DIY Arbor Swing: How to Cut Pergola Rafter Tail Designs (with Printable Patterns)

We’re sharing step by step as we build a DIY arbor swing in a beautiful backyard! This is Step 4: how to cut rafter tail designs for a pergola or arbor. I’ll show you how to cut simple arched decorative rafter tail plus get 8 free printable rafter tail patterns!

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Decorative Pergola Rafter Tail Designs

Since a pergola (or in this case, a swing arbor) is an open structure without a roof, the rafters should be more decorative than a rafter in a shed or other outdoor structure. Decorative rafter ends are a must for gazebos or other free-standing structures, too! Cutting pergola rafter tail designs is one big visual component that makes your project look custom and high-end — and it doesn’t take a lot of skills, time, or special tools!

I’ve cut different styles of wooden rafter tails on our popular DIY wedding arch and on our Gothic arch garden arbor, and you can see other rafter end designs on the rough timber pergola I built and on Heather’s DIY deck pergola. Both arbor plans include printable templates for the beam end designs, and today we’re adding an exclusive freebie to the shop – 8 printable rafter tail patterns so you can make your next outdoor project look amazing!

Whether you prefer a simple rafter tail design or a more complex end design, cutting the decorative ends for the rafters, purlins, and beams will add elegance and architectural interest to your outdoor wood structure. And as a DIYer, you have endless flexibility in the design!

How To Cut Curved Arch Rafter Tail Designs For Pergola Arbor Beams Remodelaholic

How to Cut a Rafter Tail Design

To cut rafter end designs, you’ll need a saw — a miter saw can cut a simple angled rafter tail design, but you’ll need a jigsaw to cut stepped or curved rafter tails. For beams and thicker rafters, curved ends will require a bandsaw or a chainsaw. For that reason, I typically stick with simpler angled designs for beam ends wider than 2″ (like these pergola beams) and cut curved and rounded ends on the 2×6 or 2×8 rafters and purlins. The mixed styles of decorative edges adds visual interest from a design perspective and takes little time, in the grand scheme of the project.

To get started, decide what style you’d like to use for your rafter tail design. You might take cues from the details on an exterior of a home or from other outdoor furniture you already have. The rafter tail pattern templates show some common options, with some suggestions for how to cut them. Keep in mind that decorative rafter end designs remove part of the bottom edge of the rafter, so be sure your design doesn’t compromise the integrity of the entire structure by cutting off more than you planned!

Once you’ve decided the rafter end design you’d like, it’s time to make your rafter tail pattern! Unless your design is a basic angled rafter end, you’ll want a pattern template to ensure that the rafters ends all match as perfectly as possible – the repeated design is part of what makes the detail extra stunning.

To make and use a rafter tail design pattern:

  1. Hand sketch the design on a scrap of a board or plywood/OSB -or- trace our printable template pattern. Be sure to check your measurements so that the scale is right for the width of the rafter board.
  2. Carefully cut the design template from the board. Depending on which cuts you need to make, your template can be the cutout section (like mine in the video) or the rafter end section that you can clamp on the board.
  3. Clamp the template in place and trace the rafter tail design onto one end of a rafter. (You may need to cut the end to ensure it’s square if that’s important to your rafter end shape.)
  4. Use a jigsaw to cut the rafter end.
  5. Measure and cut the rafter to length, then trace and cut the other rafter tail shape. Be sure to calculate your rafter length correctly so you have the straight bottom edge of the rafter the right length for the structure!
  6. Sand to clean up any rough edges or uneven cuts. These ends aren’t usually at eye level, so don’t stress too much over absolute perfection in your cuts.

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Free Rafter Tail Patterns for Pergolas, Arbors, and Gazebos

We are providing our favorite readers (that’s you!) with 8 designs for simple rafter tail patterns you can cut with a jigsaw and/or circular saw. We drew these out to make printable template patterns for 2×6 rafter ends that you can download free from the Remodelaholic Shop HERE. For a different rafter or beam size, read below for our suggestions for sketching and cutting each rafter end design.

To draw your own rafter tail patterns, you’ll need either a measuring tape and straight edge and a drawing compass, or carpenter’s speed square like this, which can help you draw both the straight lines AND the curves (like you can see in the video). You can buy a plastic or metal speed square for around $10 at most hardware stores, or even at Walmart or on Amazon.

Bonus: if you want to make your own mini wood corbels for a farmhouse shelf or these DIY antique style corbels, you can use these same shape designs!

Rafter Tail Graphics

1. Rounded Rafter Tail Design

A rounded rafter tail is a simple and classic way to add a touch of elegance to a pergola rafter or arbor beam. Just trace a semi-circle of the same diameter as the board, then sand the curves smooth.

To draw a rounded rafter tail design using a drawing compass or speed square (that metal triangle tool you see in the video):

  1. Measure and mark the center of the board (or template board). The lip on the edge of the speed square makes it easy to draw a straight line along the board, right down the center!
  2. The circle needs a radius of half the board’s width (2.75″ for a 5.5″ wide 2×6 board), so measure in from the end a little over that distance and mark.
  3. Place the corner of the speed square or compass on that mark, and place your pencil at 2.75″ (or whatever the radius of your circle needs to be).
  4. Pivot the square/compass with the pencil to draw the curve from one long edge, around the end, to meet the other long edge of the board.
Rafter Tail Graphics

2. Angled Rafter Tail Design

An angled rafter tail is the quickest and easiest beam end or rafter design. We included a free template for it, but you don’t really need it 😉 There are two easy ways to cut an angled rafter tail design, depending on what tools you have available:

  • With a sliding miter saw: Set the blade to the angle you like (45-degrees is a good starting point) and make the miter cut at each end of the rafter.
  • With a circular saw or jigsaw: Measure and mark this distance where you’d like the angled cut to start. Draw a line from that point to just shy of the corner of the board. Clamp a scrap board or other straight edge in place and cut the angle. (See more details here about using a circular saw and “fence” to cut a straight line.)
Rafter Tail Graphics

3. Stepped Rafter Tail Design

A stepped rafter tail design is a simple geometric square shape, just like stair steps. Our free printable pattern uses squares, but you can draw your own stepped design to have elongated step sections if you prefer.

To draw your own stepped rafter tail design:

  1. Decide how many stepped levels you want on the rafter end. Our design features 4, so we’ll measure and mark the middle of the board, and then the middle of each of the top and bottom sections.
  2. Use the speed square to mark the middle of the template board (2.75″ on a 5.5″ wide 2×6 board). Place the speed square lip along the long edge of the board, place your pencil at the measured middle, then slide the square and your pencil down the length of the board (for a few inches) to mark the middle.
  3. Repeat and use the speed square to mark the middle of the lower and upper sections (1 3/8″ on a 2×6 board).
  4. Rotate the speed square and mark the width of each stair step.
  5. Use a jigsaw to cut out the template, cutting out in sections.
Rafter Tail Graphics

4. Arched Rafter Tail Design

This is my go-to: a classic swooping semicircle rafter tail. This decorative edge is clean enough to be a focal point without being difficult to cut. It’s nearly as quick as the straight angled rafter tail, once you have your template!

I like to start the arched rafter detail about 1/4 of the way down the board and make the arch part a circle (not an oval). Our printable rafter tail pattern features a circle right at the ends of the rafter, but if you’d like a longer tail section above the arch, just slide the template down the board to extend it.

To draw an arch rafter tail design using a speed square like I did in the video, or a compass:

  1. Place the speed square (or compass) at the corner of the board for your template.
  2. Place your pencil at 4 1/8″ (or whatever distance looks good to you).
  3. Hold the corner of the square/compass in place and pivot it and your pencil around to draw the curve of the arch detail.
  4. Cut the arch using a jigsaw.
Rafter Tail Graphics

5. Stepped Arch Rafter Tail Design

The stepped arch rafter tail design combines the square corners of the stepped rafter tail with the classic curve of the arched rafter tail. This design takes a little more work to calculate and draw (or just use our free printable rafter tail patterns!) and then a bit more time to cut, but if you love the style, this accent will be worth it!

To draw a stepped arch rafter tail design:

  1. Use the speed square to make horizontal lines at the heights of the bottom step and 2 top steps. On our template, the steps are 1/5 the width of the board, or right about 1 1/8″ for a 5.5″ wide 2×6 rafter.
  2. Use the speed square to mark the width of the top step section across the board, to form the second step. Ours is square, yours can be a longer rectangle if you like.
  3. Place the corner of the speed square (or compass) at the point where the bottom step line (horizontal) crosses the vertical line you made in step 2.
  4. Place your pencil along the square where it meets the horizontal line you drew for the second top step.
  5. Pivot the square (or compass) and the pencil to make the curved arch to meet up with the line you drew for the bottom step.
  6. Using a jigsaw, cut out the curved section first and then clip cut the square step sections.
Rafter Tail Graphics

6. Curved Rafter Tail Design

A curved rafter tail is the opposite of the arch rafter tail design, so you can draw this swooping semi-circle with a speed square a variation on the same kind of process. (Or, y’know, use our free printable rafter tail patterns.)

To draw a curved rafter tail design:

  1. Place the speed square or compass about 6 inches from the end of the rafter board (or template board).
  2. Place your pencil along the square’s edge, at the edge of the board.
  3. Pivot the speed square/compass and the pencil to draw a curve from the long edge of the board, past the short end of the board, to meet the other long edge of the board.
  4. Cut the curved rafter end with a jigsaw.
Rafter Tail Graphics

7. Stepped Curve Rafter Tail Design

This stepped curve rafter tail design combines the cutout step design with a classic curve design. Again, this is a little more work to draw out (unless you use the free patterns) and to cut, but it’s a beautiful pattern!

To draw your own stepped curve rafter end design:

  1. Use the speed square (and a pencil) to mark a horizontal line, 1/4 the width of the board from each edge. (That’s about 1 3/8″ on a 2×6 board.)
  2. Determine how wide you’d like the top step to be, and place the corner of the speed square/compass at that point along the top horizontal line.
  3. Place the pencil at 2 1/4″ on the edge of the speed square (or adjust the compass to draw that radius) and draw a circle.
  4. Where the bottom of the circle meets the bottom horizontal line, draw another vertical line to form the bottom step section.
  5. With the jigsaw, cut the step corners first, then cut the curve. You may want/need to use the jigsaw to notch along the curve or gradually cut out slices to form the curve’s smooth edge more easily.
Rafter Tail Graphics

8. Double Curve Arch Rafter Tail Design

We designed this double curve arch rafter tail to combine the curve and arch with a little step in the middle. This is a more complex rafter end design to sketch and to cut – so our rafter tail patterns really will make it easy 😉

Each circle’s diameter is roughly 2/5 of the width of the board, with the center square step taking up the remaining 1/5 (or slightly more or less, depending on how you choose to divide the board and round your measurements.)

To draw your own double curve arch rafter tail pattern on a 2×6 board:

  1. Place the speed square/compass a little over 2 1/4″ from the top corner (with the pencil at the corner), and pivot to draw a 2 1/4″ radius semi-circle beginning from the top right corner of the board.
  2. Use the speed square to draw a vertical line at 2 1/4″ (through the center of the semicircle).
  3. Place the speed square (or compass) at the edge of the board where the vertical line is, opposite the first semicircle, and draw another 2 1/4″ radius semi-circle.
  4. Use the jigsaw to cut the lower arch section, then notch out the center step and upper curve for a clean cut.

Stay tuned and subscribe to see how we install the arbor beam and these rafters, stain the posts, and more – right up until the finished project reveal!

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Simple Diy Rafter Tail Designs And Templates For Pergola Arbor Gazebo Beams Remodelaholic
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I am the husband of the amazing Cassity of Remodelaholic. I love to problem solve and to design and build things inside and outside the house to make life better. I am a professional Landscape Architect by trade and love the outdoors.

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Lorene has been behind the scenes here at Remodelaholic for more than a decade! She believes that planning projects and actually completing them are two different hobbies, but that doesn't stop her from planning at least a dozen projects at any given time. She spends her free time creating memories with her husband and 5 kids, traveling as far as she can afford, and partaking of books in any form available.

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