How To Build An Arbor

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2-3 days
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Looking for a classy way to usher your visitors from the bustle of the street to the (hopefully) calming confines of your home? A pathway arbor helps guests make the transition beautifully. Unlike a simple trellis, an arbor is more than an accent, it has a dramatic focusing effect that channels the eye and spirit through the front door of your home.

Creating a structure that's a perfect fit for the front of your house may at first seem daunting, but all you need to do is to trust your taste and get to your computer. The Internet will provide a lot of inspiration, ideas, plans and even complete do-it-yourself kits (also available at your local home improvement store.) Whether your style is whimsical or stately, a beautiful gateway can soon be yours.

NOTE: Before you begin, it's always a good idea to check local building codes and any neighborhood regulations that might prevent you from building this project. Find out if you need any permits to create a new structure on your property. Before you start digging, contact your local utilities or visit your local planning office to discover if there are any buried lines or cables in your front yard.

Project Steps

Step 1

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You can find pergola kits at the local home improvement center that are pretty simple to assemble and erect. If you go this route, make sure you have the necessary fasteners and finishing touches to bring it all together. If you've got both a creative and a mechanical flair, designing and building your own arbor can be especially rewarding. You'll find plenty of ideas and inspiration online with a little searching; some sites even offer complete plans with enough detail to allow you to head to the lumber yard and start picking out materials.

Step 2

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Select the type of wood you'd like to use. For your posts, consider pressure treated or a rot-resistant lumber to avoid problems in the future from moisture in the ground. We recommend redwood as it is rot-resistant, requires minimal maintenance and weathers beautifully, though there are many types of wood to choose from depending on your budget and the kind of look and durability you desire. Use your imagination. You can use recycled twigs and branches, bamboo or copper tubing for a more stylized look.

Step 3

Pre-cut all of your lumber ahead of time (even the decorative touches) and pre-drill all screw holes before assembling. Use a power sander with 100 grit sandpaper to remove all rough edges.

Step 4

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Pre-stain all wooden parts, working with the grain and making sure you cover any surface that will be exposed. A combination stain and sealer offers protection and durability and will save you the trouble of re-staining after the first couple of winters have taken their toll.

Step 5

Assemble your materials and check them against your plans. Put a small piece of masking tape on each piece, and then number each piece, so you can keep track of them.

Step 6

Mark the location, centering on any existing path; stake out your post holes. Dig a 1 foot wide and two-foot deep hole for each post. Pour 4-6" of gravel into each hole and tap down the gravel to compact. This helps with drainage.

Step 7

On the ground, connect the posts in corresponding pairs with their cross member or connecting arch using your power drill. Make sure they're square and well braced. Now position the paired post structures on the ground just above their holes. Prepare some scrap 2 x 4's that you'll lightly nail onto the posts when upright. These braces will extend from each post to the ground like flying buttresses to help keep the post structures upright and steady while the concrete sets them permanently in place. You may also want to nail some horizontal braces for added support.

Step 8

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Get a couple of friends to help you erect the paired posts. This can be like trying to put up two flag poles at the same time, so coordinate your efforts. Once the post pairs are upright, have your friends hold them steady while you use the four foot level to check them for plumb (i.e. being perfectly vertical). Now use your diagonal braces to adjust the posts and stabilize them in a perfectly vertical position; they needn't be rock solid, but they shouldn't wobble. Repeat with each pair until you've got all the posts lined up and ready for concrete.

Step 9

Mix the quick-setting concrete thoroughly in the wheelbarrow according to the directions. Shovel enough concrete into each hole to fill it. Clean up the wheelbarrow, shovel, and any other remaining tools from today, then put your feet up and relax—the concrete needs to set for 24 hours.

Step 10

After the concrete is set, assemble the lateral sections and any arch components of the arbor according to the plans you've chosen. If you're also connecting your paired posts to each other lengthwise (as with a trellis), you'll need those friends again to help hold the cross members in place as you attach the lumber from atop a ladder. Carefully check that your cross members are level and square—all the way from the entranceway to the last arch.

Step 11

Touch Up and Enjoy

Add any finishing touches, take care of any missed stain spots, cover over those concrete post holes with dirt, and then head for the local nursery for some climbing vines or other low maintenance plants.

Invite your friends or family by for a ceremonial walk through, then sit back and enjoy. You've just created an inviting entryway to your home that you will treasure for years.

Related articles:
Maintaining a Fence
Install an Inviting Front Gate

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