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Perfect pergola: stunning but simple; elegant but economical.

I designed this pergola with simplicity and economy in mind, but not at the expense of good looks. The pergola is made from standard dimensional lumber, so you just cut the parts and screw them together--no special skills required. To keep the cost down, I used pressure-treated lumber, which looked great with two coats of semitransparent stain.

I sized the pergola for small gatherings of family and friends.

With an eye toward daytime comfort, I spaced the roof slats to block some sun but still let in enough rays for warmth.

You can build this project in about two weekends if you have an agreeable helper. I spent just under $1,300 on materials. The concrete floor, which is optional, added another $500. Your floor could be flagstones, paver bricks or even a groun level deck.


If you think this pergola is beyond your skill level, take a closer look. It takes time and muscle, but it's really just a bunch of standard lumber parts screwed together. The trickiest part of the job--positioning the posts--is almost goof-proof with simple plywood plates (see Photo 3). Most sheds and even fences are more complicated than this project!

Survey the site

Be sure you have a fairly level spot in your yard. Slopes can be subtle and a bit deceiving, so bring a level attached to a long, straight 2x4 out to the yard as you check site locations. Our site sloped by about 3-1/2 in., which worked out well. I made sure the slab would be just above the grade of the yard at the higher end, which then left the lower area as a "stepping off' the slab point. If you have a challenging yard, you may need to level an area by first terracing with a short retaining wall.

Prep the site

If you're building in a grassy area, you'll need to remove the turf. You can rent a kick-style sod cutter, but if you're over 22 years old, you'll probably agree that renting a gas-powered sod cutter for $60 a day is well worth the cost. You can remove the sod in less than two hours and still have a good chance of getting out of bed the next day. If you don't have a spot that could use fresh turf, make plans to get rid of a full pickup load of sod.

Prep the lumber

Every stack of treated lumber contains some beautiful wood and some ugly stuff. Take the time to pick through the pile and select good material--your project will look much better. When you get the lumber home, you'll be eager to start right away. But I strongly recommend that you let the lumber dry for a few days. Stack it with spacers so air can reach all sides of each board. Then stain it before building. Staining this pergola after assembly would be a slow, messy job. I applied two coats of Behr Semi-Transparent Waterproofing Wood Stain (No. 3533).

Setting the posts

You'll need to mark out a perfectly square layout for the posts. To start, position two strings exactly perpendicular to each other using the 3-4-5 triangle method (in this case, your measurements will be 9,12 and 15 ft.). If you're not familiar with this trick, search online for "345 triangle." Once you get two lines squared, the other two will be easy. But double-check your layout with diagonal measurements (Photo 1) before you mark the posthole locations (Photo 2).

To keep the post groupings positioned precisely, I cut plates from treated plywood and fastened them to the posts (Photo 3). That way, you can position, plumb and brace each assembly of three posts as if they were one post (Photos 4 and 5).

Bracing the assemblies takes several trips up and down the ladder.

Start by screwing some horizontal 1x3 braces onto the tops of the posts. Make sure the post assemblies are spaced the same on the top as they are on the bottom. With the spacing established, you can brace the groups diagonally to the ground with stakes (Photo 5). Keep at it until it's close to perfect.

Use a tub or wheelbarrow to mix the concrete, then toss it into the hole (Photo G). The mix isn't critical because you don't need to trowel a finish onto it. Just make sure you get it packed into the holes evenly around each grouping. I used about four bags per hole, but get a few extra bags just in case.

Fastening the headers

The next day you can install the headers (Photo 7). Overlap the corners as shown in Figure A. I removed my braces at the top, one at a time, as I leveled and installed each outer side header and then finished with the front and back. Be sure to take the thickness of your slab into consideration as you measure the distance to the bottom of the headers. Leave at least 80 in. between the slab and the header. Taller people may want to nudge it up a couple inches.

Once the outer headers (B and C) are in place, cut the posts flush with the top of the headers, I used a framing square to mark them and a circular saw to cut as deep as I could. I then used a handsaw and when my arms felt like they were ready to fall off, I used a 10-in. blade in my reciprocating saw. Next, cut and install the inner 2x10 headers at the front and back and then the rafter supports (E) cut from 2x8s. Rip the 2x8s to 6-1/2 in. at a 7-degree angle. The slightly wider 6-1/2-in. edge should go toward the inner side of the pergola. The rafters will rest on this support and extend to the outer side headers (C).

Building the roof

Measure the distance at the center of the pergola (Photo 8) from front to back at the top of the headers. Cut the 2x10 ridge beam (F) to this length and drive screws at an angle into the headers. Measure from the top edge of the ridge to the inner edge of the side header (C) on each side, starting at the midpoint of the ridge and the header. Cut the rafters to fit. Ideally it should be 7 degrees, but if your ridge is cupped slightly you may need to adjust the cut. Because my ridge was slightly cupped, I had 6-degree cuts on one side of the ridge and 8-degree cuts on the other side. Install the rafters and fasten them with screws (Photo 9).

The gable rafters (H) are the same as the common rafters except they sit atop the front and rear headers, so they need to be scribed (Photo 10) to fit. Fasten these to the ridge beam by toe-screwing at an angle or by screwing through the opposite side of the ridge at a slight angle into the rafter (this method give a cleaner installation and less chance of a protruding screw). Finally, screw through the side headers into the rafter ends, making sure your spacing is even.

I cut 2-l/2-in.-wide roof slats from 1x6 material because it was better quality than the 1x3s available at the lumberyard. Start installing the slats parallel to the ridge and work your way down each side. Overhang the front and back of each course about 5 in., then you can string a line and trim them once they're all installed. Use a 2-1/2-in. spacer as you screw each row to the rafters (Photo 11). Check your progress every fifth course to make sure you're staying perpendicular to the rafters and that you'll finish with a full-width slat at the end.

Once all the roof slats are fastened and trimmed, cut the ridge covers (K) and nail them over the exposed end grain at each end of the ridge beam. I mitered the ridge cover tops to fit tightly under the roof slats.

Finishing up

If you stained the lumber before assembly, all you have to do now is coat any unstained ends of parts. Be sure to stain the top ends of each post to reduce water absorption and cracking. For extra insurance, I coated the post tops with stain followed by exterior paint. If you plan to pour a concrete floor as we did, go to and search for "concrete" to find several articles about working with concrete.


For privacy and greenery, I built a trellis on one side of the pergola. If you want the feel of an outdoor room, you could add trellises on two or three sides.

My trellis is simply 1x4s and a 2x4 joined with 1-5/8-in. screws. I built it on the pergola floor, then stood it up and screwed it to the posts. I sized the planter boxes to hold 6-in. plastic pots and made them 25 in. long, but you can make them whatever length will work.

by David Radtke editors@thefamilyhandyman.cbm


TIME: Two weekends; the floor will be another weekend or two

COST: $1,300

SKILL LEVEL: Intermediate

TOOLS: Circular saw, drill, level, standard hand tools


David Radtke is a designer, illustrator, remodeler and cabinetmaker in Minneapolis.

Cutting List


A      12       5-1/2" x 5-1/2" x 10" treated pine (posts)
B       2       1-1/2" x 9-1/2" x 153" treated pine (front and rear
C       2       1-1/2" x 9-1/2" x 128" treated pine (side headers)
D       2       1-1/2" x 9-1/2" x 150" treated pine (inner front and
                rear headers)
E       2       1-1/2" x 6-1/2" x 113-1/2" treated pine (side rafter
F       1       1-1/2" x 9-1/2" x 131-1/2" treated pine (ridge beam)
G      10       1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 74-7/8" treated pine (common rafters)
H       4       1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 74-7/8" treated pine (gable rafters)
J      30       3/4" x 2-1/2" x 139" treated pine (roof slats)
K       2       1" x 2-1/2" x 12" treated pine (ridge cover plate)

Note: The dimensions given here may vary slightly--measure before you

Materials List

ITEM                                                       QTY.

6x6 x 10' treated pine posts                               12
4' x 4' sheet of 3/4" treated plywood                       1
2x10 x 14' treated pine                                     4
2x10 x 12' treated pine                                     3
2x8 x 10' treated pine                                      2
2x4 x 7' treated pine                                      14
1x3 x 12'treated pine                                      30
5/4x 6 x 2' treated pine (ridge cover plate)                1
1/4" x 4" coated deck ledger screws                        48
No. 8 x 3-1/4" self-drilling exterior wood screws          60
No. 8 x 1-5/8" self-drilling exterior wood screws          210
Concrete for footings (80-lb. bags)                        16
Concrete for slab                                      3 cu. yds.
1/2" rebar, 16' lengths                                     8
2x6 x 16'                                                   4
1x4 x 2'stakes                                             24

Cutting List:
Privacy trellis

KEY          QTY.           SIZE & DESCRIPTION

A             2             3/4" x 3-1/2" x 71-1/4" (vertical sides)
B             1             3/4" x 3-1/2" x 92" (horizontal top)
C             1             1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 71-1/4" (center support)
D            12             3/4" x 3-1/2" x 90-1/2" (horizontal slats)

Materials List:
Privacy trellis and planter box

ITEM                                                       QTY.

1 x4 x 8' treated pine                                      15
2x4 x 8' treated pine                                        1
1x8 x 10' cedar (per planter box)                            1
No. 8 x 1-5/8" self-drilling exterior screws                50
1-3/4" galvanized nails (for planter box assembly)         1 box
Exterior construction adhesive (for planter assembly)      1 tube
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Author:Radtke, David
Publication:The Family Handyman
Article Type:Instructions
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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