how to build a pergola

Hey guys, Jamin here again today continuing with our Backyard Bliss series.

before_and_after_porch

{To read any of our DIY projects from this back yard overhaul, be sure to check them all out, here!}

building_a_pergola

Even though it’s the dead of winter, now really is the perfect time to begin thinking about adding a pergola to your back yard. You can start planning and saving now, as spring is right around the corner. ;}

If you remember from before, this is probably our most challenging project yet. Not because it’s difficult in itself, but we definitely had a challenge in the composition of our back yard: a. the concrete for an extension we did a few years earlier was already laid, and b. our roofline was a bit complicated {If you look at our back door, you’ll see there was nowhere for our back left post.} We even consulted an architect friend of ours, as we didn’t want to void our roof warranty or cause damage… or have it fall on us. I had my doubts, but someone who rhymes with Smashley was a little determined to have a pergola gracing her back porch. Once Smashley gets an idea in her head, she doesn’t really stop until we’ve explored every possible avenue.

You’ll definitely want an extra pair of (strong) hands to help you with this one. Enter our friend + favorite person ever, Super Jim. (Smashley calls him Super Jim) He’s kind of an expert via all things construction… our go-to guy with our crazy questions when tackling something new. He was amazing to help us get this thing off the ground, and we can’t thank him enough. Literally.

Before we dive into supplies, remember you may need to make adjustments to board lengths based on the size of your area. Also, even though ours is larger we will work with a 10ft x 10 ft example, this should be the easiest for you to convert lumber lengths to the appropriate size for what you wish to build.

You can use whichever type of lumber you would prefer. This just depends on the look you are going for. Our pergola was made from southern pine. For an unpainted look, try Western Red Cedar.

So let’s dive into the supply list of things you will need.

reciprocating saw


• safety glasses

• post hole diggers

• shovel

• hammer

hammer drill

• masonry bit

circular saw


drill

• drill
spade bit

• tape measure

• level

• Tapcon screws

• post anchor
 (As many as are attached to concrete)

• lag bolts with washers
(4 plus any attached to the concrete)

• socket wrench

• nut driver

• Screws or nails (3 ½ inch)

jigsaw


• ladders

Thompson’s Water Seal wood protector

• (4) 6″ x 6″ posts (height will depend on how you attach them, see below.)

• (12) 2 x 4 x 8 (cheap ones, they will be used for bracing.)

• (4) 2 x 12 x 14

•  2 x 6 x 14 (number will depend on size of pergola)

• 2 x 2 x 14 (number will depend on size of pergola) w

Deciding on size

The first thing you will need to know is how large do you want your pergola. As I said we will work off a 10 x 10 example. The next question we need to answer is will the post be buried in the ground or attached to the concrete. If possible I suggest putting all four in the ground. We were only able to get two post in the ground.

Measure and mark where all four post will go, they should be 10 feet a part based on our 10 x 10 example.

Setting the posts

We will use a 6 x 6 post and we want the height to be 10 feet.  So for a post anchored to the concrete you will need a 10 foot 6 x 6 and if you are sinking them in the ground you will need a 12 foot 6 x 6.

posts_for_pergola

If you are sinking them in the ground, dig a hole with your post hole diggers and shovel, 2 feet deep. Set the post in the holes and pour in a bag of Quikrete. Soak it with water.  Now take your level and make sure your posts are level. Once they are, brace each one on at least 3 sides with your 2 x 4’s by nailing them to the 6 x 6′s and staking the 2 x 4′s into the ground.

drilling_into_concrete

If you are attaching them to the concrete, first set the ones that will go in the ground, into the ground. Next, place your post anchors where they will go and attach them with some Tapcon screws. You will need to pre-drill the hole with a hammer drill and a masonry bit. If you don’t have a hammer drill, you can use a regular one, but as you are drilling make sure to make a hammering up and down motion to help the drill bit perform better. Next attach the 6 x 6 to the post anchor. This will depend on the type of post anchor you use, so follow the instructions that come with the anchor. Now level the post and brace it with 2 x 4’s.

Adding the end beams

We will add the first layer of beams, the outer beams (or support beams – 2 x 12’s). We will sandwich the 6 x 6 with two 2 x 12 beams. We know we want the overall height of our pergola to be at about 10 feet so we need to have the bottom of our 2 x 12 at 9 feet. Mark each post on both sides at 9 feet. The easiest way to attach the 2 x 12’s is to place a scrap piece of wood at the 9 foot mark and either hammer it in or hold it with a vise. I suggest hammering it in. This piece of scrap wood will give you a brace to support the beam while you attach it to the 6 x 6. Don’t forget to measure to make sure your 2 x 12 is centered.

how_to_build_a_pergola

Once the 2 x 12 is in place drill through the beam and post with a paddle bit and attach the beams to the post with a lag bolt, washer and nut.

pergola

After all four beams are attached to the 6 x 6’s trim any of the 6 x 6 above the 2 x 12’s off with your reciprocating saw.

Adding cross beams

Decide how much space you want in between your cross beams. If you plan on growing Jasmine or another plant on the pergola, I would suggest setting them closer than farther apart. 12 inches is good.  Measure and mark where each beam will go by placing an X. I would also suggest recessing the beam into the 2 x 12. Mark out the area that will need to be cut out to recess the beam. It will need to go 5 ½ inches deep and be 1 ½ inches wide. Cut the 2 x 12 with your reciprocating saw and jig saw.

build_a_pergola

Next decide if you want to put an angle on these beams or leave them flat, we added a 45 degree angle. You can either cut this with a miter saw or use a carpenter square to draw a 45 degree angle and cut it with a skill saw. If you want something a little more ornate then you can use your jig saw to cut the pattern.

how_to_cut_an_angle

diy_pergola

Once your 2 x 12′s are cut out and your 2 x 6′s are cut, place the 2 x 6 in the cut out hole of the 2 x 12. It may take some adjusting, a little extra cutting of the slot and some hammering to get the 2 x 6 in place. Once it is in, nail or screw it in. Repeat this with all the 2 x 6’s.

make_your_own_pergola

Cross supports

Simply cut one end of a 2 x 6 (or bigger, I used a 2 x 10) at a 45 degree angle, at your desired length, for us that was 4 feet in length. Then nail or screw it to each of  the 6×6′s and the inside of one of the 2×12′s. This will add stability to the structure.

Adding the top beams.

Again decide how far a part you would like your 2 x 2’s to be, if you will grow something on your pergola I suggest 12 inches. Mark where all the boards should go and nail or screw them down on top.

Finishing up

If you are painting your pergola you can fill in any holes from your recessed boards with a little wood putty. Otherwise paint, sand or leave the wood as is.

handmade_pergola finished_pergola

Also always protect your outside wood. Thompson Water Seal has a great wood protector.

Now break out the steaks, invite your friends over and enjoy your new pergola!

thompsons-waterseal

This post brought to you in partnership with Thompson’s Water Seal. Read our full disclosure on post sponsorship and safety here.

To read any of our DIY projects from this back yard overhaul, be sure to check them all out, here!


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52 Responses to how to build a pergola

  1. katie says:

    We have been wanting to build a pergola forever now!!!! Great tutorial and it looks beautiful!

  2. Jenna says:

    I love this! So beautiful, guys. I adore your style. Thank you for a great tutorial!

  3. JT says:

    Perfection!!!

  4. Bethany says:

    Did you use pressure treated wood?

  5. Rachel says:

    Holy cow, it looks gorgeous!! Seriously, seriously beautiful. I would love something like this in our future back yard. Perfect for having some friends over.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I love your dead of winter weather. haha. It looks beee-uutiful. The pergola too! Just kidding,it all looks great. I would love to know what fabrics you have used for all the pillows,pretty please?

  7. Gorgeous backyard area! Love the pergola and the floor is amazing! Have a great weekend.
    Leslie

  8. Marion says:

    What kind of lights did you string up there?? WHERE do you get them and how many are on one string. Approx cost. Is this a summer buy or Christmas. I live in Kelowna BC Canada and it seems we do not have access to outdoor lights other than Christmas!!! I have friends in the USA and could hopefully find some of those lights!!

    • Hey Marion! We’ll be including all resources in our round up post coming in a few weeks. These tutorials are a lot to write about all at once when we finish a big project, so it takes a while to get to them all. Thanks for being patient!

  9. Josanne says:

    Wow! That is such an inviting place! I am not much of an outdoors type of person at all, but I can see myself enjoying some afternoon visits with friends in your space-so cheery and welcoming. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Aubrey says:

    What was the price of your pergola all together? Thx!

    • jamin says:

      Hey, the price is a very hard thing to pass from one person’s structure to another. It is not apples to apples for several reasons. You will need to factor in size, wood type, spacing, finish and of course are you going to have to buy tools. To get the best idea as to what it will cost you, I suggest to measure your size, take our shopping list to the local store and price it out. You have to remember what I pay for supplies here in the tropics of Alabama is probably not the same as in the Southwest. With that said I was able to build it for around $475.

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  15. Holly says:

    I love this! We have the same problem with the different pitches of our house. I really want a covered porch, but have had suggestions of a pergola. Please help me understand the purpose of a pergola. Does it really help with the sun? We have the setting sun in our backyard and I just can’t imagine a pergola helping much :( Does it? Great job!

    • Hey Holly! Well, the main purpose of a pergola is to be pretty. As you can see, our yard had a bad case of the uglies and it made a difference. But if you grow greenery on it, as we intend to, (I think… I kind of like the white!) we will have shade. We just don’t need much because of Bertha, the gargantuan pecan tree. ;}

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  18. Jennifer says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog in search for plans for a kids playhouse for my own backyard. And lo and behold…another backyard project I am hopeful for…a pergola! Thank you for sharing! It’s the first online reference I’ve come across that is easy to understand for a lay person like me (mother of three, not afraid of a drill!). I do want to ask about the patio flooring..the harlequin design…did you use paint/stain? Did you simply tape it off? Yet another “interest” and project idea I’ve had… please do share some details..

  19. Jennifer says:

    Wait…I found it ;) silly, silly me… again, thank you for sharing!

  20. Niamh says:

    New Love via HouseLogic. Thanks for the inspiration !!

  21. Sue says:

    I don’t see instructions regarding the support posts from the 6×6 post to the 2x12x14 beam. I see from the pictures it attaches to the inside of one of the 2×12′s, but how does it attach to the 6×6? Is there a connector involved, or is it just screwed into the 6×6? Thanks.

    • jamin says:

      Brandy,

      Yes, simply cut one end of a 2 x 6 (or bigger, I used a 10)at a 45 degree angle at the desired length, for me 4 feet in length. Then simply nail or screw it to the 6×6 and the inside of one of the 2×12′s. Hope that helps.

  22. orangesugar says:

    Did you use pressure treated wood?

  23. Reza says:

    First off, great job and tutorial! I want to build this for my house and have a question about your posts that are set on concrete.

    From the pictures, it looks like the exposed sides of the concrete post anchors run parallel to your house, while the bracketed side which you use to bolt through the wood runs perpendicular. Since the two back posts are basically freestanding (there is no secured bracing connecting front and back posts like there is between the back posts and front posts via the 2×12′s), doesn’t that make the back posts wobbly and give them slack to sway towards and against your house?

    Thanks for the help – I have to set all four posts into concrete anchors and just want to make sure I do it right

    • jamin says:

      No both run parallel to the house. The only difference is one is anchored and the other is set in concrete. Otherwise it is the same on both sides.Hope that helps.

  24. Wow, nice job on the pergola, your deck looks beautiful! I’ve got this linked to my pergolas DIY post too today, it’s a keeper!

  25. Debbie says:

    Wow, this is really fantastic! The before and after photos are quite impressive. Your new pergola is really great, and I’m sure you’re enjoying it now that the weather has started turning warmer. I found you over at InspireMeHeather and am pinning this as we consider adding a pergola ourselves to an existing patio. Thanks for the tips and detailed tutorial!

    Debbie

  26. Scott says:

    Hi, Loving this design! I had a couple questions. Are the posts in your picture 10 ft apart or more? It looks to spacious to be 10×10!
    thanks
    Scott

  27. Josh says:

    Hey Awesome Pergola!

    Quick question, How are you attaching the 2×6 to the 2×12. From the top , bottom or sides. Did you predrill?

    Sorry didn’t see it pictured

    Thanks!

  28. Tony says:

    Looks great. Do you have an idea of the overal cost of the project?

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  30. Jeanie Yarbrough says:

    I was looking at arbors and pergolas I am wanting to build one in my trees but use my trees as the supports……………….anyway. I was scrolling down your page and I got such a start! The picture of the little boy helping, is the twin to my little grandson, at least from the angle shown. I had to call his mother to show her, she was amazed. I guess it is true that everyone has a twin somewhere its just a shock when we meet actuallly see them.
    I hope you are enjoing your beautiful patio.
    JY

  31. chuck says:

    did you use pressure treated wood. If you did you wait till it dried out to paint it ? This looks amazing.

  32. Kara says:

    This is gorgeous! Thank you for such a great tutorial. I have been wanting to redo our backyard for quite sometime now and this is the perfect inspiration! I love it! Would you mind sharing the estimated cost for building the pergola?

    • Hey Kara! We recommend you use your measurements to price it out for yourself, because we could be dead wrong. ;} It depends on the season and your location, and the size of what you wish to build, along with the kind of wood you choose, but at the time I believe ours was for under 250. I hope that helps!;}

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  35. Richard Cargill says:

    First time building this Great useful help Thanks

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  37. John West says:

    I would recommend painting or applying some kind of protective finish. This way it will discourage the carpenter bees from having a feast on unfinished wood.