Then secure each end with four 3-in. No. 10 screws.
When adding the second of each pair of beams, check that they’re level across the top edges.
ADDING THE CROSSBEAMS
The 2 x 6 crossbeams are notched to fit over the support beams.
Cut the notches with a dado blade in the table saw, or lay out each notch and use a jigsaw to remove the waste.