Any old trellis can add height to your garden, block out a bad view or beautify a bare wintertime backyard. But with a little design doodling before firing up the welder, you can easily fashion a distinctive piece — a good project to tackle when rain washes out your plans for Saturday yard work.
This is not a tricky trellis to make: Just cut steel, bend rods and weld. The fun is in creating a unique design. You can use elements of the ones shown here, and we’ve provided additional design tips (below) to help you along. But don’t be afraid to unleash your own creativity — what’s the worst that can happen? If your design turns out to be a dud, call it art and take comfort in knowing that much of the time it will be covered with clematis.
Tools and materials
Once you’ve settled on a design, you can buy the necessary materials (see the shopping list in the PDF below) at metalworking/welding-supply shops, home centers, hardware stores and glass companies. A metal cut-off saw will come in handy, but you can get by with a hacksaw. You’ll also need a cordless drill, clamps, a framing square, a wire-feed welder and an angle grinder. (A die grinder is optional.) To drill holes in glass tiles, use a cordless drill with either a diamond-tip bit or a glass-and-tile bit. With either bit, use water for lubrication. You may also use glass-boring carbide bits that require oil for lubrication.
To create the frame, use square steel tubing. Cut 45-degree angles at the top ends of the uprights (A) and the ends of the top rail (B). Butt the ends of the bottom rail (C) against the inside of the uprights (A). Mitered corners are not necessary on the bottom because 3/4-in. rods (D), which anchor the trellis into the ground, insert into the uprights.
Cut the straight 3/8-in. rods (E, F and G) according to the cutting list (see the PDF below). Cut the “wind-blown reed” rods (H, I, J, K and L) only after bending is complete; long pieces are easier to form.
Because 3/8-in. rods are easy to bend, making the reed rods is mostly a matter of forming them to please your eye. You could just clamp the ends to a work surface and pull, but you can better control bending with a simple jig made of a 3/4-in.-thick x 2x4 sheet of plywood, a bolt and a hardwood block, which resists pressure from rods much better than softwood (photo, below). Drill a hole in the plywood for the bolt, which works beautifully as a bending point because it won’t budge. You’ll bend the rods around one nut topped with a washer and another nut that prevents them from sliding off of the bolt. Screw the block beside the bolt to create a slot where you’ll insert the rods for bending.
The bolt and the hardwood block screwed to the plywood create a jig for bending the “reed” rods. Inset: The top washers and nut prevent rods from slipping off of the bolt during bending.
Welding and grinding
To begin assembly, spot-weld each corner of the frame; then use a square to make the corners true before finishing each weld. Insert the 3/4-in. rods (D) in the tubing of each bottom corner with 2 ft. protruding; then weld. These rods fit into 2-ft. lengths of 1-in. (i.d.) galvanized pipe that is pounded into the dirt to support the trellis.
Next, weld the 3/8-in. rod, starting with the upright rods (E). To these upright rods, weld the interior-rail and corner-box rods (F and G). Center the rods on the frame by slipping flat scrap pieces under them.
Finally, weld the reeds. Start by welding both ends of reed I to both upright rods. Weld the base of reed H to reed I before welding the opposite end of reed H to the left upright rod. For the remaining reeds, weld the bottom of each reed into the valley formed by the upright rod and the reed immediately below. Then weld the opposite ends of the reeds. Grind all welds smooth with an angle grinder and, for tight spots, a die grinder (photos, below).
Use an angle grider to quickly dress welds such as the miters. Wear safety glasses and a face shield.
For grinding welds in really tight spots on the trellis, use a die grinder with cone-shape bits.
Once construction is complete, you’ll need to sand, wipe with mineral spirits and finish the trellis with exterior-grade spray paint. Hanging glass tiles in the corners is a nice touch, but it requires drilling into the tiles, which can be tricky. Use water or oil to lubricate while drilling (photo, below). At the midpoint of two opposite sides of each tile, make holes large enough to accommodate copper wire or fishing line. Secure the tile by wrapping the wire around the frame and the rod. The tile won’t bang into the frame but will rotate with the wind, flashing color and light on gusty days.
Be sure to submerge the glass tiles when drilling holes. This glass-and-tile bit requires water as a lubricant.
All that’s left is to sink the trellis firmly in its new home and train the plants around it. As they grow, you can rest assured that the wisteria vines or climbing roses that might have born down and broken up a weak wood trellis will only accent your sturdy, unique work of art.
The design of any metalwork project determines how much you enjoy the building process and the results. To help you create your trellis, four suggestions: