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DIY: How to Build a Pergola

Updated July 19, 2017

Adding a pergola to a landscape creates an inviting outdoor setting and allows users many seasons of serene and tranquil ambience. The variety of designs and speciality construction materials allows you the advantage to accentuate the pergola to your own particular style. Decking for pergolas are often wood, but depending on your area and particular taste, flagstone, pebbles, sand, wood chips and tumbled glass add a tasteful flooring to the pergola. Construction of a pergola can be completed in one well-planned long weekend.

Measure the length and width of your planned pergola with measuring tape. Mark with an aerosol marking paint the outline. Call the local utility company to determine if any underground power lines are within the design area. Dig into the soil to inspect the substrata for obstructing rock layers that may require special tools and choose a height for the pergola.

Pound the grade stakes 2 to 3 feet beyond the corners of the measured area and build a batter board to affix the construction string. Assure the string is level, taut and not supporting the weight of other strings.

Mark with spray paint the corners for the post. Loosen the construction line to avoid tangles. Dig with the posthole digger or auger to a depth of 2 1/2 feet. Dig with the auger in stages to keep it working smoothly. Allow the diameter of the post holes to be 3 inches larger than the width of your post. Measure the depth, clean out the debris and place 2 to 4 inches of gravel in the bottom of the hole for drainage.

Set one end of the post over the hole and walk up the other end until the post lands upright and in place. Reattach the construction lines so the posts meet the corners of the string. Place an inch of water in the bottom of the wheel barrow and mix the concrete. Add water until the mix is the consistency of a creamy peanut butter. Pour the concrete into the hole and attach the post level. Keep the post level until the concrete sets and will hold it on its own. Allow 24 hours for the concrete to dry.

Check the height and the level of all the posts using construction line and a line level. Measure from the ground to the top of all the posts and trim to an equal height using the reciprocating saw. Notch the top of the post 2 inches deep and clean out notch with wood chisel. Notch the crossbeams the width of the post, clean with chisel, and interlock the crossbeam into the post. Assure the crossbeams are level.

Place the stringers atop the crossbeams. Cut wood blocks to be used as spacers between stringers. Attach the stringers, using wood screws to the crossbeams. Maintain a consistent space between stringers.

Tip

Dig a 3- to 4-inch well at the post hole. Soak it and allow it to absorb to ease digging. Build the pergola before adding any decking. Adding furniture inside the pergola diminishes seating space, so it is generally safer to build bigger and decorate later. Stringers can be made from many different materials. The more unusual the stringer, the more distinct the pergola will be.

Warning

Check with local building codes to determine if any special permits are required. Wear safety glasses when sawing and drilling. Concrete is a caustic agent. Avoid excessive exposure with the skin.

Things You'll Need

  • Post hole digger or auger
  • Construction string
  • Ladders
  • Drill
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Bags of quick-dry concrete
  • Bag of gravel
  • Wood posts for uprights
  • Wood crossbeams for joist
  • Boards for stringers
  • Circular saw or reciprocating saw
  • Box of 2 1/2-inch deck screws
  • Grade stakes
  • Jigsaw
  • Wood chisel
  • Post level
  • Spacer blocks
  • Pencil
  • Line level
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About the Author

Writer and photographer John Lightle writes out of the Plano/Dallas, Texas, area. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Texoma Living!, Southwest Food Service News, and Just Labs Magazine. A former greenhouse worker for two years, he managed a seven-year xeriscape project.