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Build a Simple Cedar Pergola

By June 11, 2019 One Comment

Build your own Simple Cedar Pergola.  Plans available for download in PDF Format.

See the How to Video.

For this blog post I’d like to go back and revisit a pergola I built a few years ago.

This build was prior to the launch of this YouTube channel but the construction and assembly of this structure is fairly straightforward so I’ll use some animation to show you how it was done.

Build the Pergola

The Sketchup Model
Simple Cedar Pergola - 8'6" on center

Simple Cedar Pergola – 8’6″ on center

It’s made from rough sawn Western Red Cedar. And it’s located in the sunny, side yard of this residential house. Space was limited but the open design of a pergola lends itself well to this.

Simple Cedar Pergola - 8'6" overall height

Simple Cedar Pergola – 8’6″ overall height

Each post sits on a round concrete pier that’s spaced 8′ 6″ inches on center. The overall height of the pergola is also 8 foot 6 with a head clearance of 7′ 3″. The concrete footings are poured below the frostline.

Sketchup Model of a square pergola

Sketchup Model of a square pergola

The posts are 6×6 and attached to galvanized saddles.

Four beams are bolted to the posts and run North to South. Ten rafters sit snuggly over these beams. They are grouped in pairs running East to West. Eight corner braces are attached either to a post and a rafter or to a post and a beam.Topping the structure are five louvers. These are also notched so they sit down on the rafters.

Batter Boards with weighted mason string

Batter Boards with weighted mason string

To lay out the location of the footings I’ll use batter boards. I pound stakes into the ground and attach ledgers.

3-4-5 triangle method to square mason layout lines

3-4-5 triangle method to square mason layout lines

I used a laser level to set all the tops of the batter boards on the same level plane.

Mason string weighted with bricks is strung across the boards on 8 foot 6 spacing. The strings are squared to each other by marking a point 3 feet and 4 feet from the intersection with a sharpie. Then adjusting the strings so these marks are 5 feet apart diagonally.

Plumb Bob suspended at intersection of layout lines

Plumb Bob suspended at intersection of layout lines

Another way to check for square is to measure diagonally intersection to string intersection and adjust until the distance is equal.

This is the same way I laid out the footings for my Garden Pavilion.

Galvanized post saddle being set in wet concrete

Galvanized post saddle being set in wet concrete

When everything is squared, a plumb bob is suspended at this intersection to mark the center of the hole. The hole is dug and a Sonotube is dropped in. The batter boards and strings are used to set a consistent height for all the tubes. I secured these cardboard tubes with additional stakes holding the tops 3″ above the lawn.

Concrete footings (piers) poured in Sonotubes with post saddles

Concrete footings (piers) poured in Sonotubes with post saddles

I dug below the frost line and opened up the hole at the bottom to create a wider foot (or base) for the column.

I mixed up a few bags of concrete in my wheelbarrow and filled each form. I set a 6×6 post saddle into the concrete before it set up.

Tools to get started with

Simple Cedar Pergola – Tools to get started with

Some simple tools are all that’s needed for the first part of this build. A circular saw, a handsaw, a large speed square, plus layout and marking tools

The Posts

The posts are full dimension 6″x6″. This entire pergola is made from lumber supplied by my friend Jay. He has a portable mill and is a meticulous and accurate sawyer. I brought the rough lumber to the site and laid it over sawhorses for marking and cutting.

For this video, I had enough extra cedar lumber from other projects to show almost all the steps required to make each part of the pergola.

Cutting posts to length with a series of cuts with a circular saw

Cutting posts to length with a series of cuts with a circular saw

I draw a pencil line around the post on all four sides. If it’s square and true the lines will connect.

Finishing the post cut with a hand saw

Simple Cedar Pergola – Finishing the post cut with a hand saw

Each post is cut to length with 4 cuts using a circular saw, rotating the post a quarter turn each time, then finishing off the cut with a hand saw.

Cutting to angled post tops with a circular saw

Cutting to angled post tops with a circular saw

The top of each post has a 30 degree slope. This is mainly for aesthetics. I just liked that look. Pencil lines are drawn using a large speed square. I free handed the cuts for the front and back. Then I adjusted the angle of the blade and made the side cuts. Then finished with a handsaw.

Chamfering the top of the post with a sanding disc on an angle grinder

Chamfering the top of the post with a sanding disc on an angle grinder

I chamfer the top edges of the post with a sanding disc on my angle grinder. And the rest of the corners with the power plane. I like this look and I do this on other outdoor structures I’ve built. I think it’s worth the extra time.

Chamfering the post lengths with a power plane

Chamfering the post lengths with a power plane

You could use the angle grinder for all the chamfering but, I find the power plane works better on long runs.

Standing the posts in the saddles and securing with temporary bracing

Standing the posts in the saddles and securing with temporary bracing

These posts are then set in the saddles, tilted up, and plumbed with a spirit level. Stakes are driven in and temporary braces hold them in place. Screws are driven through the saddles into the bottom of each post.

The Beams

I then cut the four 2×8 beams to length. Mark a 45 degree angled section for the end profile and mark the locations for the carriage bolts that run through the posts on the two outermost beams. These holes are drilled with a guide.

The pergola beams are full dimension 2" x 8"

The pergola beams are full dimension 2″ x 8″

Now I cut off the angled piece with circular saw and square. These are also chamfered with the angle grinder and/or the power plane. I stain most of the pieces prior to assembly. So much easier to do on sawhorses than up on a ladder later.

Carriage bolt holes are drilled with a guide

Carriage bolt holes are drilled with a guide

I attach some guide blocks to the posts and set the beams in place.

Beams are bolted to the posts with long carriage bolts

Beams are bolted to the posts with long carriage bolts

The beams are clamped to the posts and checked for level. I then drill through the beam, the post, and the opposing beam with a long 3/8 bit. I tap in a carriage bolt and secure it with a flat washer, a lock washer, and a nut.

Now the support blocks can be removed.

The Rafters

Like the beams, the rafters are cut to length. The end profile marked and cut. And the edges chamfered.

The rafters are laid over the beams and the contact points marked

The rafters are laid over the beams and the contact points marked

The rafters fit over the beams. Two notches on each end of the rafter needs to be cut. I mark the rafter where it sits on the beam.

Rafters are clamped together and slots cut with circular saw

Rafters are clamped together and slots cut with circular saw

If the marks line up on the four rafters that surround the posts then I gang them together with clamps. I set the depth required on my circular saw and make a series of close cuts through the first four rafters. With a hammer, I break off and knock out these wafer pieces. Then clean up with a chisel.

Hand chisel to clean up leftovers

Hand chisel to clean up leftovers

Alternatively these could be cut individually with a jigsaw. Or, if the marks on the beams don’t line up just so.

Or, a jigsaw can be used to cut these out

Or, a jigsaw can be used to cut these out

These rafters are set in place. And they are screwed directly to the posts.

First 4 rafters being attached to pergola

First 4 rafters being attached to pergola

Braces

The corner braces are made from 2×6 stock. They are simple braces with 45 degree angles. First I cut the side braces on the miter saw. Then drill holes for the carriage bolts that will connect it to the beam. Then I’ll mark the hole location where a lag bolt will attach it to a post.

Miter saw cutting braces

Simple Cedar Pergola – Miter saw cutting braces

These braces are attached with lag bolts in the same way as the woodshed I built.

Holes drilled in upper end of braces

Holes drilled in upper end of braces

The woodshed braces are curved but the lag bolts were done the same way. I drilled into the post, then ran in the bolt with an impact driver.

Laying out hole location for lag bolts that run into the posts

Laying out hole location for lag bolts that run into the posts

Now I’ll cut the side braces to length. And pre drill the carriage bolt holes.

Forstner bit hole for lag bolt washer allowance

Forstner bit hole for lag bolt washer allowance

The lag bolt holes are drilled at approximately 20 degrees so the lag bolts will pull them into the corner. I tilt the table of my drill press to 20 degrees. A forstner bit can be used first to countersink a larger diameter for the washer of the lag bolt. Then I drill through for the shank of the bolt.

Drilling hole for lag bolt

Drilling hole for lag bolt

It’s possible to freehand all of this during construction if you don’t have a drill press.

Chamfering braces with angle grinder

Chamfering braces with angle grinder

The braces are now chamfered and stained.

Attachment of braces to post in similar fashion as my woodshed

Attachment of braces to post in similar fashion as my woodshed

A little construction adhesive would help during assembly to add a bit more rigidity to the pergola. The braces are clamped in place and holes drilled for the carriage bolts at the tops. And holes are also drilled in the posts for the lag bolts as shown previously. The top of the brace is bolted to a rafter or a beam.

Rest of rafters added now that braces are done

Rest of rafters added now that braces are done

Now the temporary bracing can be removed. And the rest of the fill-in rafters are toe screwed to the beams.

The Louvers

Next the 2×4 louvers are made. They’re made in the same way as the beams and rafters. They are marked, ganged together with clamps, and notched with a circular saw. They are set in place and screwed to the rafters.

The louvers finish the pergola

The louvers finish the pergola

If you want more shade you can add more louvers to the pergola.

The Western Red Cedar Pergola in the side yard of this house

The Western Red Cedar Pergola in the side yard of this house

And this simple pergola is done.

What I like about this pergola is it’s simplicity and how the rafters are notched into the beams, and the louvers into the rafters. I think taking the extra time to do that is well worth it. I also like the chamfered edges – I think that’s also worth the extra effort.

I finished the pergola with a semi-transparent stain. I stained each part prior to assembly. Not always required but it can make things easier to roll on finish with boards laying over a sawhorse instead of overhead.

And thanks to everyone who has supported our channel through Patreon. It’s very much appreciated.

I have a full set of plans available for download.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading

See also:  Shed Style Garden Pavilion

 

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