DIY Network

How to Safely Build and Maintain Arches and Pergolas

Before starting a garden project, it's necessary to take the right safety precautions and learn how to maintain your arch or pergola for a lifetime.

More in Outdoors

Great care must be taken when working outside to protect yourself and others. Always work in a safe manner, using the right tools for the right job. Tools should be well maintained in a good condition. Familiarize yourself with rented equipment, especially power tools, and ask for a demonstration before using them yourself. Pay attention to the maintenance of your arch, pergola, or arbor to ensure your own safety and that of other people.

Working Safely

Safe working practice means far more than, for example, not using electrical equipment in the rain. It begins with what you wear and means applying common sense to every operation that you carry out. Make sure you keep warm and dry, and wear the correct protective clothing such as sturdy footwear, gloves when using cement, and goggles and ear protectors when using a power saw. Plan the work carefully. Do not set yourself unrealistic targets, which all too easily lead to tiredness, errors, and accidents. All arch and pergola projects are best carried out by at least two people; always ask for help when lifting heavy or awkward loads such as crossbeams, and try to avoid balancing and stretching at the top of ladders.

Using a Driving Tool

Knocking in a spiked post support with a driving tool avoids damaging the metal, which would give a nasty jagged edge and make it far more difficult to fit the post. A piece of wood as a buffer will work just as well.

Use Driving Tool to Knock in Metal Spiked Post

Courtesy of DK - Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Hammering With Buffer

Where possible, use a scrap of wood as a buffer between the hammer and a notched rafter when knocking it into place. It protects the rafter from splitting and splintering and prevents the hammer from leaving marks on softwood.

Hammer Using Wood to Buffer and Protect Beam

Courtesy of DK - Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited

More Safety Tips:

  • Tie up long hair and avoid loose clothing when working with machinery.

  • Saw wood and cut joints on firm ground, ideally using a workbench.
  • Ensure ladders are properly locked into position and secured firmly before using.
  • Always chisel wood away from, never toward, yourself.

  • Always use properly grounded electric equipment.

Use cordless drills in preference to electric drills with cords.

Painting and Staining

Plastic-coated metal does not need to be painted, but other metals should be sealed to prevent rust. Hardwoods, and some softwoods such as cedar, which has its own protective resin, require no additional treatment. Most softwoods, however, need protection when used in outdoor constructions and are normally sold having already been pressure-treated with preservative. As well as offering some extra protection, stains on treated wood give a desired color effect. Untreated lumber can be stained or painted both for protection and color. Painting can be fairly laborious, as several coats are required; staining requires only two coats. Stains are easier to apply and are available in a wide range of colors. Where possible, paint or stain, and allow the treatment to dry thoroughly before planting.

Staining Wood

Applying stain to planed lumber, here an arbor seat, is a far quicker job than painting, requiring fewer coats. A wide range of wood tones and soft or bright colors is available.

Applying Preservative

A trellis is often pretreated with preservative. If you are applying it yourself, wear protective gloves, since some preservatives are difficult to wash off and can also cause skin irritation.

Apply Preservative to Wood Trellis for Protection

Courtesy of DK - Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited

More Maintenance Tips:

  • Protect wood with preservative on a regular basis to maintain its condition.

  • Improve the appearance of old wooden arches and pergolas with a colored stain.

  • Mend rotten posts by bolting on a concrete spur, which is in turn set in the ground.

  • Firm up loose posts by setting concrete around the base.

  • Check bolts, nails, and screws frequently, and replace if necessary.

  • Sand down old wood to remove splinters.

  • Oil hardwoods to keep them in pristine condition, or allow them to weather naturally.

  • Tie back climbing plants and cover ground-level plants when sanding or staining posts.

  • Treat metal structures for rust and paint with a rustproof paint.

  • Avoid windy days for painting and staining.

Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited