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How to Build an Arbor with Built-in Benches

Updated: Jun. 02, 2022

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Shade, privacy and seating for your deck or patio.

FH08MAR_SUMSHA_01-3Family Handyman
Build this simple seating/planter/arbor project to create a quiet, private space in your yard or on a deck. It provides shade and comfort as well as a welcome screen from neighbors. You can install it on an existing patio or build it on your deck.

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Pergola with bench project overview: Benefits, materials and cost

This corner arbor turns empty space on a patio or deck into a leafy green sanctuary. Use it to create shade and privacy, to screen an unattractive view, or to add color to a concrete patio or wood deck—even a second floor deck. Our arbor is covered with a tropical vine called mandevilla, a great plant for walls, trellises and arbors.

The entire arbor is made from pressure-treated wood, but coating it with a penetrating stain and hiding the fasteners makes the project look more like a piece of furniture than decking. The stain will also help keep it from cracking and warping as it weathers.

Using pressure-treated wood keeps the cost reasonable too. All the materials for this project cost $250. The project can be built over two weekends—or one if you don’t stain it.

Treated wood lasts almost forever, but it can be gnarly to work with. Take your time picking through the lumber pile for good pieces. Look for dry (lighter) pieces without too many knots. You’ll need straight pieces for the uprights and benches, but you can use nice-looking, moderately warped pieces for the planters. Let the lumber sit for a few weeks so it all shrinks uniformly. Remember to put the best sides out when you assemble the planters and benches.

3 Simple Components: Trellises, Planters and Benches

To build this project, just cut lumber to length and screw the parts together. If you can handle a tape measure, a saw and a drill, you can do it. Customization is easy, too: Build shorter seats to suit a small space or add components to surround a big space. If you don’t need shade or privacy, leave off the trellis.

Step 1: Assemble the planter boxes

Photo 1: Cut the parts

Cut the planter box pieces and bench parts quickly and accurately using a stop block.

Photo 2: Assemble the fronts and backs

Assemble the front and back of the planters against a square. Use spacer blocks to align the planter box corners perfectly.

Photo 3: Add the box sides

Stand the front and back up, then attach the sides, screwing through the planter box corners. Predrill to avoid splits.

Photo 4: Stain all parts

Stain the bench and trellis parts and the completed planter boxes before assembly to save time and mess.

Each planter box is made by alternating 10 short and 10 long lengths of 2×4 and joining the inside corners with 2x2s. The overall size is based on 16-in. square plastic planters (actual size 15-1/2 in.) widely available at home centers. If you can’t locate that exact size or you prefer a different style, make the planter supports (D and E) larger or smaller, or build a base inside the planter box to support the planter. You can also change the size of the planter box.

Use a stop block to cut all the pieces quickly and accurately (Photo 1). Set three long and two short pieces against a square clamped to the worktable, using short spacer blocks for alignment. Predrill the 2×2 corners with a No. 8 countersink bit to avoid splitting the wood (Photo 2). One 2-1/2-in. screw per 2×4 is sufficient.

Make a front and back for each planter box, then set them upright and join them with interlocking 2×4 pieces (Photo 3), again attaching them from the inside. Although screwing from the inside is fussier, it enables you to avoid the cracks that often occur when pressure-treated wood is screwed near the ends.

Finally, screw the bench supports on (see Figure A in the project plans available for download using the button above). Stain the planter boxes and all the other pieces now to avoid drips on the deck or patio. It’s also easier to coat all the bench pieces on all four sides at this stage (Photo 4).

Note: You can view and download the Cutting List, Materials List and Figure A using the button above.

Step 2: Construct the benches

Photo 5: Assemble the benches

Clamp the bench front and bench end against a square corner. Screw the bench pieces together from the back to keep fasteners hidden.

Photo 6: Connect the benches and planters

Set the benches on the bench supports, then fasten the planter boxes to the bench ends.

Photo 7: Level the benches

Shim the planter boxes to level the benches. Install hidden legs to hold the planter level, then remove the shims.

Clamp the front and one of the sides of the bench to a square edge. Clamp the first set of spacers and the first 2×4 slat to the front piece, then drive two 3-in. screws through the slat and the spacer into the front piece. Continue fastening, clamping the slats in position to keep them aligned before screwing them in (Photo 5). Check to make sure the bench stays flat as you assemble it. Toe-screw the bench ends to the front of the bench, then drive two screws into the end of each slat (see Figure A).

Put the benches in place flush with the back of the planter boxes (Photo 6). Screw the benches and planter boxes together with four 2-1/2-in. screws, then screw on the planter supports inside the planter box with three 2-1/2-in. screws each.

Level the planter boxes if necessary, adding hidden 2x2s or 2x4s for legs (Photo 7).

Step 3: Assemble the trellis

Photo 8: Attach the trellis posts

Attach the posts to the sides of the support blocks with three screws.

Photo 9: Attach the top rails

Screw the right and left top rails to the posts. Mark the post spacing first to keep the posts plumb.

Photo 10: Install the lattice

Mark the bottom edge of lattice on each post, then nail the lattice with siding nails.

Screw support blocks to the backs of the planter boxes 3 in. in from the corners, then attach the posts (Photo 8). Cut the posts 7 ft. long plus the distance (if any) the planter box was shimmed up, so that they sit on the ground but are level with each other at the top. Drive two additional screws into the posts from the inside of the planter boxes, but don’t worry if the boxes are still a little wobbly—the top rail and cap lock everything together.

Set the top 2×4 rails on the ground next to the posts, leaving a 1-1/2-in. overhang at the outside ends. Mark the position of each post on the top rail, then clamp the rails flush with the top of the posts and fasten them with 3-in. screws to the posts and to each other (Photo 9).

Nail on the lattice, overhanging it 1-1/2 in. on the outside edges and butting the pieces at the corner (Photo 10).

Screw on the 2×6 cap pieces to finish the structure, mitering them at the inside corner and screwing the two sides together. Drop in the plastic planter boxes (from home centers or garden supply stores), fill with dirt, and plant with a mix of climbing flowers and vines.

Required Tools for this pergola with bench project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Drill bit set
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Framing square
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Miter box
  • One-handed bar clamps
  • Paint roller
  • Safety glasses
  • Tape measure