As usual my wife needs something. Luckily she’s patient.
Sometimes she’ll say” I was thinking of getting this”
I’ll say “ But its made badly “ or “ it’s too expensive” and “ I could make that”
she’ll say “ but you never have the time”.
True - projects suck up a lot of time, but I do believe you get what you want, enjoy doing it, and in this case recycle a lot of old wood.
My wife is sorting out the front garden and we needed a rose arbour/trellis structure. My aims were:
- Reuse as much of the timber I had collected - softwoods & hardwoods from old window/door frames
- To create something that would last - environmentally it can get pretty wet in the UK so preferably no wood going into the soil to rot
- Create something thats repairable if required
- Finish it in time for her birthday
Step 1: Materials & Design
Recycled 76mm sq. Softwood that was glue laminated. You could buy exterior grade posts to keep it simple. 4 required (length depending on your project) with 4 cross beams - 478mm long in this case
Recycled exterior grade softwood timber from an old kids climbing frame. 125mm x 25mm x 2200mm. This can vary greatly depending on your requirements.
Trellis, dowels (8mm), plugs, angled brace, post skirting and horizontal slats
Recycled window and door frames. These are decent hardwoods but limited lengths, varying in quality, rotten ends, screw and nail holes etc. I made my own hardwood dowels using a drill, a router and a jig (various methods can be looked up)
Old trampoline galvanised steel poles, cardboard carpet tube (approx.100mm int dia.), ‘postcrete’ (concrete)
Recycled coach screws, screws, exterior glue. Paint if required, teak oil, wood preserver. Old candle (screw ‘lubing’).
I took some basic measurements from the materials I had to hand and worked up a design that would fit within our requirements. Therefore the initial drawing is not completely correct. Ideas/designs change and sometimes to try and get the most ‘use’ out of scrap is to modify your dimensions so you have little waste.
Step 2: Tools
- Your hands
- Your eyes
- If you’re going to try this then you’ll probably have the usual pencil, rule, square, hammer etc.
- Drill - power is quicker, but a hand drill could do it
- Hand saw - again a chop saw/ Table saw/ Band saw all quicker
- Hand plane - one of my favourites - low angle with a really sharp blade.
- Router - handy but not essential
- Clamps - lots of them
- Chisels - sharp as possible
- Sander - by hand or power ( and sand paper - various grits)
- A decent work surface - its a lot easier than working on the floor
- Your brain - to know what to use, how and when. Some of the above tools are not replaceable!
Step 3: Main Post Structure
I needed a certain width - in line with the design but I was limited with length of materials.
I started with the posts. These were recycled laminated softwoods around 2000mm long, 76mm sq.
- Fill holes with a sawdust and glue mix - cheaper than specialised filler - leave to dry
- Sand down using hand or power sander. I used 120 grit - actually this was a recycled industrial sanding belt - but still had life in it - cut up to fit my 1/2 sheet power sander
- I then measured and marked the posts to length and the dado joint to take the cross beam. These were 478mm long to be cut into the posts by 15mm therefore making the structure depth 600mm.
- Cut the posts to length (hand saw is simple)
- Cut the dado’s using a chop saw but hand saw and chisel will do it perfectly.
- Cut dado’s into the cross beam so the trellis part can sit flush (See ‘Trellis ‘section)
- Drill holes the same size as your dowel. This is just to increase the joint strength
- Dry assemble and drill through your dowel holes to mark the cross beam ends as your drill bit will not be long enough to do a full depth hole
- Disassemble and drill the holes deeper in your cross beams - I was aiming for a dowel 110mm approx.
- Apply glue, square it up and clamp it.
- Apply glue to your cut dowels and hammer in. If the ends stick out these can be trimmed after
(TIP: ‘sharpen’ your dowel insert end as it aids fitting)
If all cut accurately you can measure corner to corner each way - it should be the same to make it square.
Due to the rough nature of the posts and the laminated process some sides had dips or holes - so you either have to fill them or make a ‘feature’ of it
- Router a central groove along the length to make a ‘feature’ - I used a 10mm rounded bit
- Chamfer the corners (router or hand plane) - helps prevent edges being ‘clipped’ and looking unsightly
- Sand down again to clean up the joints and edges
Holes were drilled in the bottom of the posts as well but this is to do with the ground fixing so will be covered more in that section.
Step 4: Trellis Construction
This was to be made out of hardwood as I just wanted an oiled finish on this to contrast with the painted posts. I cut old window and door frames up - this is where a bandsaw or table saw comes in handy - but as with recycled wood be wary of embedded nails or screws - I missed one!
(TIP: use a wall ‘stud’ finder or pipe finder tool - its like a mini metal detector so should help)
The main posts and cross beams were positioned to give an internal dimension of H1500 and W450mm therefore the trellis divided up to have 150mm centre lines. (2x verticals and 9x horizontal pieces). I wanted the verticals to project out the top and bottom so the overall length was 1730mm. The cross pieces were not the full internal width so were 400mm long. Therefore for both sides:
4x 1730mm (30mm x 18mm)
18x 400mm (30mm x 18mm)
To make things easier you could purchase wood around these dimensions and just glue and nail them but I decided to cross lap joint these. It was a good excuse to use my newly made table sled to speed up the whole process.
- Cut all the wood to size
- Sand to required smoothness (240 will be fine)
- Chamfer all edges including the ends - this helps later on - less splinters, looks better as time passes, easier to apply finishes
- Measure and mark all your joints - line them up just to check
- Cut your cross lap joints (I didn't do a half depth cut -9mm, just 6mm so they didn't sit flush)
- Dry assembly is always a good idea just to check it everything fits. One of my vertical pieces had a slight twist which only showed up when I did this.
- Apply exterior glue and clamp up.
(TIP: if you lack lots of clamps, start at one end until you run out - then leave enough time to allow the first one to set - then start using the first set of clamps)
- Measure and mark your screw hole to secure into your cross beams. (TIP: drill your counter sink first gives a cleaner cut , then drill your clearance hole)
- Apply your finish. In this case a teak oil.
(TIP: apply liberally, wipe off excess, leave to dry. Apply 2nd and 3rd coat in the same way)
Step 5: Horizontal Boards
These were recycled exterior grade softwood from a kids climbing frame. Length was fine but I had cut ‘handholds’ out of them originally so these needed ‘filling’.
I used another board and cut ‘wedges’ - the angled nature improves the gluing surface and if you’re slightly out with your cut helps hide it!
- Cut the wedge
- Mark up your board to repair and cut out
- Check your wedge fit
- Apply glue and secure clamps in both directions (some glues expand so you don’t want your wedge pushed out
- Once dry plane flush or sand down
I put an angled cut on each end of the board - this was just for aesthetics but you could shape it in any way you wish. These boards were to be bolted onto the posts using exterior grade coach screws but I didn’t want them visible. Due to the thickness of the board I had limited depth to place a ‘plug’. This was resolved by counter boring the board to allow the bolt and washer to be sunk in and then counter boring the dowel plug to allow it to sit in further around the bolt head
(TIP: counter bore first before clearance holes are to be drilled).
I waited to do the hole drilling process until the post structure was in place - I didn’t want off centre holes if my structure was placed incorrectly. If you are using boards that are over long you can then finish the ends afterwards and also not be ultra accurate on the post structure positioning. (Please see the part in 'Ground Fixing')
Step 6: Slats to Top the Horizontal Boards
Again this was recycled hardwoods. Glue and sawdust was used to fill any holes. Due to the limited thickness of woods available, I needed to give the impression that a larger depth of wood was being used, so the ends of the slats that projected out were made deeper by adding ‘offcuts’ and then shaping. It would be easier to have timber 60mm x 25mm and just secure them to the top of the boards or better still dado cut the boards (by about 15 to 20mm) to be a better fit
- Measure and mark 10x 810mm lengths. My slats were 30 x 26mm with the ends making them 56 x 26mm - projecting 80mm out
- Glue the offcuts on
- Once dry angled cuts were done for aesthetics
- Sanded down (240 grit) and all edges chamfer like the trellis pieces
- Finished with teak oil
Step 7: Angled Brace
This was a hardwood board I had enough length of to create the 4 braces. All the dimensions are down to what was available so you could make it however. Making a decision on the brace position was tricky. Whether it should be on the outside of the post to the underside of the board or the inside of the post to the inside of the board?
Visually and structurally both had merits. I went for the former as I couldn’t be 100% sure if everything would be in alignment and securing the brace to the post edge created some issues.
- Measure and mark out your 1st board. These were 20mm thick so enough to place a screw up into the horizontal board.
- Cut your shape out - easily done on the bandsaw. A jigsaw will do just fine.
- Use this as your template to do the other 3.
- Mark your securing holes
(TIP: remember 2 are left hand sides and the other 2 are right hand sides. My braces were counter bored holes so don’t drill them all on the same side!)
- Counter bore the holes the same diameter as your dowel (8mm) before you drill your clearance hole (5.5mm)
I was going to use stainless steel screws (4.8DIA x 38mm) and the dowel was just to hide the screw head.
Step 8: Post Structure Pelmet & Post Caps
Once the end post structure had been placed and the boards fitted I needed to ‘finish’ the top section. It looked too open so needed a ‘pelmet’ on both sides. Therefore you could make these before the structure gets put up.
These were basic 14mm thick wood ( in this case hardwood) the same depth as the boards - 125mm. But it could be done however you wish. These were secured by drilling 6mm holes through the pelmet boards into the posts and hammering in hardwood 6mm dowels. This was suitable enough to secure them and easily removed if required. They also helped cover up the post caps.
Basic hardwood offcuts the same size as the posts but I put an angle cut in them to aid water run off. Helps prevent water soaking into the end grain of your post tops. You could use anything to aid this or create something wonderful to be seen projecting from the top.
Step 9: Ground Fixing & Assembly
This was something I thought about a lot. The traditional way is either:
- concrete your wooden post in (but my post length weren’t long enough and they still rot after a while)
- use a steel spike with a clamp - gives an unsightly base which needs to be hidden. Also the spike could be a little too long which could cause issues trying to get them down far enough in our ground. Some designs have bolt clamp fixing.
I didn’t want to use too much concrete (environmental issues) and I wanted to keep the wood out of the soil. I thought of using old galvanised steel tubes from a trampoline frame. These were tubes that had a step taper from 32 to 28 mm. I did think if I used straight 32mm tube into a 32mm hole in the post the wood could swell with water and split so required ‘allowance’ for this. I could just drill a bigger hole but would it end up a ‘sloppy’ fix? In the end I used the tapered part of the pole with a plastic spacer (plastic plumbers pipe with an expansion slot cut). In this way it created a comfortable fit at the top and bottom of where the pole inserted into the post. Therefore if I really needed to, the whole structure could be lifted off the 4 poles. No pole to post fixing was required - the structure weight is enough to keep it all stable. The pole was secured into the ground using ‘postcrete’ - fast setting concrete.
- First measure and mark out your footings positions. Is there room? Will the ‘ground footings’ be a problem due to its location?
- Dig your holes - I used a border spade as its not too wide and only went down 200mm
- Cut up your cardboard carpet tube about the same depth. 4 required to place in the holes.
- Insert your poles into the post structure fully and lower into you dug out holes (this is just one side not the whole thing). My ground area was uneven so I needed to use bricks and timber spacers to get the right height and level up the structure. Its easier if you have someone else to help at this point. Also use timber to clamp to the posts and to secure to the ground to aid getting the structure upright.
- Once you’re happy and have double checked fill the cardboard tubes with the postcrete (follow the instructions). Generally your aiming to have the postcrete top the same height or just below your ground level.
- Once set do the same on the other side.
Your 2 post structures can now be joined using your horizontal boards. These were levelled then fixed using coach screws. The counter bored dowels were lightly glued in - removable if required in the future
(TIP: pull the screw thread across an old candle - this helps with ‘lubing’ to aid fixing in and maybe a little rust prevention)
- The 4 cross brace pieces were placed, then secured using the stainless steel screws ( wax lubed) . Dowel was lightly glued in and once dry cut off and sanded flush.
- The board and corner braces really help make the structure secure and solid so this means your footings don’t need to be so deep as traditional fittings.
- Mark out your positions for the slats (unless your horizontal board has pre-cut slots). I drilled a clearance hole through the top part so I could nail them to the top of the boards. Again - easily removed if replacement required.
- Place the trellis onto the sides - screwed in using stainless steel screws(easily removed for re-oiling if required)
Step 10: Post Base Skirting
Initially this was to be a basic hardwood board around 8-10mm thick and fixed to the lower part of each post to cover the ground fixture - skirting. But I hadn’t thought about the concrete size in relation to the post so I needed to step the skirting out to cover this. If the concrete was below ground level it wouldn’t have been an issue but I had uneven levels on each side.
- I used scrap offcuts of hardwood as ‘spacers’ -106mm min wide (pieces were 20mm thick)
- 45deg mitre cuts on the ends, with the top edge cut at 30deg - just to give more of a decorative effect
Secured to the post with a couple of nails
(TIP: don’t hammer the nails in all the way until your happy with the position of all 4 pieces. Place the nails so they’ll be covered by the lower board)
- I used an acrylic filler on the mitre edges (I found a box of ‘out of date ‘ tubes in a skip but fine on this project)
- Clean up the edges with chisel and sand paper
- Cut the lower outer boards to length - in this case around 200mm. Chamfer the top edge
- These were just butted up against each other at the corners, trimmed and nailed on.
- Cleaned up and painted
As these were hardwood with wood preservative, and painted I placed them to go below ground level so it appears the post is solid. As time goes on and if they perish the worst case scenario is to replace these - easily done.
Step 11: Finished in Time for Her Birthday!
Amazing! I've actually finished something before the birthday arrives (usually its days/weeks/years...later).
My wife's happy - the roses will have something to grow up and the arbour gives structure to the garden.
On the whole I think the project went well and I plan to build a ‘narrower’ one as well at some stage - all part of my wife's design. I like the different colours of the oiled woods as they're different hardwoods and how this contrasts with the painted structure - it will soften up once greenery is enveloping it. Still uncertain about the ground fixing /pole method but its very sturdy so time will tell. Working with recycled wood is time consuming but if you put time into the prep then the end result is better, and at least the wood isn’t going into landfill. Generally my philosophy is if you make a mistake or have an issue you have 3 choices - start again, cover it up or make a feature out of it. Usually the last 2 work. If you're buying softwoods that are exterior grade and pretty much the sizes you need then build time would be halved and the cost would still be lower than a mass produced one. The steel spike post fixing method would work fine - just develop a ‘skirting’ to cover it up.
Just to let you know even the hardwood offcuts I can’t use gets passed to someone else who will use them in his projects. Just needs a little thought. Thank you.
Runner Up in the