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How to Build Garden Arbors

And How to Keep the Project Cheap

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Picture of the example used in my article on how to build garden arbors.

Picture of the garden arbor referred to in this project.

David Beaulieu

Building small garden arbors is an easy do-it-yourself project -- cheap, too, if you're willing to shop around a bit for your pressure-treated lumber. The design in this project calls for a 2-post wooden arbor; but you can apply the same principles to a larger structure (a 4-post structure will be more likely to remain plumb as the years pass).

It will take the average do-it-yourself landscaper 2 days to build this garden arbor.

Design Basics: An Overview

Think of this project as involving five architectural layers:

  1. Concrete placed underground will secure the structure (but see p.2).
  2. Two 4x4 posts will be sunk into that concrete.
  3. Two 1x6 crosspieces will run along the sides of these posts at the very top, perpendicular to them. One crosspiece will be on the outer side, the other on the inner side; thus they will "sandwich" the top 6" of the upright posts.
  4. 2x4 rafters, in turn, will lie atop the crosspieces, perpendicular to them.
  5. And 2x2s will lie across the rafters, perpendicular to them.

Cost of the Garden Arbor: Shopping Around for Cheap Lumber

The cost of lumber for this project depends to some degree on the do-it-yourselfer's willingness to shop around. I went to a discount store to purchase the pressure-treated lumber for my own project. Now, to be sure, a lot of rejects end up in the lumber bins of such a store. I had to sort through about 20 boards on average to find 1 good board. Is it worth the extra work? Well, judge for yourself as you look over the following list of surprisingly cheap prices (measurements are in feet; currency is in 2004 U.S. dollars):

  • Five 2x2x8s at $1.50 each
  • Three 2x4x8s at $2.48 each
  • Two 1x6x12s at $3.88 each

Even after the price for the two 4x4s is added in, the total for lumber came only to about $30. If your information about building arbors derives from television shows, it may be hard for you to believe at first that the wood for a small arbor can be purchased for around $30!

Supplies -- The Materials for the Garden Arbor:

    Pressure-treated lumber:
    • Five 2x2x8s
    • Five 2x4x3s
    • Two 1x6x12s (hereafter referred to simply as the "crosspieces")
    • Two 4x4 posts
    Other supplies:

  • Gravel or crushed stone
  • Pre-mixed concrete
  • Deck screws
  • Bolts, washers and nuts
  • Scrap lumber

Notes:

When I give lumber dimensions here, I am following a convention. Please note that a 4x4 is not really 4 inches by 4 inches. Sounds odd, I know. But everyone calls them 4x4s, so I'm following that convention. In fact, they measure 3.5 inches x 3.5 inches. Likewise, the so-called 2x4s are really 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches.

Fully dried lumber warps less than lumber that still retains significant moisture. If your vertical 4x4 posts fall into the latter category, your garden arbor may become crooked over the years, especially if it's just a 2-poster.

Tools to Build the Garden Arbor:

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Carpenter's level
  • Jigsaw
  • Circular saw or handsaw
  • Drill
  • Wood chisel
  • Spade bit
  • Stepladder
  • File
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Wrench

On this page I've supplemented the overview with photos illustrating steps involved in the building of this structure. Photo #1 above is a picture of the finished product. Photo #2, accessed by clicking "More Images" to open up the mini-photo gallery, is a picture illustrating an alignment tip. Photo #3 is a picture of a design you can cut into your rafter ends.

Step-by-step instructions to begin building the garden arbor are presented on the following pages, beginning with some concrete work on Page 2 to ensure the sturdiness of your arbor design....

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