How to Build a Pergola – Simple Cedar Plan Idea

The Pergola Rafters

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

Animation to build a pergola plan detailed
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.

circular saw cutting rafter dado
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.

Chisel Work

chisel cleaning up a dado on the pergola rafters
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.

jigsaw cuts the pergola notches in the rafters
Or, a jigsaw can be used to cut these out

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

Animation to build a pergola detailed
First 4 rafters being attached to pergola

Build a Pergola – The 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.

braces 45 degree angle cut on a miter saw
Simple Cedar Pergola – Miter saw cutting braces

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

using a drill guide
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.

the bolts are angled 20 degrees
Laying out hole location for lag bolts that run into the posts

Drill Press

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

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countersink hole of pergola brace for head of lag bolt
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 bolt hole in pergola brace on the drill press
Drilling hole for lag bolt

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

angle grinder with sanding disc chamfers edge of brace
Chamfering braces with angle grinder

The braces are now chamfered and stained.

installing a brace on the wood shed with galvanized lag bolts and impact driver
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.

Adding the rest of the Rafters

Animation to build a pergola step-by-step
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.

Build a Pergola – 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.

Animation to build a pergola step-by-step
The louvers finish the pergola

If you want more shade you can add more louvers to the pergola. If you’ve always wanted to build a pergola, then this simple pergola design might be the one for you.

Cedar pergola in a backyard or patio
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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