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How to Build a Freestanding Pergola

Freestanding Pergola Plans - The Perfect DIY Summer Project

Are you looking for help on How to Build a Freestanding Pergola? We’re here to help you get that project done!  All it takes is a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, a good set of plans and a proper list of materials. For a simple pergola construction, you just need those steps and the right tools, to have maximum success with your DIY building project.

Let’s face it, as important as the sun can be, sometimes we all just want a little less sun. The sun can be overly hot when you are enjoying the outdoors, and the rays can interrupt vs. enhance your experience.

Learning how to build a freestanding pergola, is the perfect project for anyone who enjoys hanging out in the backyard, but wants some protection from the sun. A pergola is not a full shelter against rain and wind, but more of a shield against direct sun exposure, so It’s important to know that distinction moving forward.

At this point, some might wonder why anyone would need a pergola at all. Well, it is a magnificent structure that gives life to your backyard, without causing an eyesore to your property. With a pergola, it is like you can be in both an indoor and outdoor space all at once.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to How to build a freestanding pergola – safely and affordably:

8 – Steps To Build a Freestanding Wood Pergola 

Bringing life to your backyard, a new pergola can give your space an Italian, Renaissance, or even a Rustic feel. You can create stone or gravel pathways to your new pergola, and create a major destination to hang out and lounge around with friends.

If you’re looking for more natural shade, try grapevines all-around your pergola. You will reap the benefits of a fresh scent and beautiful covering. You may also want to add “roller-type” sun shades to blot the sun out on the West or South facing sides of your pergola. This could add a cost of $100 to $200 depending on the size of the structure you will need to cover, but definitely help on blazing hot days!

With a lot of pergola plans out there in this day and age, it might be overwhelming to decide on one that works for you and your lifestyle. This should not be a run of the mill decision. Picking the right pergola should be a calculated and thought-out process. There are a ton of DIY pergola plans out there but do not be dismayed. Here is a quick video that illustrates the basic construction of a wood pergola.

There are some basic standards you should have in your plans, but other than that, get creative and enjoy the process of building your very own, unique pergola.

1) Pick Your Size

Pergolas can come in many sizes and shapes. Traditionally, you can find pergolas between 8 to 10 feet to cover a backyard space. Typically, cedar is the wood of choice because it does not decay in the same way woods like pine do throughout the year.

Clear the area and remove any tree limbs, bushes, or material that will get in the way of your new Pergola!

One of the neat things about cedar is, if left unfinished, it will turn a quality gray color. Even cedar that has stayed in place for over a hundred years will have a fantastic look to it. Exterior stain can also be used to seal your wood year around if you prefer. Depending on what you decide, you will be able to construct your pergola for between $500 and $750 because you are doing it yourself and cutting out the costs for labor.

Lastly, make sure that your pergola construction highlights the importance of these things below. If your DIY pergola plans do not have these focuses, you should find a new plan instead.

2) Materials Needed (For 10′ x 10′ Freestanding Pergola Plans)

This is just a very general list of what you will need the following materials to build a typical 10′ x 10′ freestanding wood pergola:

A – 4 pieces of 6×6 lumber – 96″ long POSTS (120″ if set in-ground)

B – 4 piece of 2×8 lumber – 12′ long SUPPORT BEAMS

C – 10 pieces of 2×6 lumber – 12′” long SHADE ELEMENTS

D – 5 pieces of 1×2 lumber – 12′” long SLATS

1 5/8″ screws

6×6 post anchors for the concrete slab, or concrete mix for in-ground.

rafter ties

8 pieces of 9″ carriage bolt

wood filler, wood glue, stain/paint

Of course, a good Cordless Power Tool Kit with a circular saw, drill and hammer drill, would be a huge plus.

Material list: Courtesy of

If you would like to watch a step by step tutorial on How to Build a Pergola on Youtube,  check you this video:


3) Placement of Pergola

If you choose the wrong place for your new pergola, you won’t get the intended shade and enjoyment you expected. For instance, if you place the pergola too close to your house, you may be providing unwanted shade, and experience darkness in that area inside the home.

Also, look for natural settings both in the topography of the land, as well as nearby trees or bushes that could enhance the setting of your pergola. Plopping a pergola smack dab in the center of a large lawn, may not appear very natural. Finally, and probably most important in choosing your placement, is laying the design out for orientation to the Sun.

The rafters when installed should typically run North and South, so as the sun travels, it will cast nice lines of shade under the pergola. At midday, the sun will be directly overhead and be less shaded. You can install vines or lattice later if you find you require even more shade.

How to Build a Freestanding Pergola


4) Installing Pergola Posts

When placing your pergola posts into the ground, remember a few things. First, make sure that the cedar, or other wood you are using, has been pressure-treated, so the wood will not rot quickly over time. 4 by 4 posts are perfect to stay securely in the ground.

Before you place your post locations, check out this short video on how to install temporary batter boards from Lowes.

Place the post on a concrete slab for ultimate strength. Start by marking where you will screw the posts into the ground with a marker. Next, have concrete screws handy, like Tapcon screws, which are over a ¼ inch in length. A hammer drill can pre-drill first to help the screws go in easier.

Also, this will help your wood not to split. Before you drill the post into the concrete, start by seeing if the post is plumb by using a level. This way, your homemade pergola will not go wrong to begin. Then, when your posts are level, stabilize them with the screws.

Some of you might not have a concrete slab to put your wood pergola on. If you can’t put your posts on a concrete slab, make sure to place them in the ground, below the area where frost can wreak havoc. This is an excellent alternative if you still want to try your hand at building using your free standing pergola plans.

Before you start digging, contact your local utility company, so you do not dig in an area that has electric or gas lines that could severely hurt you and your project. After your utility lines have been marked accurately, then you can proceed to dig your pergola away from utter danger.

Next, mark your post areas with stakes, so you can visually see your layout. Measure twice, so you only have to install your posts once. Measuring should not only take place parallel and perpendicular from each other but also diagonally for accurate dimensions.

Now, you can use a posthole digger to dig the hole. Also, an auger, shovel, or clamshell excavator will suffice as well. Depending on local building codes, an 8-foot structure needs to have holes at least 2 feet deep into the ground for stability’s sake. If you are in a hurricane area, you may want to make your pergola even deeper at 3 feet or more into the ground.
Ultimately, this means you can use a formula similar to this one: ¼ x (the height of the post) = the depth you must dig. This will help you stay to code and keep your pergola resilient and well-made. Lastly, your hole needs to be at least one foot in diameter. With your hole being deep and wide, you will be able to support a typical 4 by 4 post the right way.

4) Pour the Concrete

Now that your post is in the ground, you will need to place concrete around it to make it even stronger. For your pergola plans, a 40-pound bag should be enough for this project. You will need to mix 6 gallons of water with the concrete. If you mix too much water, your concrete will be weakened, it will take longer to dry, and your pergola could have structural problems.

If you do not use enough water, the concrete will never form properly, creating another set of problems. So you need to get the mix right by following the instructions. The mix should generally have a peanut butter type consistency, to be ready for use. Pour the concrete into the hole surrounding your post, and use a stick to push through air pockets in the concrete. This way, the concrete will settle properly.

Furthermore, you should allow the concrete to settle over a 2-day period before you proceed with the project.

5) Installing Beams for Support

The support beams are the next thing you should focus on when you are figuring out how to make a pergola. 2 by 6 beams are the best option when it comes to your pergola plans. You can also opt to leave the beams as they are, or you can use a jigsaw to cut rounded edges, for a little more flair.

Of course, this all depends on the design that you choose. Also, using a clamp will keep your beams in place, and by using a level, you will keep your work perfect. To install, get weatherproof wood screws that are at least 3 inches in length.

After you have screwed in one support beam, mirror another beam parallel on the other side of the post. You can eye the beams to make sure they are plumb. However, by using a level, this will help keep them flush with one another for the best results with your pergola construction.

6) Crossbeam Set-Up

Depending on the size of the support beams that you use, you should use the same size of crossbeams, too. Start by notching your crossbeams so they will fit seamlessly with the support beams. No matter your DIY pergola plans, a dado blade is one of the best options for you to use with your table saw.

This way, your pergola plans will continue to work for you. If there is some excess wood in the area you notched, use a jigsaw to clean the rest out.

Continue trimming the ends, if you have a consistent design, or just leave the crossbeams as a square edge, keeping it the way you bought the wood. When you are ready to install the crossbeams, begin by connecting the crossbeams to the posts. Drill a screw down through the top of the crossbeam into the support beam below. This will keep your homemade pergola sturdy and stable.

After the post areas are completed with overlapping support beams and crossbeams, then you can space out your remaining crossbeams to make them evenly across your pergola.

7) Brace and Trim Work

To this point, you almost have your pergola plans completed. There are just a few more things to do with your free standing pergola plans. Braces and trim are next. When it comes to braces, you will need to stay with the same wood that you used for the support beams and crossbeams.

For example, if you used 2 by 6 lumber, then use the same 2 by 6 wood for your diagonal sided braces. Cut them, by using a chop saw, at 45 degrees. Cut 8 diagonal braces to fit in between the crossbeams and support beams around the posts. Fasten with screws, and you will really be on your way to finishing up your pergola.

When it comes to trim, cut pieces that cover the outsides of each post. Make sure the length and width are measured accurately for the best outcome. Most pergola plans will ask you to notch your trim effectively so it will fit sandwiched between your support beams.

If you want to go in a different direction with your pergola plans, then you can use blocks that make a filler to mask your posts. To secure the trim in place, use nails that are galvanized to get the job done right.

8) The Finishing Touches on Top

You are nearly done with your pergola plans. To finish up, you will need to add your slats and your post caps. 2 by 4 wood is perfect for your slats. Shape the ends to make them universal with the rest of your crossbeams and support beams. By using clamps, mark where your slats will go. Then, unclamp them and get back to your table saw for some finishing work.

Use your blade to cut notches into your slats so you can place them on the top of your homemade pergola. Additionally, before you drill screws into your slats, pre-drill holes, so it will be easier to install them with 3-inch screws or bigger.

Lastly, post caps are the final thing you should have on your DIY pergola plans to complete. Cut blanks that are square, and then move your blade to 15 degrees to make the finishing pass. Nails and wood glue are great to use when bolstering your caps.

Now that your pergola is complete:

Need Some Privacy in your Backyard to go with Your new Pergola.  Check out our Article the “Cheapest Way to Build a Wood Privacy Fence”


Question: Should you hire a Pro instead?

Not to rain on our own how to build a pergola article, but there may be some folks out there who are little unsure they possess the right skills to build their own Pergola. That’s quite alright – you have to know your own limits.

If you are leaning that way, you may want to consider hiring a pro instead. Hey, they may even give you a good discount for providing your own muscle to the project. Check out this quick video if you’re considering hiring a builder:



No matter what pergola plans you decide to use, pergola construction needs to have the major elements mentioned above. Without them, your freestanding pergola plans could end up as a disappointment instead of success. You could also waste money in the process. So, do your due diligence and spend quality time planning and preparing for your pergola.

When you have completed your pergola structure, you can make it more your own special hangout. Maybe you want to set up a wireless flat-screen TV in the summer months or add LED lighting year-round by weaving through your ceiling slats. This can really liven up your pergola space for years to come. Bottom line – Have fun building your very own pergola and start your preparation today. You’ll love the space and so will your friends!

Thanks for visiting BestHomeGear.Com and much success Building Your Freestanding Pergola!

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As a Homeowner, Builder, and Property Developer/Manager for 30+ years, I’ve worn a lot of “different hats”, and In that capacity, owned or used about every tool or piece of home equipment one can think of. Managing property in Michigan, Arizona, and Florida, also allows us to test many of the products we review firsthand, and in vastly different climates and conditions. Our goal at BestHomeGear.Com is to share the first-hand experience by providing exceptional Home & Garden Techniques, Product Reviews, and useful DIY Guides for our faithful readers - Homeowners like you. We trust you will find BestHomeGear.Com very informative - and extremely helpful.


    1. I agree that building a Pergola is a pretty big project. Find a friend with good carpentry skills – and it will be a whole lot easier!

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