How to Build an Arbor with Built-in Benches

Shade, privacy and seating for your deck or patio.

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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.

Tools Required

  • 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

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. 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.

Project step-by-step (10)

Step 1

Cut the Parts

  • Use a stop block to cut all the pieces quickly and accurately.

Step 2

Assemble the Fronts and Backs

  • 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.
    • Note: One 2-1/2-in. screw per 2×4 is sufficient.

Step 3

Add the Box Sides

  • Set the front and back pieces upright and join them with interlocking 2×4 pieces, again attaching them from the inside.
    • Pro tip: 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.

Step 4

Stain All Parts

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

Step 5

Assemble the Benches

  • 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.
    • Note: 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.

Step 6

Connect the Benches and Planters

  • Put the benches in place flush with the back of the planter boxes.
  • Screw the benches and planter boxes together with four 2-1/2-in. screws.
  • Screw on the planter supports inside the planter box with three 2-1/2-in. screws each.
  • Set the benches on the bench supports, then fasten the planter boxes to the bench ends.

Step 7

Level the Benches

  • Shim the planter boxes to level the benches.
  • Install hidden 2x2s or 2x4s for legs to hold the planter level, then remove the shims.

Step 8

Attach the Trellis Posts

  • 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.
  • Screw support blocks to the backs of the planter boxes 3 in. in from the corners, then attach the posts.
  • Drive two additional screws into the posts from the inside of the planter boxes.
    • Note: Don’t worry if the boxes are still a little wobbly—the top rail and cap lock everything together.
  • Attach the posts to the sides of the support blocks with three screws.

Step 9

Attach the Top Rails

  • 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.

Step 10

Install the Lattice and Finish Up

  • Mark the bottom edge of lattice on each post.
  • Nail on the lattice, overhanging it 1-1/2 in. on the outside edges and butting the pieces at the corner.
  • 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.