Pergola Progress

After a solid two days of repeatedly lifting fourteen-foot boards over my head I can definitively state two things: 1.) Ouch. 2.) Holy shit, this is actually starting to look like a pergola.



I know, I know, I’m supposed to save the “after” picture until the end, but fuck it. I’m excited about this thing, because for half of the years I’ve lived in my house, it has looked like this:


And for the last year, it has looked like this:


Which in some ways is worse. I mean, it just looked like someone was half-assing something at that point… which is basically true. So while there has been some progress, it wasn’t good progress. Not until this weekend at least, when I hit that magical point in this project where things started to look better instead of worse.

Here’s how it all went down:  After trimming all the posts last weekend, I had to buy a fair amount of lumber (24 2×8’s, 14-foot long) and then put the crossbeams and angle braces up.


I doubled-up on the crossbeams–there is one on either side of the 2×6 posts– which was mostly an aesthetic decision, but makes the whole thing feel much more substantial.


It took a full day and a fair amount of help from the tractor to get all the beams in place…


LOVE that tractor.

And then Sunday I started on the rafters.


When it comes to pergolas, if we’re speaking aesthetically, I like the rafters to be notched to fit over the crossbeams. If we’re talking about being the person who spends the time to notch 18 boards to fit them over the crossbeams? Fuck that. I bought some 8″ screws instead…


There are two theories about whether or not you should drill holes in the top of pergola rafters like this. One of them is: “Absolutely not, are you fucking nuts?” And the other is: “Meh. Fill the holes with caulk… it’ll probably be okay.”

You can guess which of these camps I fall into.


The camp where you drink beer while hanging out on top of your unfinished pergola because why the hell wouldn’t I do that? Obviously.

Pergolas are so much fun to build.

They are also time consuming to build, but I expect the rest of the rafters will go up quickly, and then I’m going to build an epically long table to go under it, and invite a bunch of family and friends to sit there and bask in the awesomeness of my creation. Or, you know, just drink some beers and eat some burgers…. either one.

28 Responses

  1. Oh my gosh, it is beautiful! Or it will be beautiful, lol. I wanna help! How close are you from Cleveland. I’ll bring beer!

    1. Like actual kiwi fruit? I love them! Will they grow in Michigan though? I just assumed it was tropical. I’ll definitely be growing some kind of vine up there eventually…

      1. It’s a different type than what you buy in the store: smooth skinned and smaller. Stark Brothers has a great fact sheet on their website.

        1. Kiwi? I am definitely looking into that – my former house had a pergola and they planted Wisteria -which looks fabulous but is destructive as hell and so hard to get rid of. It basically pulled the pergola over and the whole thing had to come down. I’m trying to find something for our current house that’s viney but not invasive or destructive.

  2. Okay, so first off? OMFG that’s way up in the air. I hate being a wienie, but heights do me in.

    Second, that’s a lot of lumber and well, I know how much that would cost in Canada – a lot. Which is why I didn’t make my kid (who is 24 and used to skateboard off of my roof) build me one this year.

    Last, I love when you show your incomplete projects because it makes me feel so much less like a loser!

    Seriously though, lifestyle bloggers can go nuts over The Bloggess all they want, I’m too busy waiting for your posts to care.

    1. Ha. that’s only like 9 feet up in the air! I actually swung down by my hands and jumped off once, just to see if I could. After being 20 ft up on the extension ladder painting the peaks of the barn, that was NBD (as the kids say.) 😉

      I don’t remember how much the posts were, but I’m guessing I’ll put $500-600 worth of lumber in to this project total. Not outrageous, but it’s still a good chunk of money!

  3. I know nothing about making a pergola (still stuck with work inside the house), but it sure is starting to look real fine. What would be the problem with the drilled holes? That’s probably what I’d do too. Is it structural reasons, or durability, or…?

    I’m afraid I might want a tractor too, one day… Even though I totally don’t need it, can’t store it, and probably can’t even use it.

    1. You really don’t want a hole in the top of the wood where water can collect, it’s definitely going to split/age the wood faster. Caulking the holes will help, but will probably need to be re-done periodically and I plan to grow vines over the whole thing so… we’ll see how this works.

  4. Wow! I am always amazed by what you and your tractor accomplish! Beautiful! Will anything else be under the pergola besides the table to drink beer at?!

    1. I’m going to build some outdoor counters (probably concrete) to go against the barn wall… that’s a project for next year though. And maybe a hammock!

  5. You are talented… and funny ~ and I want to come visit and drink wine & beer with you!! 🙂

  6. That would be a lot of notching, but you could probably have “gang-notched” them: clamped all the boards together, set up a straightedge, cut, move straightedge a hair over, repeat. Instead of caulk, could you make plugs out of a dowel and glue them in? Don’t you just love us armchair carpenters! 🙂

    1. Yeah, see, your idea of “gang notching” the boards assumes that those notches need to be in the same spot on every board, as if all the beams and posts are straight boards and perfectly square to one another. Ha. I’m not making that assumption, having spent a significant amount of time on top of the thing (and putting blocking in to try to straighten the beams.) Each board would have to be hauled up there, individually marked, taken down, and then cut. So you see it’s not the actual cutting that’s the issue… it’s the 5x as much time/effort I have to spend getting each board in place. The aesthetic return isn’t worth it. I’ve dated engineers though, who absolutely would have been able to make something like that work. It’s just not in my nature to be that precise.

      Also, I don’t think a dowel plug gives you any additional benefit to caulking the hole. It’s not visible, and it doesn’t solve the you-just-drilled-a-hole-in-the-top-of-the-board-where-water-can-collect problem any better, it just seems like more work. It might last longer, but you’d still have to caulk in/around/over the plug to seal the water out.

      I don’t mind armchair carpenters, all ideas are welcome here… there are usually reasons why I personally didn’t do things that way, but it’s great for other people who might be looking for alternative ways to build something similar!

      1. You’re absolutely right. You see, I would have used my method, then realized how off everything was, then cursed. A lot. This would have been Day 1. Day 2 would be spent either buying more lumber or deciding to make a much smaller pergola.

        Thanks for the explanation! Can’t wait to see the table too.

  7. Damn. I want to do a mini pergola over our garage I think, I will be referencing your recaps for sure! Sorry if I missed this, but are you sealing it, or staining/painting it?

  8. Hi Kit

    Kiwi fruit is definitely not tropical I grow it in Canberra, Australia which gets to -10*C (not sure what that is in F). It does take 4 or 5 years from planting until you get fruit.

    Love you blog BTW

  9. Kit– I wanted to know about the gravel area. Did you put anything down before the gravel like plastic or we’d cloth? Do you spray to keep the weeds down?

    1. Yes and yes! I killed off all the weeds/grass with weed killer first, then put down a standard weed barrier fabric, with gravel over the top. I also spray a year long weed killer/suppressant on the gravel twice a summer.

  10. It won’t be much, but you can probably “gang scratch” them: tie all the boards together, make a straight edge, cut, straighten the hair, repeat. Instead of chalk, can you make a plug out of a dowel and stick to it? Don’t you just love us, armchair carpenter! I’m afraid one day I need a tractor too. Although I don’t really need it, I can’t store it, and probably can’t use it.

Comments are closed.

I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.