Garden Arbor Barre VT
An Elegant Structure with Super-Strong Joinery
by Tim Johnson
Here’s a project that’s guaranteed to add romance to your garden: an inviting gateway that promises beauty and tranquility to all who pass through.
Building this arbor is a big undertaking, because of its complex design and grand scale, but it isn’t a difficult project. All the parts go together with simple joinery and basic tools.
The arbor’s components are modular. You build them in your workshop and then assemble the arbor on site. The posts will stay straight because they’re glued-together hollow boxes. These lightweight posts are much easier to lift and maneuver than solid posts. You’ll create sturdy structures with strong joints by stacking and gluing pieces in layers. You’ll fashion attractive curves and stylish ogees. Best of all, when you’ve found the perfect spot, I’ll show you step by step how to install your arbor there.
You can build this arbor in No. 3 cedar for about $500. Omitting the gates saves $100. I built the Cadillac version you see here using D-grade cedar, which has very few knots. D-grade cedar is expensive and usually isn’t available at home centers. I had to go to a full-service lumberyard to find it, and I spent nearly $1,100.
Knots are common in No. 3 cedar, so using it will make the arbor look more rustic. Knots also make No. 3 cedar harder to work with, so select boards with the fewest knots.
Cedar is sold as dimensional lumber (1x4, 1x6, etc.). I bought rough 1-in. stock. It comes with one side surfaced and is usually about 7/8 in. thick. I milled all my 1-in. cedar down to a 3/4-in. thickness by surfacing the rough side. The 2-in. cedar came surfaced on all four sides (S4S), milled to a 1-1/2-in. thickness. I cut off the rounded-over corners on the S4S cedar.
Build the Side Panels
The side panels (A, Fig. A, below) are three-layer sandwiches, with vertical pickets (A1 and A2) held between horizontal rails (A3 through A6). Assembly is easy because the pieces are simply stacked, glued and screwed. The top rail is three layers thick. Its inside rail covers the tops of the pickets to protect the end grain. The other rails are fastened to the outside, so moisture can drain between the pickets. Glue these panels together on a flat surface, so they aren’t twisted. Use waterproof glue.
1. Cut all the pieces to width.
2. Cut the rails and the two outer pickets to length, with the ends squarely cut.
3. Make patterns for the curved profiles in the top rails (Fig. B, below) by swinging arcs on 1/4-in.-thick scrap stock and bandsawing. Use the patterns and reference points A and B to transfer the arcs to the top rail blanks (A3 and A4). Then saw out the rails.
4. Glue and screw the inside top rail to one of the outside rails. Make sure the ends align and the glue joint is tight. Remove any squeezed-out glue.
5. Tack the frame togethe...