How to Build a Pergola

It gets pretty steamy in the summer in Georgia, and direct sunlight can make an already sticky situation even more unpleasant. Sure, you could sit indoors in the air conditioning, but what about that new patio set? You want the chance to relax outside on your chaise lounge without feeling like a fried hush puppy, right?  

The solution is to build a simple structure to protect you from the harshest of the sun’s rays while still preserving the feeling of being outside. Because it doesn’t have a solid roof, a pergola is a perfect compromise. There are many do-it-yourself plans out there, some of them extremely elaborate and detailed, but here is a simple plan for a free-standing pergola that won’t take forever to build and also won’t break the bank. 

Before you start your project, check with your local government about obtaining a permit, which you may or may not need, depending on your location. A pergola is considered to be an accessory structure. Government agencies that deal with building permits are linked below: 






We recommend buying pressure-treated lumber for practical purposes. Cedar is great, but the cost is exorbitant. You will be able to paint or stain the pressure-treated pergola after building it, so don’t worry about aesthetics as you make your choice of wood. 

  • 4 6X6 pieces of lumber (at least 10 feet in length; you will cut them to your preferred height later) 
  • 4 1X8 pieces of lumber (12 feet in length) 
  • 9 1X6 pieces of lumber (10 feet in length) 
  • 8 ⅝” X 10” carriage bolts 
  • 8 ⅝” washers 
  • 8 ⅝” nuts 
  • 2 heavy-duty clamps 
  • A good quality level 
  • A string line level 
  • A speed square 
  • A socket set or socket wrench 
  • A tape measure 
  • 2 man gas-driven auger 
  • 2 6 or 8-foot ladders  
  • 16” electric circular saw 
  • ½” electric low rpm drill or ½” right angle drill 
  • 2 CF electric concrete mixer (optional) 
  • Concrete mix 
  • Ground marker spray paint 
  • Shovel 
  • Hose to add water to concrete 
  • 4-small wooden stakes and scrap wood 
  • Stain or paint with a paintbrush (optional) 
  • A bucket of gravel 
  • Gloves and protective eyewear 
  • Another person to help you with the build! 


  1. Choose the site for your pergola. These plans will make a pergola that is 10 feet deep and 8 feet wide. Many people attach these shade structures to the backs of their houses,  but this will be a free-standing structure. Using some ground marker spray paint, mark out the dimensions on the ground. 
  2. Using wooden stakes and string, mark your corners to make sure that the holes you’ll be digging will be straight. 
  3. At each corner, use the 2 man gas drive auger to dig holes for the canopy posts; we recommend digging down a minimum of 16-20 inches. It’s certainly possible to use a 1 man auger for this job, but the 2 man auger is easier to control and gives better results. 
  4. Once all four holes are drilled, you can start installing the posts one at a time. 
  5. Place each post in a hole and surround it with 2-3 inches of gravel. Use the post level to ensure that the post is straight and level. 
  6. Attach scrap wood braces with screws or nails to the post to hold it in place and in a straight entry position. Repeat these steps for each of the remaining posts. 
  7. Using the concrete mixer and following the ingredient ratios on the bag, mix enough concrete so that when you fill the holes around the posts, the concrete is about one inch above the earth. You will need to let that set up for a minimum of 24 hours before continuing. 
  8. Once that is done, you can remove the supports.  
  9. Using the string level, mark the top of each post at level equidistant points. You will need to ask your pergola building buddy to help you with this part, since you will both have to be on ladders at the same time.  
  10. Use the circular saw, which excels at cutting through thick pieces of lumber, to carefully trim the posts to the correct height. (The correct height is whichever height you have decided upon.) You will need a ladder for this job, and you should wear eye protection.  
  11. We are now ready to install the side rails. Before you start construction, you can cut a 45-degree angle halfway through the end of each of the 1X6 boards and the 1X8 boards. (This is for aesthetic rather than practical purposes.) You can do this with the circular saw using the 45-degree angle of a speed square as a guide.  
  12. With help, put a side rail on each side of two of the anchor posts (runnning front to back), leaving one foot extending at each end. The top of the side rails should be level with the top of the post. Use heavy-duty clamps to secure the rails in place while you mark a place for the holes for the carriage bolts.  The holes should be centered on the post width, 1 ½” from the top and bottom of the 1X8 rail.  
  13. Now drill the holes through the rails and the post using the ½” electric low rpm drill and the ⅝” diameter long bore bit. Once you finish one post, you can install the carriage bolts from the outside-in to hold it in place while you drill the rest of the holes on each post and side rail.  
  14. At this point, you have drilled all the holes. Secure the carriage bolts using the washers and nuts, tightening until the bolt head bottom is flush with the wood. Congratulations, you have successfully installed all of the side rails. 
  15. You are now going to install the crossbeam rafters (the “roof” of the pergola). Measure the top of the side rails to equally space the 9 rafters – mark these spots. With your trusty assistant, place the rafters on your marked locations, leaving a 1-foot overhang on each side. Use 3 ½” wood screws driven in at sharp angles to secure the rafters to the side rails. We recommend screwing in from both sides. 
  16. If you want to paint or stain your pergola, now is the time. You don’t actually need your building buddy for this final step, but if you play some good music and promise pizza, they will probably stick around until the end of your project.  

If you don’t have the right tools you need to build your pergola, Northside Tool Rental has everything you need for the job. Contact one of our experts today to discuss what tools you need and how we can fully equip you to get the job done. We have convenient locations in Marietta, Gwinnett, Doraville, and Buckhead. Call us at 404-233-6722 to get your project started.