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How To Build A Pergola With Ease – The Simple Secrets To Success!

If you are looking for a great way to add to big interest and function to your home landscape, make this the year you build your very own pergola.

The timeless look of a pergola compliments any style of landscape. All while adding a whole new level of functionality and dimension to your outdoor space.

Besides their intricate beauty, a pergola provides shade, shelter, and a quiet space for relaxing. It can also be the perfect spot for outdoor entertaining or dining. Even more, they can double as a great space to grow climbing roses, clematis, grapes and more!

But contrary to popular belief, a pergola doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Nor does building one require massive DIY skills. In fact, creating your own incredibly strong and beautiful pergola can be done in a day or a single weekend. And all for less than you think!

How To Build A Pergola
A pergola can bring your landscape to life with all kinds of possibilities.

How To Build Your Own Pergola With Ease

Purchasing a pergola can be costly for sure. Some top end units run upwards of $3,000 to $5,0000 or more. And let’s face it, the flimsy “big-box” store versions made from lightweight resin, metal or plastic simply don’t hold up over time!

That is exactly why we chose to build our own pergola some 9 years ago. And in the process, found out that with a simple plan and material list and a few basic tools, we could create an attractive, strong, and durable pergola – all for a fraction of the cost!

barn pergola
We built our barn pergola from the very same plans and method we used for our standard pergola. We just left off one side and attached it to the barn.

In fact, we built our very first 10 x 10 pergola at the farm for just $150 in lumber. And it still looks as good today as it did back in 2011!

How To Build Your Pergola – The Simple Steps To Success

Over the years, we ended up creating quite a few more pergolas for friends, neighbors and family. Below, we share the simple secrets and tips we have learned over the years to create a beautiful structure that lasts. All of course, with keeping an eye on the budget!

Here is a look below at our biggest keys to success, step by step:

#1 Choosing The Right Lumber

Building a strong, attractive pergola all starts with choosing the right lumber. One thing we have learned is that 4″ x 4″ posts are simply not strong enough to hold up over time. Nor is wood that is 1″ inch thick or less for the top of the structure.

build a pergola
Using our material list and plans, we always cut all of our boards for the pergola first. It makes quick work of the assembly later. Above are the materials for a 12′ x 12′ pergola we created for a nephew’s back yard, all cut and ready to go.

We use only 6″ x 6″ treated posts, and 2x treated lumber for building our pergolas. Although there are thinner and less costly options, the thickness of 2x lumber gives the piece massive long-term strength and durability.

As for what type of wood to use, we have found treated lumber to be the most economical and durable choice. By far! Cedar is an option, but the cost of cedar is astronomical. And in many cases, cedar will still warp and twist.

Treated lumber has come a long way in the past few years. It’s also extremely versatile. It can be left to weather to a natural grey patina, or painted or stained to match existing colors. And it builds one beautiful, strong and affordable pergola!

how to build a pergola
A pergola can be outfitted with all kinds of awesome accessories to create the perfect outdoor space.

What Does It Cost To Build Your Own Pergola

As for approximate costs, it all depends where you live of course for the cost of lumber and supplies. With that said, on average, a 10′ x 10′ can be built for a few hundred dollars, while sizes up to 16 x 16” can be built for about $350 to $400. That is a huge savings for a structure that will last 10 years or more! (See : Old World Garden Step By Step Pergola Plans – Includes Material List Too!)

Building A Pergola – How It All Comes Together

A pergola is made up of 4 distinct parts: (4) posts, (4) header boards, purlins (the main crossing boards), and the top stringer boards. The number of purlins and top stringer boards will depend on how large of a structure you build, and how much shade you would like it to have.

inexpensive pergola
The parts that make up a strong, attractive and durable pergola.

Starting with our material list, we always cut out all of the pieces first From there, we move on to assembly. It makes the process go smooth, and allows for better and faster assembly if the parts are all cut first.

Posts :

We use only 6 x 6 treated posts for strength and durability. Be sure to select the straightest posts in the pile at the lumber yard. It goes a long way in making the pergola easy to level and assemble.

Header Boards:

The header boards are the double set of boards that attach to each side of the post. We secure ours with (2) 10″ bolts at each post. It takes a total of 8 bolts to attach all 4 header boards. With a basic jigsaw, decorative cuts can easily be cut into the ends.

Using treated 2x boards makes the pergola strong and sturdy.

We always use 2 x 8″ or 2 x 10″ boards for the header boards. They add strength and a beefy look to the finished pergola. You need a total of 4 header boards for a four post pergola.


The purlins are the main crossing boards of a pergola. We use 2 x 6″ lumber for the purlins. This makes a huge difference! Many store-bought kits or commercial units skimp and use smaller boards. But 2 x 6″ boards add big strength to the piece.

To make the pergolas strong, we cut two notches that are 2″ deep on each end of the purlin with a jig saw. This is so they can fit down onto the header boards. It not only gives a beautiful finished look to the piece, but also eliminates the need for costly and unsightly hardware used to attach boards together. Again, the jigsaw can also be used to create decorative cuts on the end with ease.

build a pergola
The purlin notches slip over the double header boards to give the piece strength and beauty.

Stringer Boards

Finally, for the top stringer boards, we use 2 x 4″ lumber and lay it flat on top of the purlins. Next, we screw them down into the purlins with 3″ screws. It creates a solid piece that won’t curve, warp or bend.

Putting It All Together

Once the pergola pieces are all cut, it is time to assemble. At this point, it is always a great idea to have a few extra hands around to help it go smoothly.

We have found it’s best to assemble the two posts and header boards on the ground. You can drill them out all at once, and put in the bolts. This way, each side of the pergola is complete

Once the posts are set, it is easy to slide on the purlins over the double header boards with the notches and space out to your desired location. Finally, the top stringer boards go on, and screws are driven down into the purlins to lock it all together.

It is a system that has worked like a charm for long term strength and durability. We love getting photos from all over the country from those using the plans to build their own. It really is an easy project to complete.

Securing The Pergola

The last secret is also one of the most important – and that is to be sure to secure the pergola firmly.

If you have an existing concrete patio, you can use plate anchors to secure each of the four 6 x 6″ post to the concrete. These anchors are available at most home improvement and hardware stores for about $25 to $30 each. But before fixing the plate anchors, it is important to clean your concrete patio to remove any grime/ dirt for good contact and adhesion.

Our instant download, step by step plans also include material lists for pergolas for 8 x 8, 10 x 10, 12 x 12, 14 x 14, and 16 x 16′ pergolas.

For non-concrete applications, it is best to use longer posts and bury for strength. Always, of course, check with local utilities before digging to eliminate the threat of hitting buried power, gas or sewer lines.

The important thing is to definitely secure it!  If not, all it takes is one big windstorm to turn your beautiful little paradise into a pile of toothpicks!

concrete anchors
A 6 x 6 Concrete Anchor for posts. These are by far one of the strongest ways to secure posts to a concrete surface.

Here is to building your own pergola this year and adding big interest to your landscape! You can check out all of our DIY plans here on our DIY Plans Page. – Jim and Mary

Old World Garden Farms

Jim and Mary Competti have been writing gardening, DIY and recipe articles and books for over 15 years from their 46 acre Ohio farm. The two are frequent speakers on all things gardening and love to travel in their spare time.

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