DIY Pergola for Dummies

pergola with cedar trees interlock

With summer season right around the corner, now’s the perfect time to get a jump on any backyard DIY’s on your bucket list. Between the new found quarantine time and the benefit of enjoying your project all season – this was a no brainer. Backyard landscaping is pretty damn expensive, so it’s smart to look for places you can reduce costs and take care of yourself. We opted for a pergola due to its minimalistic properties, great shade ability, and we will eventually turn it into a corner oasys when the time comes. All in all, the total costs of this project came in about $1100 CAD (about $810 USD) . Have a look at our first backyard DIY this summer.

[wp-review id=”565″]

Materials for 8 x 10 Pergola

  • (4) 6×6 Posts
  • (4) 2×8″ x 12ft treated lumber (Beams)
  • (9) 2×6″ x 10ft treated lumber (Rafters)
  • (5) 2×4″ x 12ft treated lumber (Purlins)
  • (2) 2×6″ x 12ft treated lumber (Braces)
  • (24) 9.5″ ThruLok (Carriage Bolt Replacement)
  • 2 7’8″ Screws HeadLok
  • 1.5″ Simpson Strong Tie Exterior Screws
  • 2 1/4″ Deck screws
  • (8) 6″ HeadLok Structural Screws
  • Joist Ties
  • Cut n Seal


  • Power Drill
  • 12″ Speed Square
  • Circular Saw
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Level
  • Orbital Sander (Optional)
  • Jigsaw (Optional)


Pergola Legs 6x6 set 8x10 ft
  1. Set your posts. I will skip this step since there are a number of ways to do this depending on your current layout. We opted to put the posts directly into the ground for additional support, primarily due to a very heavy slope in our backyard. There are plenty of videos/tutorials online for how to do it, but as a starting point, here are some of the options:
    1. Post in ground (what I did)
    2. Using post brackets secured directly into concrete footings (same as above except you only fill your hole with concrete and brace your post on top of it)
    3. Using post brackets secured to a nut which is set directly into the concrete footings (same as above using different method to secure post to concrete)
    4. Anchoring onto existing platform

If you do opt to do this yourself and don’t have an existing platform to anchor on to, here are some quick tips:

  • If you have a lot to do, I highly suggest renting an auger from Home Depot. Starting a fun project like this off with manual labour is probably the biggest deterrent to getting started.
  • Make sure you go below the frost line (approximately 4ft deep)
  • If you are inserting posts, make sure they stand level when you pour your concrete. It will impact the rest of your build if it isn’t.
  • Make sure you have tall enough posts. A lot of people forget to factor the 4 ft in ground plus the ground required to level. An example is if you have a 1 ft slope from one end to the other, with a stepping platform framed by 2×8’s, you’ll immediately lose 5ft 6″‘s off your post. Assuming you want a 9ft pergola, you’ll need to buy 16ft posts cut down to size.
Pergola support beams set across legs
  1. Once posts are set, set up temporary Support Beams. Building a pergola on your own can be a bit challenging, so it’s important to work smart. Since I had 4 uneven posts due to the slope of my backyard, I took the shortest one as my reference point (this would in theory be the tallest pergola I could get). This measured up to about 100 inches, which was in line with what I wanted. Considering my rafters are 2×6″ (5.5″ true width) and wanting a half inch overhang, the beams’s (2×8″) will need to rest 5 inches below the top. Accounting for the 2×8″ now (7.5″ true width), I marked a line 12.5″ (7.5″ + 5″) from the top of the reference post. Take your straightest rafter or purlin and run it across your 2 side posts. Check level on the vertical post as well as the support brace, then secure it with any temporary screws. I just used construction screws here since I had them handy.
  2. Take your first official brace and rest it on your temporary support running the long side of your pergola. This is how the brace will look when complete. But you don’t want to secure it yet so you will use this reference point to mount your second support. Check for level and then mark the bottom of brace onto your 3rd post. This will be the top of your support on the other side. The purpose here is to find level across all 4 posts. You could also use a laser level to square off all 4 sides.
pergola legs with temporary braces
  1. Repeat step 2 on the other side, to complete a perfectly level temporary brace system.
cut out rafter details for pergola
  1. (Optional) Now time to carve out your rafter details. You can do this any way you want. With a jigsaw you can make some really neat designs, however if you are looking for something more modern, I suggest keeping lines straight. I opted for an easy 45 degree cut 2 inch from the top across every rafter, leaving 1.5″ from the bottom.
cut out rafter details for pergola
I lined up all the rafters and ran a circular saw across all boards 1.5″ deep
cut out rafter details for pergola
Then using a speed square, ran the circular saw on a 45 degree angle, stopping just short of the end line.
cut out rafter details for pergola
Since a blade is round, you wont get a clean cutoff. Make sure you don’t cut past your cutline. I used a jigsaw to take off that last piece.
  1. Repeat the same process for all your beams, rafters and purlins. I know this part is not exciting, but attention to the detail you want is what will give your pergola character in the end.
orbital sander to sand rafter details for pergola
  1. Sand the ends. Using a sander or sand paper, I just used 180 grit and cleaned up the edges. No need to be super smooth here.
  1. Now you are ready to assemble. Rest your 2 braces on top of your temporary support ones. You can lock them in with 2 carriage bolts, but I didn’t want to deal with hammering it in, so I opted for 9.5″ ThruLok bolt replacements. These are a bit pricier, but they look nicer in my opinion and are much easier to install. All you do is drill them through your beams and post, stopping at about 1/4″. Then twist on the cap as far as you can and go and then back to drilling it the rest of the way. There’s an indicator at the back with a transparent min line that the bolt has to pass. That’s it. Running 4 in a staggered box has the equivalent load capacity of 2 x 5/8″ carriage bolts.
mark level on posts for top beam
  1. Now go back around your 3 taller posts and cut them off to size. Again, I was looking for about 1/2″ clearance from top, so I aimed to cut around 5″ from the top of the beam. If you have a chainsaw, that will save you some time. I don’t, so I just jacked my circular saw blade to the highest point, ran it around the 4 sides and then used a reciprocating saw to cut through the rest.
pergola framing
  1. Repeat step 8, but instead of resting your beam on support beam, you are simply resting rafters on your main beam. Since these don’t carry a heavy load, I just ran 2 ThruLoks instead of 4, diagonally.
  1. Now evenly space out your rafters, and use joist ties and the corresponding screws/nails (each tie will requires specific screw/nail types) to secure them to your braces. I used Simpson Strong Tie accent 1.5″ screws in black. You need 4 for each one, locking down to all 4 of your beams. Note it helps to use a speed square here to keep the rafters vertical. Hardware lumber is never straight.
Lay out purlins on pergola
  1. Now time to space out your purlins. You can see why checking for level and right angles are so important throughout the process. If you are not square, by the time the purlins go up, you’ll have noticeably skewed diamond shade patterns on the ground.
squaring perlins over rafters
  1. Work your away around each joint, securing each purlin down with 2 1/4″ deck screws at the intersection. Notice here, I’m again using my speed square to check for right angles and doing my best to ensure they are as perpendicular as possible to each additional workpiece.
  1. Braces. I started with a 2×6″ cut down to 32″, mitred at 45 degrees on both ends. You can use 2 beams per corner, or a 6×6 cut to size for more sturdiness, but this thing was rock solid and I didn’t want it to be too stubby. If there’s movement in your pergola, I suggest a thicker post. I secured them into place with 2 7’8″ structural screws, again placing 4 to each beam in a staggered box pattern. To connect the brace to the post, I predrilled 2 holes perpendicular to the brace and fixed it with 6″ structural screws.
  2. To mount the second brace – I again used a speed square to mark the base of the brace around the post to know where to line up the base. Given the higher point of the rafter, this second brace was measured and cut to size. I secured it the same way as the smaller braces.
  3. Last but not least, restain your open cuts with Cut-N-Seal to paint over all your open cuts. I didn’t mention this earlier, but during breaks and free time, I simply applied a wet coat of stain to all open cuts. Since your lumber is pre treated, when you make cuts the newly exposed wood does not have the proper protection to deal with outdoor elements. You’ll need two coats of this stuff, so just apply it throughout your process, or at the end. Also – since I got my wood from a big box store, the treated wood comes very wet. I’ll give it about a month or so before I revisit the pergola and give it a clear coat stain, as well as accent the purlins black.

Sounds and looks hard, but with the proper preparation, you can bang this out over a weekend.

Many leave their pergolas as is, however I will test this design this summer and see if it needs more shade. If it does, there are a lot of ways to put a cover over your existing build. When I revisit this project, I will be sure to keep you posted!

If you are working on your backyard and looking for a bit of inspiration, make sure you check out all of our outdoor projects.

Here’s a bonus picture. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, or your wife will kill you lol.

One response to “DIY Pergola for Dummies”

  1. DIY Modern Outdoor Bench to Build this Summer| HOTMILLK Ideas Avatar

    […] With the fence finally going up we went to work on a lot of the larger structural upgrades. We built the pergola, had the grass removed in lieu of interlocking and enhanced our deck space. Now time to […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you enjoyed this post, learned something, or found some inspiration along the way – we would greatly appreciate it if you could help the website by purchasing your material or tools through our affiliate links. We earn a small commission for every referral, and there is absolutely no cost to you. Thank you for your support!



Culture (3) Design Inspiration (12) DIY Basics (2) Featured (3) Fun Projects (6) Home Theater (6) Indoor Projects (6) MILLK Habits (4) MILLK Wealth (2) Outdoor Projects (7) Parenting (1) Parties (2) Propagate (3) Real Estate (6) Resources (4) Reviews (3) Smarthome (2)

real estate

[testimonials showposts=1]


affiliate links

%d bloggers like this: