DIY: how to build a gazebo in 8 steps

Leigh Leigh
Luiza Soares - Paisagismo Rustic style garden
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If you're looking for a nice, fresh weekend DIY project that will get you outdoors and enjoying the sunshine… with some shade at the end… then a gazebo build could be the project for you. 

Defined as an arched structure in a garden or park consisting of a framework covered with climbing or trailing plants, a pergola provides shade, shelter and a touch of style to a garden. What's more is that you don't have to spend tons of money or hire builders to construct it for you. A few free Saturdays, some tools, a bit of help and you'll be good to go.

If you have the space in the garden and the time to roll up your sleeves, this can be a project for the whole family. Make it a fun family task where everyone has a job—a great bonding exercise. 

With the right materials, a good strategy and some muscle power, you can have the best pergola on the block. Add some vines or flowers and you're golden. 

Follow these easy steps for a DIY pergola.

Choose location

The first step is to figure out where in the garden the pergola will be best positioned. A semi-sunny area is the most well-suited for the pergola's purpose, but make sure that you have enough space.

The location should also be a space clear of too many trees or bushes, where the pergola will fit easily. However it's important to remember that the pergola isn't going to offer much protection from the elements such as the beating sun or the pelting rain. Its purpose is to provide an structure in the garden that offers some shelter, without creating an actual indoor space. It's also more of a design element than a functional element, adding contrast and texture to a garden, a bit of shade and something beautiful to look at.

Ideally, it's position will be where you want to be spending time in the garden, sipping lemonade or enjoying a good book. It also needs to be a central point in the garden where it all comes together design-wise.

Measure the area

Once you have decided on your location, it's important to measure the area where your pergola will go in order to determine the size of it. You don't want a pergola that is so small that it gets lost among the trees. You also don't want a pergola that is too big that it takes over the whole garden.

Essentially, a pergola should be a tasteful addition to a garden, enhancing its outdoor look and feel.

Pergolas also come in many different styles, which will be influenced by size as well so consider what you are looking for in terms of colours, shape and trend.

With a tape measure, measure the width and length of the area, using this to work out what the size and style of the pergola could be. Once you have these specs you can implement a strategy for the build.

Choose the type of wood

This is the part of the process that provides a little bit of research and a decision around your own personal preferences. 

Pine and Meranti are some of the most popular types of wood used for pergolas in South Africa but steel and glass can also be used as materials instead of wood. These are more expensive, however, and can be more difficult to construct yourself. Wood is the first option for a DIY job and adds a beautiful, natural look and feel to the garden.

Once you've chosen your wood, you may need to sandpaper the surface, paint it and use a sealant on it. This will sustain and maintain the wood throughout all temperatures and weather conditions. Because many people opt to run vines or hang plants along their pergolas, some form of protection for the wood is a very good idea.

Determine layout

With your materials ordered and on their way, you can start determining how the pergola is going to look in the garden. Are you going to cover it in vines or will you keep it bare?

You can also determine how the pergola will fit in your garden in terms of layout. Will its longer side run parallel to the house? Will it sit in the middle of the garden? 

You may have already measured the area where it will go, but there should be room for flexibility in terms of how exactly it will positioned according to your judgment. 

Once you've made up your mind, you can figure out where the posts will be positioned. This is the first place to start and will provide the foundation for the pergola.

Plan the build

With your specs in place,  you can start planning how you are going to build your pergola.

The first thing is to make sure that you have a good, wide and open space to work with. You'll be constructing quite a large and high feature so you'll need some help too. Ask your kids, your partner, your neighbour or even some friends to help.

The second step is to make sure that you have the necessary tools such as a hammer and a drill that you can work with and use while building. If you haven't already, invest in a quality drill and some good, strong tools. They will serve you well for the rest of your home DIY career.

Lastly, choose a day to build that has good weather. You don't want to be drenched in the rain while trying to erect a beam or install the posts. You also don't want to have rush the job, because the only thing worse than a shoddy-looking pergola is a pergola that falls over in the wind.

Install posts

A private garden in West Hampstead, London Bowles & Wyer Eclectic style garden
Bowles & Wyer

A private garden in West Hampstead, London

Bowles & Wyer

The posts need to be sturdy and secure so this is one of the most important parts of erecting your pergola. How you install them will depend on the surface of the ground below them.

If you're building the pergola onto a patio or a hard foundation, you can use steel post-base anchors to really weigh them down, making sure that they won't fall over in a strong wind. Place a little marker down where each post should be positioned and start securing them.

If your pergola is going to be built on the grass, try to get your posts in as deep as possible. Use a spade. You want them posts to feel as steady as possible in the ground. Bury one post at a time, grounding them down into the earth. 

Once all of your posts have been erected, double-check that they are secure and stable before attempting the next step. You may also want to have a water break.

Select desired materials

The wood used will be the most common material used for your pergola but you may want to add some stylish decor and design to the garden area. Have a look through these beautiful designs by Turkish company Pergola A.S for inspiration.

Once you know what you want, you can start ordering your materials—from the wooden beams to the ground posts to the nuts and bolts. You can also choose the plants or vines that you may want featured on the pergola or the cloth that you'd like to drape from it. 

There are companies around South Africa that allow you to order pergola materials according to your specs, although they often recommend at least a 1.5 metre width and a 2.5 height in order for there to be enough space to walk through it. Yours will probably be a bit bigger than this. 

Assemble rafter & crossbeams

Attaching the rafter and crossbeams will largely rely on a good ladder and a quality drill. 

Start by drilling the four rafters to the posts, creating a good frame or skeleton for the crossbeams. This frame should feel strong and supported by the posts. Make sure that when you are drilling, you are steady on the ladder. Ask a friend or family member to hold it still for you.

Once your frame is in place, you can start assembling the crossbeams. The most important part is to make sure that they are evenly spaced so measure the space between the rafters and divide it up equally among the crossbeams. Mark where each beam should be with a pencil and then you can start drilling, positioning the beams one by one. 

This can be tiring work, especially because of the angle so make sure that you don't rush it. Have a break if you need to. You want the crossbeams to fit perfectly, be positioned accurately and stay up there.

Assemble and finish

Once you've got the basic pergola, it's up to you what you do from there. You can add a beautiful wooden ceiling, as seen in this photograph by Region 4 Architects, based in Mexico. You can also drape material throughout the beams, creating a modern and ethereal look and feel. 

Plants or vines are some of the most common elements added to a pergola, growing or hanging from the beams. Once your pergola is assembled, you can start to decorate it with plants and flowers or plant vines to grow along the posts and beams, giving it a real outdoor ambiance. 

With your finished pergola, you now have the perfect garden focal point for entertaining, relaxing and experiencing the outdoors.

Enjoy outside living? Check out: Cool House On The Edge Of The World.

What would your pergola look like? Let us know!

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