Pergola on Steroids

  • Advertise with us
Project by PRGDesigns posted 05-08-2012 07:43 PM 2531 views 2 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This wood project started out as a way to provide some shade for our 14’ x 14’ deck that faced West. The deck was unusable for the 3 months of the year that the Iowa weather might be suitable for outdoor entertainment, due to facing West. The original deck was typical 2”x6” construction with 2”x10” joists 16”OC and 2”x2” uprights 4” OC with a vertical 2”x6” top for the rails tied into the house for stability.

I had just received my Wood Magazine, Issue 141, April, 2002, and there on the cover was a Pergola Project Plan. Perfect! I quickly drafted up the plans for my Pergola in AutoCAD, estimated the lumber I would need, and targeted the July 4th weekend as the gateway to get started. That weekend, I rose early the first morning before everyone else in the house and made my way to Lowes in my oldest son’s bright yellow Ford Ranger Pickup truck. I picked out the 8’, 10’ and 14’ CCA boards I would need and carefully loaded them in the truck so as to put the longest boards on bottom and use the shorter boards for ballast on top. The Lowe’s staff was circumspect of my load, but I assured them I had everything under control. I then strapped everything together and took off to the house a scant 5 miles away, via residential streets. I pulled out of the Lowe’s parking lot onto the main drag and my load shot straight out of the back end of the p/u truck as one giant long load. Woohoo! My Pergola was now in the middle of the street. I quickly formed an alternative plan to rent the Lowe’s P/U truck and called home to get my son’s help in undoing this self made disaster. We finally loaded all of the lumber onto the Lowe’s truck and safely delivered it to the house. We unloaded the lumber into the garage and I was done for that weekend.

A few weeks later, after the load debacle had faded slightly, I started in earnest on the project. I fabricated the corner posts out of 2”x6” x 10’ CCA lumber with Gorilla Glue, pocket holes to hide the screw holes where I could, and plugs for the screw holes that I couldn’t hide. I routed a ½” round over on the corners. I then fabricated the crossover beams and added round overs to all edges. Once all the pieces and parts were fabricated, I was ready to start construction on the actual deck. I through bolted the posts on the inside of the ribbon boards around the deck. I added the 2” x6” rafters, as suggested by the Wood Magazine Project Planner, bow side up, and then added the cross beams to create the Pergola. Finished at last, or so I thought.

The shade wasn’t near as awesome as I had imagined it would be, so back to the drawing board. The 2”x6” rafters, as suggested by the Wood Magazine Project Planner, were also starting to sag under the weight of the crossover beams. I knew better almost from the start that the 2”x6” rafters were undersized, but I convinced myself that Wood Magazine had built these structures and I hadn’t, so I acquiesced and followed the plan as designed. With the rafters sagging and the shade inadequate, I began to formulate a plan to address both issues. I added some 1”x6” pieces at a 45 degree angle to the crossover beams in between the partitions to address the shade issue. I attached the 1” x 6” pieces with pocket hole screws on the top side so that they would not be visible from below. I also developed a jig that would hold all three 1”x6” pieces at the same time while I screwed them in. I then designed some posts in the middle to bolster the rafters. I fabricated the six center posts out of 1”x6” CCA lumber using the same technique for the corner posts. The project took on somewhat of a Parthenon look to it. I decided hanging the additional center posts on the ribbon board, as I had the corner posts, would be too much for the structure of the deck, so I decided to sink the 6 center posts into the ground. I borrowed a posthole auger from work and proceeded to excavate six holes approximately 36” deep by 8” in diameter. I had completed 5 of the holes and was well on my way to finishing number 6, when I became overconfident and buried the posthole auger by not pulling it out periodically after reaching certain depths, as I had on the previous holes. It was getting late and I needed to return the auger the next day, so I took a shortcut. I then spent 3 hours with my son’s help and a neighbor trying to pull out the borrowed auger. Woohoo! After much backbreaking lifting, prying, excavating, etc. we managed to free the auger. After a couple of weeks of recovery, I installed the center posts and through bolted the posts to the ribbon board. I then corrected the sag in the rafters using my reversible Irwin pipe clamps and a 10’ section of black pipe. Once the sag was corrected, I through bolted the rafters to the new center posts. Finished at last, or so I thought.

Did I mention we were on a corner lot and the City had just finished a multi lane street project on the adjoining street along with several new houses further down the road? Our deck and Pergola, which resembled the Parthenon, were now on display 24/7. After much pondering, I decided to add some rails and partitions in between the posts. Not content with something simple, I decided a herringbone pattern would be just the ticket. I proceeded to layout the herringbone pattern in AutoCAD and came up with a design that would work for each opening and create a consistent pattern all the way around the deck. I fabricated the herringbone pattern with 2”x2” CCA lumber using a combination of pocket hole screws and countersunk screws to hide the fasteners as much as possible. I added a tabletop drop edge feature on the top of the 2”x4” CCA lumber partition frame in order to shed water. I then added the partitions to the Pergola and it looked less like the Parthenon. Finished at last, or so I thought.

I now had nine blank spaces approximately 6’ x 4’. What to do, what to do? In what I can only describe as a self induced delusion, I randomly came up with why not add operating arched cathedral windows in those spaces using the same herringbone pattern in the web of the windows as the partitions had? Back to the design board. I fabricated the seven windows using 2”x4” CCA lumber for the frame and 2”x2” CCA lumber for the webbing using the same construction methods as the partitions. I built the arch portion of the window frame by cutting short sections of 2”x4” lumber at 11-1/4 degrees. Using Gorilla Glue and pocket hole screws I assembled the arch and sanded to form using a PC Oscillating Spindle sander. I installed the seven windows in the spaces above the partitions with SS door hinges and added butterfly catches cut from some 5/4”x6” CCA stock I had laying around. Finished at last, or so I thought.

I now just had 2 blank spaces left, the two openings for ingress and egress to the deck. I had such luck with the operating arched cathedral windows; why not fabricate some doors to match? I had already gone beyond any reasonable definition of self-abuse and was entering into a whole other realm of mental insanity. I fabricated the doors using the same technique as the windows and installed them with the same SS door hinges. Finished at last. Yes, finished. Shortly after this I was divorced and the house was sold. I was left with my tools, a BBQ grill, and a bed.

In the beginning, if I had known how large this project would become, I would have scrapped the existing CCA deck and rebuilt it using better lumber such as Ipe, Redwood, or something other than CCA. Every piece/part of the Pergola was machined at least 6 times, with a router, jointer, table saw, jigsaw, or something else that made dust. A lot of the fabrication was done in my basement. At one point we had some sort of Family emergency, which pulled me away from the fabrication process and I left some of the CCA lumber lying on my Jet Cabinet Saw. By the time I got back to the project, the surface of the table saw was already damaged from the moisture in the CCA. For the fabrication of the partitions, windows, and doors, I built a 10’ x 4’ rolling table that I would shuttle in and out of my 3rd car garage as I worked on the various pieces. At each point in the construction, the project looked “finished” to the casual observer from the street. This was important to me as I had observed several projects over time that seemed to linger on and never looked finished until a couple of years had passed.

The deck is the only part of this project that is attached to the house. Every part of the Pergola is either attached to the deck or free standing. I replaced the vinyl siding where the original rail attached to the house. This was another important aspect of any project for me; I never want a project to look like a remodel where you can see evidence of the original construction. I hope you enjoy my trip down memory / mental insanity lane. I apologize in advance for the length of the write up, but it was therapeutic for me.

FYI – Originally, I tried writing this up on the LJ website and after I was almost complete, typing with one finger, the entire write up was lost. Disaster! I took the advice of several LJ’s and typed it in Word this time and then pasted the dialogue onto the LJ site.

14’ x 14’ x10’
CCA Lumber
SS deck screws, SS hardware, or Galvanized Bolts throughout

-- They call me Mr. Silly

3 comments so far

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 2455 days

#1 posted 05-08-2012 08:17 PM

That is an awesome project, and I really enjoyed your storytelling. Very impressive!

-- Rex

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2511 days

#2 posted 05-09-2012 01:58 AM

This is,”The Mother of all Pergolas”. My wife just asked me this weekend if I could build a pergola, I am going to take your advice and shoot for Redwood, as I end up taking every project way further than the plans I make. Of course cost would be a big issue, so I will let you know what we actually go with when I post it. Very Nicely done and it looks like you’ll get 100+ years out of this.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View Lanaug's profile


188 posts in 2414 days

#3 posted 05-09-2012 07:10 PM

nice look, i really like the curved supports

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics