How to Build a Simple Backyard Pergola




Introduction: How to Build a Simple Backyard Pergola

About: I am a Building Automation Engineer at a major University in California. My favorite people in the world are my wife Bouavon, and my two beautiful sons Blaise and Dhylon. I am extremely creative and I am alway…

I saved thousands in labor costs by building my backyard pergola myself.

It was hard work but not over whelming at all.

With some basic woodworking skills this can be done in a weekend.

Materials and Tools I used on this build:

6 - 6x6x12 - Pressure treated Lumber

4 - 2x8x20 - Pressure Treated Lumber

24 - 4x4x12 - Pressure Treated Lumber

12 - 1x2x8 - Pine (For supporting the posts)

4 - 2x3x12 - Studs (For supporting the cross beams)

16 - 10" galvanized bolts

1 Box of Galvanized washers

1 Box of Galvanized nuts

5 pounds of 3 1/2" coated decking screws

6 - 50 pound bags of gravel

18 - 90 pound bags of concrete

Circular Saw

Miter Saw

Cordless Drill and Impact Driver


Post Hole Digger



Post Level

Masonry Line

Line Level

5/8" Auger Drill Bit

Please keep in mind the the tools and material I used are specific to my application so yours may vary my list.


P.S. It seems that when viewing this page from a mobile device, the embedded video doesn't work. So here is a link to my YouTube video for your reference.


Step 1: Measure, Design, and DIG

Since every backyard is different, I won't go into the specifics of my measurements but instead just go over the steps I used to build my pergola. I measured the desired area and used Google Sketchup to design my pergola but if you are not familiar with using this software you can design yours with a pen and paper. (If you would like to learn how to use Google SketchUp, I have created a video series on my YouTube channel called "SketchUp for Woodworking". You can check that out HERE if you are interested.)

Once I had all of my design and dimensions figured out I was ready to dig. For My pergola I needed to dig 6 post holes about 24" wide and about 30" deep. Southern California has very mild weather and almost no rain to 30" deep is plenty. If you live in a state with more harsh weather conditions, you may have to find out how deep your post hole need to be.

You can use any method you like to dig these holes. I used a combination of a ground break bar, a spade shovel, and a post hole digger.

Step 2: Order / Buy All Your Materials

Now that you have your design and your holes done it is time to purchase all of your materials. I had to special order most of my lumber because Home Depot doesn't normally stock the lumber dimensions that I needed. My pergola is 12' x 36' so the cross beams and posts were very large.

If you are building a smaller pergola you will most likely be able to pick the lumber off the shelves. I went with pressure treated lumber because this is an outdoor structure and the posts are going to be in direct contact with the earth. Pressure treated lumber should last significantly longer than standard pine or fir building lumber. I also went with the brown stained pressure treated lumber because it already matched the decor of my house.

Note: You can chose to seal and or finish your lumber at this point how ever you choose to. It may be a good idea to seal the bottom 24" or so of your posts with a water protector to prevent water damage.

Step 3: Set Your Posts

This would ideally be at least a two person job but I was stuck doing this step by myself. Although this was difficult to do alone, I think that I managed pretty well. It took me about 30 minutes per post to set and plum.

My camera died several times during this build but I will walk you through the steps.

Prior to the next steps this would be a good time to cut yourself some support pieces to hold up your poles while they set. I used some 1x2 material and cut 24 pieces about 4 ft long.

  1. Measure where your first post should be lined up.
  2. Fill the bottom of your post holes with 1 bag of gravel or at least 6" deep. (This will help with leveling the posts and with drainage)
  3. Place your post inside the hole and try to get it set in the gravel and as straight as possible.
  4. Use a long level (at least 36") or a post level to make sure that it is plum on all four sides.
  5. Use the 1x2 support pieces to hold your post in place by screwing one end into your post and staking the other end into the ground. Make sure to keep checking for level through out this process.
  6. Once you got your first post in and level, measure where all of your other posts will be located and mark them with stakes. Use masonry line to mark the outline of where all the posts will be and use this line to set all other posts. Always making sure that your posts are in line with your measurements.
  7. Now that you have all your posts in the holes and level it is time to mix and pour the concrete per the instructions on the bag. The amount you will need is dependent on the size of your holes.
  8. Let the concrete set and cure for the time listed on the bag before you proceed to the next steps.

Step 4: Attach Your Cross Beams

For this step I measured up the post where I wanted the bottom of my cross beams to sit and marked it. I then used some 2"x3"x12' studs as braces to hold up the cross beams so I can attach them. I screwed these studs into the posts perpendicular to how the cross beams will sit so I could just lay the beams on top of the studs while I put in a 3 1/2" decking screw into the beam to temporarily hold it in pace.

I measured and cut and attached all 8 cross beams the same way I just mentioned. Then I uses a very long 5/8" Auger drill bit to bore through the cross beams and posts to accommodate the 10" long galvanized bolts. Once all the holes were drilled I inserted the bolts and used washers and nuts to fasten them. You will need to use a couple of wrenches to tighten these down.

Step 5: Attaching the Shade Joists (Or What Ever They Are Called?)

Now that the main structure is built all that is left to do is to attach the shade joists. I chose 4"x4"x12' lumber for mine but what you choose is entirely up to you. I originally had mine spaced at 16" apart but I didn't like the way that looked so I went back to Home Depot to buy several more 4x4s so that my final spacing is now only 10" apart. This step is also much easier with some help cause they are heavy and the structure is tall. Place all your boards up on top and space them out according to your plans. There are many brackets available for stuff like this but I just used 3 1/2" screws going in at a 45 degree angle on each side of the boards down through each cross beam. This was plenty to hold these boards on and my pergola is very sturdy.

Step 6: Enjoy Your New Structure and Shade!

As you can see by these photos, I went with a very rustic and simple design for my pergola. A lot of designs you may find have fancy cuts and more lumber than is needed but I think that this style goes well with my house.

Here are some side by side shots of my google SketchUp renderings and the finished product. My family and I are very happy with our pergola and it was the first of many backyard projects.

Hopefully this will help you with some ideas of designing and building some stylish shade for your yard.

THANK YOU for making it to the end!

Outdoor Structures Contest

Runner Up in the
Outdoor Structures Contest

1 Person Made This Project!


  • Plastic Challenge

    Plastic Challenge
  • Tinkercad Student Design Contest

    Tinkercad Student Design Contest
  • Lamps and Lighting Contest

    Lamps and Lighting Contest



Question 6 months ago

Hello! I am trying to figure out the appropriate span for the wood and design of our pergola. How did you calculate this?

Carpenter Guy
Carpenter Guy

5 years ago

Sorry, my iPad is lagging, so if my spelling is bad it is the iPad.

Carpenter Guy
Carpenter Guy

5 years ago

wow, nice project! I like it ?


5 years ago

Just what I was looking for !!


5 years ago

Just what I was looking for !!


5 years ago

Damn that looks good!


5 years ago

Your pergola turned out great! I'm in the process of a huge backyard overhaul, and we've planned to do a pergola very similar to yours. Nice to see the details of yours!