I remember making the 45-minute drive with my dad to go pick up a swing for mom some 20 years ago. It was a simple A-frame and had heart-shaped holes cut in the bench. It wouldn’t fit in the back of his pickup, so we had it ridiculously straddling the bed while I sat holding on to it the whole way home and hoping that we wouldn’t run across any police officers. Mom was pleasantly surprised by the gift. Sadly, we lost dad back in 2002, but Mom still loves that swing. If you ever wanted to know how to build a small pergola swing, you’ve come to the right place. I can think of no better way to honor Dad, than by building one in his honor—with my kids!
Step 1: How to Build a Small Pergola Swing Starting from Scratch
After being in the Florida sun for 20 years, many parts of our existing pergola swing needed repair and replacement. We wanted to redesign the frame using as much of the original wood that we could. Our intention was to preserve her memories.
The first order of business was to decide what could still be used, what materials needed to be purchased, and head to the “Man Store” (what my kids call Home Depot). So off we went on Friday night to pick up what we needed with smiles all around, the hope of a fun weekend project, and the promise of a cookout to follow.
The shopping list was simple enough:
- 4×6 main beam
- 4) 4x4x8s (for the main supports)
- 4) 2x4x8s for the trellis on top
- Stainless steel through bolts, washers, and nuts
- Various eye bolts, lag screws, and deck screws
Note: They didn’t have the 12” bolts we wanted. Instead, we settled for 10-inch bolts and drilled some recess holes for the nuts, bolts, and washers to fit.
Dang it, forgot the concrete. Back into the store.
- 4) 80# bags of cement mix!
Gathering our power and hand tools, we set to work. Our friend, Tom, supplied most of the other tools. That included:
Step 4: Make Your Cuts
After a Saturday morning of biking and running for me, my seven-year-old twins, Calvin and Leah, were here to help us out. The excitement of using power tools and the promise that they would be featured in this article was all the motivation they needed to get involved. For me, it meant the chance to use some of the tools that we’ve reviewed and spend some time with my kids while passing on some knowledge to them.
We set up the Bosch GCM12SD 12″ Miter Saw in the driveway. We then proceeded to cut our main support beam to exactly 10 feet in length, making it perfectly square. The 4x4s came at the length we needed, so we drilled our 1/4-inch holes for the through bolts. To make sure that the hole was flush for the main beam and main supports we set all three boards precisely where they were square and level before drilling.
Each side would also receive a 1″ diameter recess from the hole saw bit to give us room for the shorter 10″ bolts to hold everything in place.
Step 5: Dig Your Post Holes
We set our toughest buy on the task of digging the post holes for our structure. You can do this manually, or use a power tool like the Ryobi 40V brushless earth auger or the Makita 18V X2 earth auger. Unfortunately, we only had a manual posthole digger on hand.
Step 6: Reclaiming What We Could from the Original
We used the Bosch miter saw to cut out the pieces of Mom’s original pergola swing that we could reuse. Unfortunately, we were only able to save a portion of a couple of 4×4’s for the upper supports. Still, we were thankful we could at least save a portion of the original for the memories.
Step 7: Setting the Posts and Structure in Concrete
Now that the main structure was together (and definitely not coming apart!), we set our built pergola swing frame in the ground. We then generously applied 160 pounds of concrete (two 80# bags) to each side. The water table here sits about 2 feet down. However, the concrete and the four feet that we dropped the structure down should keep it from going anywhere unless we choose to dig it out later.
Editor’s Note: For long-term durability, we recommend coating any wood you intend to set into concrete with a waterproof sealer. Examples include Rust-Oleum CopperCoat ($21/gallon)
Step 8: How to Build the Top Trellis for Our Pergola Swing
Next on our list comes how to build the top trellis frame for our pergola swing. For this, we used 2×4’s perpendicular to the main beam and cut brackets (also from 2×4’s) to secure them to the main beam. Although we screwed them in place, it was still a little unstable, so we gave them each a few nails from the Paslode CF325LI Cordless Framing Nailer. No doubt about it, there is something very cool about a nail gun that has a muzzle flash.
Then, parallel to the main beam, we preferred 2×2 slats, but once again, we needed a substitute. They didn’t sell them pressure treated, so we simply split 2×4’s with the table saw to make what we needed.
Step 9: Decoration
An article on how to build a pergola swing wouldn’t be complete without the finishing touches. After fastening the slats to the top using deck screws, we replaced the swing. It looked fantastic, but just to add a little touch of color, I picked up materials to make hanging baskets from either end. Some Delphinium, Lantana, and Zinnias ensured the greatest color combination possible: blue and orange for my Florida Gator-loving Mama.
Wrapping Up How to Build a Small Pergola Swing
The great thing is that we were able to incorporate a little of the original frame into Mom’s new one. With the quality of the engineering and materials that we used, this frame should last another 20 years. Mom was thrilled when she got home and saw the finished product. She took a few pictures and started texting her friends. Of course, this means Tom and I may get some requests down the road… In either case, it was great to see her so happy, even if her Christmas present was two months late!
At the end of the day, building a swing frame may not be the professional-level work you do to make a living. However, there’s something really important to learn from a project like this.
Our kids look up to us. Whether you’re a single dad or married, I firmly believe that we need to be involved in our kids’ lives. It’s also a great excuse to get families together. While this started out as how to build a pergola swing, it grew into so much more. I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a Sunday evening than basking in the enjoyment of a job well done with the smell of hamburgers cooking on the grill while the kids play in the backyard and having my friends and family around me!