Build an Arbor Bench

Create an eye-catching (but easy-to-build) adaptation of a backyard basic.

While walking through the greenhouses at local garden center, I came across a bench with an arbor surround. It was functional and beautiful, and its construction seemed relatively simple. After carefully studying the structure, I decided to design and build my own version.

This project is more than just another garden bench; it has the potential to become a focal point in any yard, and it’s easy to build in just one or two weekends. Four cedar 4x4 posts, cross supports and beams form its backbone, and a framework of 2x8s supports the seat. (Keep in mind that dimensional cedar lumber may vary in size, so you’ll need to measure carefully and often before you cut and notch the posts and beams.)

Though you can build the bench with hand tools, a circular saw and a drill-driver are highly recommended. Start with the upper beams (B) and perpendicular lattice pieces (D). Cut 1-in.-deep notches for the post joints into the beams, using a chisel to finish the notches (photos 1). Repeat this process for the 2x4 upper lattice pieces. For efficiency, clamp them together and use a saw to cut away the notches at once. Cut decorative ends on each beam and 2x4 lattice piece (photo 2). Then mark the posts at the points where the seating frame and cross supports will be attached.

Cut kerfs repeatedly across the areas to be notched and then chisel out the remaining wood. Repeat the cutting-and-chiseling process to notch the upper beams and each 2x4 lattice piece.

Use a circular saw to start the angled cuts in the top beams and 2x4 lattice pieces; then finish each with a pull saw. Sand all edges.

Cut and assemble the seat frame next, drilling pocket holes and driving 1-1/2-in. screws to fasten the parts. The seat frame also acts as a cross support between the four vertical posts of the structure.

Assemble the arbor on its side and use clamps to hold the structure together as you drive screws. Attach the seating framework to the back posts using 3-1/2-in. lag screws. Drive one lag screw from the inside of the seat frame into each of the posts (photo 3). Install one of the beams across the back posts using 5-in. lag screws driven from the top of the beams (photo 4). Check with a level and square at each stage of assembly, making sure the structure is plumb and square.

Attach the seat frame to the back posts. Clamp the parts together and use a square and level to keep the structure plumb.

Attach an upper beam to the back posts, driving lag screws from the top of the beam into the posts. When assembling on uneven ground, use a wood spacer under the joints to keep the parts level, plumb and flush.

Drill pocket holes in the upper cross braces (C) and attach them to the back posts using 1-1/2-in. screws on both the top and bottom of the rails. Then clamp the front posts to the seating framework and repeat, screwing the framework and side rails to the front posts (photo 5).

Fasten the side rails to the front posts; then attach the front post-and-rail assemblies to the seat frame and back posts.

Screw the second beam (B) to the front posts; then carefully tip the arbor up into a standing position. Make slight adjustments for level and square; then drive a second lag screw into each corner where the seat frame meets the posts. Attach the 2x4 bench top supports (H) to the front and back of the seat frame.

Cut the seat slats (I) to length, and install them on top of the seat frame using 2-1/2-in. stainless steel deck screws. (You could use hidden deck fasteners instead.) The front and back outer slats will require a 3-1/2 x 2-1/4-in. notch to fit around the posts (photo 6).

The outer seat slats require notches to fit around the posts. Attach the slats to the frame with 2-1/2-in. stainless steel screws.

Finally, install the lattice panels (J) between the posts using 1x2 strips along the sides on both the inside and outside to hold them in place (photo 7).

Cut the lattice panels for the sides of the arbor to size and install them between the posts.

For the top of the arbor, start in the middle and begin placing the 2x4 notched lattice pieces on top of and perpendicular to the beams, gently tapping them with a mallet and a wood scrap to secure them in place. Use a spacer to keep an even 8-in. gap between pieces. Then drive 3-1/2-in. stainless steel screws through the top of the 2x4 lattice pieces and into each beam (photo 8).

Place the top 2x4 crossbeams across the beams, starting in the middle and working outward. Use a spacer to keep the pieces evenly spaced along the beams.

When you’re ready to install the bench, look for a spot that offers a good view but is protected from wind. To keep the structure from tipping or being blown over, use post anchors attached to concrete footings (photo 9). Be sure to follow local building codes. Adding finish to the arbor is optional; teak oil or a deck and siding stain will protect the cedar from premature weathering.

Place the bench in an area that is protected from wind. Use post anchors attached to footings to keep the structure secure.

Plant flowers and vines such as clematis around your bench, training them to climb the lattice as they grow. For an elegant touch, you could add a stone border. Then all that’s left is to take a seat and enjoy the view.

Want more?
Check out Overhead Garage Arbor and
Design and Build an Arbor Gate