How To Build A Garden Arbor

Considering the enormous success of my "How to Install a Dishwasher" series (unfortunately no longer a 1st page Google result), I thought I'd share the scoop on my latest (somewhat significant) home improvement project - building an arbor over the gate to our backyard.

Here's the before photo:

Note the mature jasmine vines on either side of the gate. We planted these in Fall 2004 with plans to add an arbor so that they'd have somewhere to grow and also so that they would get more sun, which would in turn give us more lovely yellow blooms.

3 years later, I finally had so little to do that I actually built it.

I thought about taking down the gate, removing the posts, and adding new ones for a 4 post arbor. I opted not to because it would be hard to do so without killing my plants and because I had zero confidence in my carpentry ability. If I dug up the posts and then screwed up the new construction, then I would have been f'ed. Instead, I took a safer approach that left me an easy "put it back together" fall back plan, as I often do.

I went to Home Depot to buy the lumber for the project - 1 6X6, 2 2X6, and 2 2X2 - all 8 feet. I hoped that they could cut the 6X6 to size for me. No dice. Thus I was left with this:

Yes - I made 2 cuts on a 6X6 post with a 12 inch Stanley hand saw.

(Good thing I'm a beast with a 12 Stanley hand saw.)

As expected, the cuts took forever and ended up incredibly sloppy. Luckily, however, I'm not just a beast with a hand saw, but I'm also a genius. I cut the post on either end, thus leaving me the flat factory cuts for the joint. BAM!

Here's one of my posts balancing on the existing gate post:

So you can kinda see the easy way out if/when I muck it all up. I just plunk the caps back on the gate posts, clean up the sawdust, hide the lumber, and tell Kelly that I've been watching TV all day. The project never happened and my man ego remains intact.

17 hours later and 3 gallons of sweat later, I finished the other cut and braced the pieces together:

I was a little worried about the stability of the posts, but these metal thingies did the job. The pieces didn't match up perfectly, but close enough. I used wooden shims to balance the posts until they were level and added numerous screws to each brace.

Once the posts were up, I started working on the overhead piece. I borrowed Kelly's dad's jig saw make fancy cuts on either end of the 2X6 and used the lid from a jar of peanut butter to draw the curves.

If you look closely in the photo, you can see my practice cut on the end of the board, the pattern I traced on the board for the actual cut, and the lid from the peanut butter jar. (Choosy wanna-be carpenters choose JIF.)

Surprisingly, I didn't suck at this and, more surprisingly, I didn't sever my arm and bleed to death in my yard. In fact, I actually enjoyed it - despite the fact that it brought back memories of 8th grade shop class when I actually broke a jig saw in class. Scarring memories re-repressed, I made the cuts, cleaned up the edges with a file and some sandpaper, and attached the pieces.

While hanging them, I had to do a little math in my head to make sure that the facing boards centered on the posts. The simple subtraction should be a good warm up for the linear regressions and bond pricing problems in my near future.

Once the pieces were up, I cut the slats out of the 2X2s. After a little more math and a few more cuts with the hand saw, I screwed the slats in place and - BING! - I built an arbor:

For added effect, here is the dramatic view:

The project cost about ~$50 for the lumber and braces and about 5 hours of my afternoon, counting the trip to Home Depot and a lunch/Sun Drop break. We'll train the jasmine to grow up the posts and next spring we should have a lovely arch of green leaves and yellow blooms to welcome visitors to our backyard.