Five Steps and a Weekend to the Perfect Backyard Pergola

“Pergola” might sound like a weird word, but it’s a simple, yet striking outdoor feature that’s great for creating a tucked-away space that provides privacy, yet still offers an open and airy view of your backyard lawn and garden. Best of all, a pergola becomes part of your garden when you grow climbing vines and shrubs around this open-air patio. Create your own pergola of any size in just one weekend using the following five tips to success and you’ll be able to say “pergola” without sounding like a weirdo.

1. Layout

This is the most important phase of the project, so take your time with this one and maybe make a few drawings as well. I like to place the four corner stakes first and leave them to resonate with the homeowners before starting the job. This way, in the few days they get familiar with the layout, they can decide if any changes need to be made to the overall placement of the pergola.

Measure the width and length of the pergola onto the ground and place four small temporary stakes. Measure from one corner diagonally to the next and switch sides and repeat. Move the stakes as needed until both “cross corner” measurements are the same. This squares up the layout and prevents it from being a parallelogram instead of a true square or rectangle.

2. Set the Posts

Setting the four 6×6 posts can be a tough job, so it’s a good idea to have a strong friend help you lift and level the posts. Typically, each hole should be dug 1/5 the height of the post or around 24-30 -inches. Attach two 2×4 braces to the post towards the top and angle them back to a 45 degree to the ground. Place a stake next to the brace and level the post. As one person levels the post, another attaches the stake to the brace with a screw. Level all four posts, then dig holes for the remaining posts evenly spaced or leave it as open as you like. Just don’t fill in the holes and tamp the posts yet-save that until the end so you have a little wiggle room to work with.

3. Cut the Posts

Now you can take the tallest post and simply measure up from the ground to the desired height (plus add 8-inches for the rafters) of the pergola. Use a string line and string level (better yet a laser level) to transfer the first mark to each post. Use a reciprocating saw with a 7-inch blade to cut through the posts.

4. Build the Headers

Most pergolas have a double header made from two 2×8’s. This allows you to get a pretty decent span out of the boards without having to worry about too much deflection from the weight of the rafters. Cut any decorative features at the end of each four 2×8’s as desired and cut them to the widest length of your pergola. Attach one to the outside of each post at the top with four 3-inch deck screws. Attach the inside posts using the same method-just be sure they are both lined up the same.

5. Add the Rafters

Cut the decorative ends into your pergola as desired on as many rafters as you desire for your pergola. You’ll also need to cut them to length to fit the dimensions of your pergola. Attach each rafter to each side of the post that sets above the pergola with four 3-inch decking screws. Add and decorative braces, corbels or other features after you backfill and tamp the post holes. Remove the braces, plant some vines and enjoy your new pergola!


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