Build a Pergola

R. L. Rhodes
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Difficulty: Advanced
Duration: 2 hours


Learn how to build a pergola. Few landscape structures manage to be as versatile and attractive as a pergola in your outdoor space. The instructions that follow will help you build a simple version of the classic type. Train vines over the rafters when you’ve done to provide a shady retreat. Advanced builders should have no problem modifying these plans to allow scope for their own creative variations.

Before building your pergola, contact your Home Owner Association or Local Building Codes office to determine if a permit is required or other restrictions apply in your area. 

Step 1

Measure off the location where each of the corners will be placed, using a square to ensure that each angle measures 90 degrees. To leave room for a foot of overhang, be sure to space the posts 8′ apart. Using the 1-1/2″ screws, secure the half bases into place at each of the marks. Set each 4×4″ post into its half base and have someone else hold them steady while you drive more 1-1/2″ screws through the sides of the half base and into the post.

Step 2

On the interior side, have two accomplices hold one of the 10′ 2×4″s flush to the top of two of the posts, adjusting the position to ensure a foot of overhang on either side. Use your level to make sure everything’s square and balanced. Secure the crossbeam into place with more screws. Repeat for the other pair of posts.

Step 3

To stabilize the structure, add braces connecting each post to a point further along the inner length of the crossbeam. Start by marking one line 2 feet down the upright post from the bottom of the crossbeam, and another line 2 feet along the crossbeam from the adjacent face of the upright post. Measure diagonally between the two lines, including the angles. Cut and miter one of the remaining 4×4″ posts according to those measurements. Secure the brace into place by driving a 2-12″ screw through it and the outer face of the crossbeam with the mitered face flush with the top of the 2×4″, and another screw through the the brace and the adjacent face of the upright post. Repeat for the other three posts.

Step 4

Take two more 10′ 2×4″ crossbeams and attach them to the exterior faces of the pergola, using the same process as with the interior crossbeams, so that the tops of the braces are sandwiched between interior and exterior. Drive additional screws through the exterior crossbeam into the braces.

Step 5

Space the 2×6″ planks evenly across the top of the structure, balancing them perpendicularly along their narrow edges and allowing an equal length of overhang on each side. Secure them to the crossbeams, driving 2-12″ screws at a 45 degree angle through each rafter and into the crossbeam. When you’ve added all six 2×6″ rafters, repeat the process by laying the 2×2″ boards perpendicularly across the first set of rafters and screwing them into place.

Paint or stain the pergola to your satisfaction and allow ample time to dry before using.


These instructions account for a pergola 8′ tall and 10’X10′ measured from the ends of the rafters, but can easily be adjusted to allow for larger or smaller projects. If you plan to build the structure in a yard rather than on a deck, forgo the metal bases and adjust the measurement of the upright posts to allow enough extra length to settle beneath the frost line, usually several feet. Holes can be dug using a post hole digger or an auger, and the pergola feet anchored by pouring gravel or concrete around the base of each post.

  • Lumber:
    • Five 96″ (8′) lengths of 4×4″ post
    • Eleven 120″ (10′) lengths of 2×6″ board
    • Four 120″ (10′) lengths of 2×4″ board
    • Four 120″ (10′) lengths of 2×2″ board
  • Four metal half bases
  • Screws:
    • #10 x 1-1/2″ screws
    • #10 x 2-1/2″ screws
  • Exterior paint or stain

Looking for a less involved way to entertain under a pergola? Try a prefabricated pergola

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