How to Build an Arbor (Part 1)

Recently I was invited to the 48-Hour Challenge with Better Homes & Gardens. For my project I chose to build an arbor! I’ve highlighted a few aspects of it over the last several weeks but I haven’t put down a play by play of our challenge. Hopefully you can follow along and if you want to tackle this project you’ll be ready, willing, and able!

How to Build An Arbor


  • Wood: 4 8ft. 4″x4″ for posts, 3 4″x4″ for cross braces, 2 10′ long 2″x8″ for the front and back beam, 5 2″x4″ sides and , 4 8ft. 2″x2″, 2 8ft 1″x2″ for the hanging diamonds.
  • 1 Gallon of natural cedar stain.
  • 4 – 50lb. bags of fast setting Concrete
  • Black chain and eyehooks
  • Two Solar Lanterns
  • Outdoor screws (I used 3.5″ and 2″ but smaller would have been fine)

After we had all the materials together we began with the plan. We cut the pieces to the appropriate lengths and began staining. We could have assembled the arbor first then stained but it would make it difficult to do the extra little things like the Japanese Maple Leaves we stained into the posts. The other disadvantage to staining after assembly would be the drips that might happen from up above and fall onto the wood pieces below.

We began with the four posts. The plan I made called for notches to be cut into the top of each post into “V” shapes. I used a miter saw but could only cut through the wood part of the way or risk cutting too much and ended up using a hand jig saw to complete the cuts. After that we sanded, stained and let dry.

When we did the second coat of stain we placed Japanese maple leaves on the post and painted the stain over them. This left a subtle impression behind.

While the posts were drying from the stain I worked on the cross beams that go across the front and back of the arbor. These were made from 10′ long pieces of 2″x8″ lumber cut down to 9 feet. I drew a design on each end by making a template out of cardboard and tracing the outline onto the ends of each board. I was very careful when cutting these pieces since I was going to use them as hangers for the solar lanterns later. A lot of measuring was involved in cutting the diamond shapes out. First I took a small piece of 4″x4″ (which actually measures 3.5″x3.5″) and used it as the diamond template. Then I drew a line lengthwise down the middle of the 2″x8″ and measured the center and post diamonds. Since 4″x4″ pieces would fit through both the front and the back I had to be very precise on the measurement. Once I had the center points I used the 4″x4″ template to draw the diamonds by lining up the corners on the marked lines.

Then came the cuts. To make the cuts I used a 1/2″ wood bit to drill holes into the corners of the diamond outlines. Then I came back with a jigsaw and cut the holes and the end pieces. It sounds easy but this step was the most tedious! When the diamond cuts are made I had to make sure that I cut a little more than what I marked since the 4″x4″ pieces go through the holes and need that space. Then we sanded and stained.

The last step for this blog post was setting the posts in concrete. I dug the holes and centered the posts into the holes, then while my wife held the post I dumped the dry concrete mix into the hole and added water. No mixing was necessary with the fast setting concrete. Due to the high winds that day we measured multiple times to make sure the posts were straight and even with each subsequent post. This was a challenge and might have been done easier if we had screwed in sacrificial lumber to the posts to use as temporary support but we didn’t want to harm the finish.

Continue to Part Two of How to Build an Arbor

7 thoughts on “How to Build an Arbor (Part 1)”

  1. I am voting everyday Dave. Your project really is the best one! So practical and pretty any garden would be proud to have one.

  2. Great job Dave. I agree the detail means a lot. I really like your design. Will you have a shrinkage problem later on? I’ve noticed the ones that Young’un built for me has shrunk some at certain points.

  3. Hello! *^.^*
    I found your blog via Doug Green’s garden blog. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed your pergola post and I will be showing it to my husband. We both are long time admirers of Japanese gardens and I just love the artistic touch you added with the Japanese maple leaves! I will be voting for your project over at the Better Homes and Gardens site and I wish you tonssss of good luck! *^.^*

  4. I build a new arbor every five years or so. I have access to a lot of weed trees and just make one out of them. Five years is about as long as it lasts. I choose a new design too. It works for me because we don’t use plants that we can’t remove from it when it’s time to replace it.

    You’ve got a mighty fine arbor there Dave.

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