I visited my nephew Brian and his wife Heather in Jacksonville, Florida and met their daughter Charlotte for the first time. I had been planning just a short visit and was planning to leave on Saturday morning when Brian suggested, out of the blue, that I stay and help him build a pergola for his backyard. I couldn’t resist and we quickly started planning. I first drew up a quick sketch and as we started figuring out what materials we would need, decided it would be worth the time to model it in Google Sketchup.

Brian and Heather decided they wanted thicker posts than the 4×4’s we had planned, so we decided to case the 4×4 post with a 2×4 and a 2×6 to effectively make it a 6×6. We came up with a list of materials and were off the hardware store. We estimated $500-600 for everything and were surprised to meet that budget despite the need for Brian to buy some tools. In fact, the materials only amounted to $300. We managed to squeeze everything into Brian’s vehicle and quickly set to cutting the boards once we arrived at home.

The angled ends of the of the top 2×6’s presented a challenge since the angle exceeded the maximum 45 degree capabilities of the miter saw. We made a partial cut from one side and then needed to remove the fence and rig up a brace to finish the cut from the other side. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked pretty well. We finished cutting all the boards and called it a night. Total elapsed time 3.5 hours.

The next morning, we started early, first digging the holes for the four corner posts. The first hole had us both rethinking the whole project as Brian ran into some massive roots that we couldn’t get through. Luckily the hole was just barely deep enough at that point. Brian knocked the remaining three holes in record time.

We then began the time consuming process of aligning the posts in the holes. The first hole served as the datum since it was at the lowest point and was also the shallowest hole. We added about 3 inches of gravel to the bottom and inserted the post. We roughly secured it in place by bracing it to the fence. We then aligned it to the other holes by clamping or screwing some of the long 2×6’s to all of the posts a few inches off the ground. This enabled us to ensure it would be square and also that the posts would be roughly centered in the holes. Once satisfied with the location of the first post, we made sure it was plumb and then braced it more securely before pouring 2 bags worth of concrete into the hole.

We then proceeded to the next hole and roughly repeated the same process, making sure the top of the post was vertically aligned with the first post by placing a long straight board over the tops of both posts and checking its level. We added more gravel to the bottom of the hole to bring it to the right height. We then made sure it was plumb and poured concrete into the hole. We did the same with the third post before breaking for a late lunch.

After lunch we finished the last post and then began assembling other pieces into place. We installed the header 2×6’s connecting the front to the back posts and then had to the figure out the facing of the 4×4 posts. We began screwing on one of the 2×6’s to the 4×4 when Brian noticed that the overhang was more than the thickness of a 2×4. In my haste the previous day, I had miscalculated. A 4×4 faced with a 2×4 would become 3 1/2′ x 5″, so a 2×6 which is actually 1 1/2′ x 5 1/2″ would overhang this by a 1/2 inch. Brian had no way of ripping the 2×6’s so we called a few hardware stores to see if they could do it for us, but to no avail. Brian made the command decision to buy a cheap table saw, so we headed back to the hardware store. Once home we quickly ripped the offending 1/2″ off of each 2×6 and then continued. This had set us back about an hour and Brian another $150. It was now about 4 pm and we were running out of light.

We continued. We faced all of the 4×4’s and then installed the front and rear headers. The pergola was starting to take shape. We installed all of the angled braces and then as the light began to fail and the mosquitoes began to bite, installed the 6 2x2s on the top, finishing the project. Total elapsed time: about 16 hours.

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