Building the grape arbor

I love concord grapes. That seems as good a place to start as any. My grandfather has grown grapes in his backyard as long as I can remember. It is a challenge to eat the grapes, to spit out the seeds, to see how much of the sour skin I can handle before I spit that out too. Last year, I planted  a small grape vine that died. This year, I decided I wanted a grape arbor. Wooden, with the curlicue details on top. And the grapes were busy and on sale at Home Despot. I bought two.

First you need holes, in the ground, to hold up the 4x4s.

Holes made with the post digging machine

The whole digging machine was frustrating. It should have been awesome. If we wanted to dig 18″ holes it would have been awesome. Having carefully checked out from the library 3 books on outdoor building projects, I was determined to put the posts in with concrete, to make the structure 8 feet above ground and to sink the posts about 4 feet in the ground. We are in Wisconsin. The frozen tundra is an exaggeration, but building code for decks things usually requires 48″ down. We only got about 36″ deep holes, even after I cleaned them out with the handheld post-hole digger. (Better than any exercise torture equipment, the manual post hole digger works your shoulders and arms.) At that point, the holes started to puddle water at the bottom, so 36 inches won.

I should note my dad was my willing and unwilling co-creator. My mom was our visual guide. Bella was altogether helpful.

We put gravel into the bottom of the holes. Bella helped.

I must have forgotten to photograph the hole placement process. I wanted the posts 6 feet square apart. I probably could have positioned them closer to together, more like 5.5′ apart . And we didn’t end up perfectly square.

Squaring and leveling each of the posts. Using stakes and scrap lumber to hold them in place until the concrete dried.

We expected 3 bags would be plenty.  Nope. Mom rant to Home Despot at 3pm and got 4 more bags. We returned 1 of them. But our initial purchase was a concrete mix. The second time, the HD guy suggested they only had mason cement. We added our own gravel – it was too smooth.

The mixed concrete. We’d mis 1 bag at a time. Dad did the hard mixing. And had the sore hands the next day to prove it.

I carved the kids initials into one of the bases and the year into another.   MHA  2010

Preparing to mount the first 2×6. We had picked a height, about 8 feet. Dad measured and drew a line at the bottom of the board onto the posts.

The wood. Mom found ye olde protractor. I drew quarter circles on the 2x4s and then used it to make 3 curves (well really 2 and then I cut and folded my tracing paper to make it symmetrical). It took 2 jigsaws and the belt sander to make them smooth and pretty.

There are (2) 2x6s going East/West. Then (5) 2x4s on top going North/South. After we had it that far, we decided it would look better with a double 2×6 going E/W. One on each side of the 4×4. The 4x4s ended up about 1 foot too tall. The books said the sawzall could cut it, but Dad resorted to the chainsaw. Chainsaws are scary. I don’t like them.

Using a nail in one 4×4, we held up the 2×6 to level it. we level it. Then we nail in temporary holding nails. Then Dad drills a pilot hole for the slag bolts, then screws in the bolt. 2 in each post. 3″ long bolts, very strong.

Both sides up! Is it level? Yes!

I care if it is level. Far too much.

I space out the 2x4s. There are 5 of them and they are almost 16 inches apart. I finally draw a template on scrap lumber. I spend time playing with the math of spacing. Diving and adding and halving the space and adding in an allowance for the real width of the wood. It used to drive me crazy when my fellow students would claim we would never use math in the real world.  I wish math in school were more practical. I can solve formula all day, but figuring out how to square something is much harder. Even with knowledge of 3-4-5 triangles.


The last minute revision is to put in double 2x6s by the post.

Drill baby drill?

The second revision we make to the plan is to add the slats on top. We buy ten 1x2s. I spend more math time spacing them (about 6 inches) apart.

The hanging glass orb is from a trip Rob and I made with Miranda and my grandparents to visit A&W. In 2005. It hadn’t had a place to live at this house yet. We bough it in Hot Springs Arkansas, I think.

The grape plant, now being taught to cling to the fishing line by the post.

Lessons learned?

1. I am really bad at documentary photos. I thought I had captured each moment. Each stage. Nope.

2. I thought it had to be big. It might have been OK justa  bit smaller. I don’t mind the size, but we did extra work to amke it bigger.

3. It is surprisingly easy to add more wood at the end – the double beams and the slats on top.

Hope they grow!

2 Comments to “Building the grape arbor”

  1. How long did it take to build this?

  2. ken rittmueller

    Great job!! I’m about to build 1 similiar. Maybe 4′ X 8′.
    You gave me lots of info and the pics were great. My question–How difficult would it be to build it totally by yourself (no help)? Would parts of the project even be possible if done solo or would it have to be drastically modified?
    Thanks–and again, your story and pics are great–Ken

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