When we told people we would be making a pergola together, the most common reaction was “I hope your marriage lasts.” Ironically, this was our anniversary gift to each other. We just celebrated our five year anniversary, the year of wood, and our kids were out of town, so it was a great idea, right?! Like any typical home project, this one wasn’t completed without a few hiccups and choice of words, but I’m happy to report our marriage did survive! Here’s a step-by-step tutorial complete with materials guide to help you create your own pergola in your backyard oasis.
Drill (maybe two)
Approx. Forty Eight 1-3/4″ Deck Screws
Four Post Base 4×4
Four 3 in. Concrete Screws
Four 1/2″x8″ Carriage Bolts with nuts and washers
1/2″ Drill Spade Bit
Approx Fifty Five 4″ Deck Screws
One Gallon Stain + Sealer in your choice of color (we chose Kona Brown)
Pressure Treated Wood Cuts:
It should go without saying that these cuts are based on our deck measurements and how much overhang we wanted, so adjust yours as needed. Also, we decided to go with pressure treated wood. Even though it is more expensive, it is definitely worth it. You do not want to do all this hard work for the wood to rot away next year!
Posts: Four 4x4x10ft
Support Beams: Four 2x8x13.5ft
Rafters: Thirteen 2x4x13ft
Braces: Four 4x4x30in
This was our first big home project together and we appreciate any feedback to help us with future improvements. We spent hours researching tutorials and plans online. However, none were exactly what we wanted. For starters, we have a very odd shaped deck (xx by xx). Also, we needed one post to be attached to a pre-existing concrete slab and the other three needed holes dug. These are the two tutorials we referred to most. We loved the look of this one from My Frugal Adventures. We loved the simplicity of this one from Curbly. We look forward to seeing what you create using our ideas!
1. First things first. Always call ahead to get your yard marked before you dig. Also, it doesn’t hurt to check with city officials and your HOA to make sure you don’t need a permit and to get approval for your project.
2. Dig the Holes. See below for our hiccups. But basically at our home, we are digging three holes (the last post is being secured to a pre-existing concrete slab). We attempted to dig each hole about one foot deep. Make the holes wide enough that you can adjust handi blocks as needed so everything is squared up.
3. Set your quikrete. A huge challenge for us was making sure our holes and the handi blocks would be the same height and level to our concrete slab. We did a lot of measurements to get this as close as we could and decided to pour a 4 inch “footing.” To achieve this, we used spare nails to mark 4 inches up from the bottom of the hole. Make your quikrete according to package instructions. Ours called for filling the hole 1/3 with water and then we filled with quikrete until it was level with our nail marker. Luckily, it only takes 30 minutes to set (ours actually took about 45 minutes). It took us a little bit more than one bag per hole.
4. Set your Footings. We placed our handi blocks using our deck as a guide to make sure everything remains square. Again, we were checking to make sure everything lined up with our concrete slab as well.
5. Attach Post Base. See troubleshoot hiccups below. We opted for bases with one, large concrete screw in the middle. Make sure you set the base so the side with holes (which you will be drilling into) has enough room for the drill on both sides. To set our one bracket on the concrete, we really sat down and measured so that the post would be square to the other footings. We used a Hammer Drill to go about 3.5″ deep, then secured the bracket with a 3″ concrete screw and socket wrench.
6. Screw in Posts. We used a post leveler. I balanced the 4x4x10ft posts while Matt used 1 3/4in deck screws in six places on each bracket. Fill in your holes with the remaining dirt.
7. Cut Support Beams and Rafters. Luckily, Lowe’s cut all of our boards for free. However, they couldn’t cut an angle, so that was up to us. For the support Beams, we kept one side flat since it butts up against our house. On the other end, I measured 8 inches along the bottom and then just used a metal square tool to draw a diagonal line. Use a jigsaw (or better saw, but that’s what we already had) to cut the diagonal line and repeat on all four support beams. For the Rafters, I measured four inches in and used the square to draw a diagonal line to the corner. Cut along all edges.
8. Attach the Support Beams. We used a 1/2″ drill spade bit to make holes for the carriage bolts. We measured on the straight side (that butts up to our house) four inches up from the bottom and about XX inches in (so it wouldn’t hit our house). Then on the angled side, we again measured four inches up from the bottom and XX inches in from the longest part of the angle. These measurements are all based on the distance between or poles, so yours may need to be adjusted. Matt also used the same drill bit and made a hole in the middle of the posts about 8.5″ from the top. We both got on ladders on opposite sides and held up the board. Probably would have been easier with a third person, but this is an anniversary project after all. Matt pounded the carriage bolt in with a hammer just enough so the board was supported. Then, he hammered in the opposite end of the board (my side). He repeated on the other side of the post with the next Support Beam, creating a sandwich of support around our 4×4 posts. Then repeat on the other side of the pergola. At this point, the posts were too heavy and not very well supported, so we used some rope to stabilize until we placed the rafters.
9. Attach Rafter Supports. We created another post sandwich of support running the opposite way (perpendicular). We pushed the rafter flush to the post and flush to the support beam (all while making sure the posts were still level) AND trying to make sure the overhang on each side was about the same. We used two 1 3/4″ screws to secure the rafters to the post (4 screws per board). Repeat on the other end of the pergola.
10. Cut and Attach Braces. We tried our best with the jigsaw to cut a 45° angle on one side of each brace. We held the angled end of the brace against the post and hid the flat end in the support beam sandwich. We drilled the braces to the post using the 4″ deck screws, then attached the top of the brace to the supports beams, too.
11. Attach Rafters. We’re in the home stretch! I measured the space between one inside of the rafter sandwich and the other and then figured out how much space I wanted between each rafter. We ended up marking 10″ from the first rafter and then 12″ so we had a two inch place to center the 2×4 rafter. Then I marked every 10-12″ on both sides. Not going to lie…it’s not perfect. The middle beam actually has 13.5″ on both sides, not 10″. The rafters are just for decor purposes, so as long as the spacing looks good for you, you’re golden! I got all the boards on top of the pergola (but don’t let them sit too long or they may warp). Matt on one side and me on the other, we lined the rafters up in the two inch spaces and used one 4″ screw on each side to toenail the rafter to one of the support Beams.
12. Finish. Even though the wood is pressure treated, we still wanted to stain it to match our pre-existing deck (well, we will stain the deck eventually). We chose a stain that has a seal in it as well, to make this one step easier. Other tutorials stained the wood before it was hung, but in our scenario that would not work. We bought the wood in batches, did not know how much wood we would need, and it was (gasp!) still wet when we hung it up. It is recommended to dry pressure treated wood before assembly and the stain will not apply as smoothly to wet wood. Due to time constraints, this was the option that worked best for us.
1.Don’t dig too close to your home. We ended up running into some kind of hose wrapped in red plastic, surrounded by styrofoam and wrapped in netting. According to a reliable source (cough, my contractor friend, Shawn), this was probably our foundation drain that keeps water off our foundation. You can pour concrete over it, but it should probably be covered in plastic since the hose has holes for water to go in and out.
2. We screwed metal braces into pre-made handi blocks. The 3/4″ concrete screws did not hold the bracket at all (it literally lifted right out). We had to run back to the store to buy a bigger screw that could be Socket wrenched into the middle of the base. This picture is a little off…the original screws we bought (too small) were 3/16″x1-3/4″.
3. Actually in hindsight, we would forgo the handi blocks all together. Instead, it would be much better supported in the hurricane strength winds if we would have dug 2 feet deep and used a concrete mold to set a 12 ft post into. I would most definitely recommend this method over what we did.
4. Have a powerful drill. We had to buy a new one because our first ever drill just could not hang.
5. Use a better saw than a jigsaw. When cutting the 4×4 braces at a 45° angle, the blade started bending so that the angle was not perfectly flush when we tried placing them. They will still serve their purpose…I hope.
6. Against my better judgement, we did not pre-drill anything. It made me nervous, but it was a lot of work and none of the wood cracked, so we just went with it.