We enjoy our deck. It gets a wonderful breeze most of the summer that keeps the bugs down and helps us stay cool. At some point we decided we wanted to add a little bit of shade to our deck. An actual screen room was a little too ambitious (and costly), so we decided on a pergola. A pergola offers a little bit of shade, but keeps that open feeling of being outside. Now as you might know from previous musings on our blog, The Heathered Nest, we have a pretty large deck that we inherited when we bought this house. We spent a fair amount of time giving it a makeover this past summer. Just to give you an idea of how much time, here’s a picture of how the deck looked before this project:
The pergola has been one of our favorite features, so today, we’d like to talk about how we DIY’d ours, and hopefully inspire some of you to give a project like this a try at home, too!
How to Build a DIY Pergola
We’ll be using certain terms throughout the post for parts of the pergola. See image below…
- Four (4) 6×6’s pressure treated – FOR POSTS (ours are 12′)
- Four (4) 2×12’s pressure treated – FOR BEAMS (ours are 22′)
- Eleven (11) 2×10’s pressure treated – FOR JOISTS (ours are 16′)
- Ten (10) 2×4’s, 8′ length (these are for temporary bracing and across the top of the joists)
- Four (4) 6×6 post anchors
- Four (4) 8″ lag bolts, 1/4″ diameter
- Sixteen (16) carriage bolts, 3/8″ diameter
- 3″ deck screws
- 2.5″ deck screws
- Impact Drill
- 1/8″ drill bit
- 1″ drill bit
- Socket set
- 4′ or 6′ level
- 8′ ladder
- Jig saw
- Palm sander
- Circular saw
- Utility knife
Step #1. The plan:
***WARNING!! This is a construction project which requires use of power tools, heavy construction materials, and a working knowledge of safe DIY practices. If you are not comfortable with any of these required skills, please save yourself injury, trips to the ER, death, dismemberment, physical trauma, or emotional trauma caused by a nagging husband or wife asking you why you cannot seem to complete this project. This is not a project for beginners. By utilizing this tutorial, you agree utilize information contained herein at your own risk. Neither HeatheredNest.com nor Remodelaholic.com will assume liability for any injuries, etc, incurred as a result of following the tutorial information written in this post. You must also ensure you have checked and are in compliance with any local building codes pertinent to this project. Installation requirements will vary based upon factors such as the surface on which the pergola will stand, be it ground, a deck or patio, etc. ***
Before you start hoisting beams in the air and getting that saw buzzing, make sure you’ve got a good plan worked out. Decide exactly where you’re building your pergola (ours was on top of our existing deck). And then, you need to determine the size of the pergola you’d like to build. Ours is about 14’x14’ (this is the distance between the 6×6 posts). The strength and structural integrity of your pergola will depend greatly upon the size of the structure you are planning to build. Again, be sure to check local building codes for compliance before beginning the project.
Step #2. Set the post anchors:
With the location and size determined, we can get started on the pergola construction. If, like ours, your pergola will be sitting on top of an existing deck, the 6×6 pergola posts must be located over top of the existing support structure. This means locating the existing deck joists. Once the location of the 6×6’s posts has been determined, the 6×6 metal post anchors can be installed. The post anchors have a hole in the middle so that you can attach it to the deck joist. I drilled a hole using a 1/8” bit. Then the anchor is secured to the existing joist with a 1/4” lag bolt. I used an impact drill for this, but you could also use an old fashioned socket set.
If you want to build your pergola on an existing concrete slab or directly on the ground, you will need to install your 6×6 posts differently. For an existing concrete slab, you can use the same post anchors, but you will need to use a hammer drill and special concrete anchors to attach the post anchor to the slab. If you are going to build your pergola directly on the ground, you will need to dig holes for each of the posts, fill the hole with concrete, and set the post. The hole depth will depend on local building codes, but is normally between 24″ and 36″ deep, and 24″ in diameter.
Step #3. Raise the 6×6 posts.
With the anchors now installed, its almost time to lift the 6×6 posts into place. This job will take at least two people. Hopefully, you have a buddy that owes you. Be very careful, because these things are heavy! But before you actually lift up the posts, we need to prep them a bit.
We figured this little tip out the hard way…shave off about 1/8” to ¼” off of one side of the 6×6 post, just at the very bottom. This will allow the post to slide into the anchor much easier. Also, pre-drill a hole in the bottom of the 6×6 post, right in the middle. Drill a 1” hole about 2” deep. This will allow the 6×6 post to sit flush with the ground and not be held up by that lag bolt we just installed.
Lift the first 6×6 into place. Once it’s vertical, square it up using your level. Brace with 2×4’s. I simply screwed the 2×4’s directly into the 6×6 post and into my existing deck. Check out the pics to see exactly how this should look. Think about where you put the bracing because this will be up for the duration of the project. Be sure not only that your bracing is securing the beams, but also that it will not get in your way as you continue constructing.
Continue this same procedure with the remaining 3 posts.
Step #4. Cut decorative ends of 2×12 beams.
Before installing the four 2×12 beams to the front and back of the structure, you can use a jigsaw to make the ends look a bit more decorative. Pinterest is a great source for design inspiration like this. Once you find a design aesthetic/look you like, using a pencil, simply sketch the shape freehand onto the end of one of your 2x12s. Once you’ve sketched a look you’re happy with, use the jig saw to cut along your sketched line. The scrap piece that has been removed from your beam now becomes a template used to cut the edges of the remaining beams. This ensures they will all be identical.
After it was cut, we used a palm sander to smooth out the edges of the jigsawed pattern on the beam. Our pattern took up about 2’ of space. You need to apply this pattern to both ends of the beam, not just one. How large or small, or the shape of this pattern in general are all personal preferences.
Step #5. Install 2×12 beams to front and back of structure.
It’s almost time to “sandwich” the front and back posts with two sets of 2×12 beams. But before we hoist these big pieces of wood up, we are going to prepare some bracing that will help hold the beam in place while we get it bolted. We’ll do that with some 2×4 scraps. Cut a few 2×4’s approximately 2′ in length, and screw them into the 6×6 posts at the height that you want your 2×12 beams to sit. Once you’ve secured your 2×4 bracing pieces, we can then lift the first 2×12, and rest it on the 2×4 bracing. I also clamped the beams to the post to help temporarily secure them until I could bolt the beams to the posts. The beams are secured to the 6×6 posts with two carriage bolts. Once you have the carriage bolts installed and tightened into the posts, the 2×4 braces can be removed.
Step #6. Cut decorative ends on 2×10 joists.
2×10’s are the material used for the joists. While not required, it adds some decorative “flair” to cut the same pattern into the ends of your joists that you cut on your 2×12 beams with the jigsaw. Since the dimension of the joists are smaller than the beams, the scale of the pattern will be slightly different. So again, sketch your pattern with a pencil onto one of your joists. Once comfortable with the design, cut it out with your jigsaw. The discarded piece of wood will be used as a template for cutting the pattern into the remaining 2×10 joists. Since our pergola butted up against our house, we only needed to cut this pattern on one end of our joists. But this may not be the case for your particular project.
Step #7. Install joists across top of pergola structure.
In our case, before we moved onto the joist installation, we had to trim excess length from the top our 6×6 posts. It is safest, and a better procedure, however, not to erect your posts until they are sized correctly. Our joists are 9″, so we want the top of the 6×6 post to rise only about 8″ above the 2×12 beams so that they are just shy of the height of our joists. This will allow us to bolt the joists into the 6×6 post, but not have the 6×6 post sticking up above the joists.
The first four joists that you will install are those on either end of the pergola that will sandwich the 6×6 posts above the 2×12 beams. Use two carriage bolts to secure the joists around the 6×6 post in all four corners of your pergola.
I then spaced the remaining joist equally between the posts. They ended up about 2’ apart. To secure these joists to the beams, I used 2.5” screws and screwed them at an angle into the beams.
Step #8. Brace top of joists with 2×4’s.
Above the joists, and perpendicular to them, we’d recommend installing four (4) rows of 2x4s. This will help keep the joists straight and reduce warping. Screw in one row each at the front and back, and then the other two rows spaced evenly in between. Lay the 2×4’s flat and secure them to each joist using 4″ screws.
On our pergola, instead of using the 2x4s on top, we did something a little different. We installed lattice and screen material. That is a separate project, and is not part of this particular post, but you could tackle that additional work if you desired.
Your pergola structure is complete! You can now remove the 2x4s that were bracing the posts. Now your pergola is free standing, so it will sway just a little bit. Ours did not sway too much, but if it does, you can always add in some bracing at the top corners to help stiffen it up.
All that’s left to do is sit out there and enjoy!
We had a lot of work to get us to the point where we could say we really loved our outdoor space, but this pergola has been a a great addition to our deck. Hope that it may be to yours as well.
More amazing backyard ideas: