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the best wood for pergola - a complete guide

The Best Wood for Pergola: A Complete Guide for Homeowners

Do you want to build an outdoor pergola to make your backyard an amazing place to relax and spend time? Choosing the right wood is key so it lasts long and looks good.

This article gives you all the tips you need to pick lumber that works. Learn about popular options like cedar, redwood, and pine. See what stands up best to your weather. With this guide, you'll be ready to pick wood and build a great pergola easily. Let's start and make your yard the best hangout!

outdoor living today cedar pergola - western red cedar with outdoor furniture

Key Takeaways

  • Western red cedar is the best overall wood for a pergola due to its durability, weather resistance, attractive appearance, workability, and availability.

  • Other common types of wood are Redwood, pressure-treated pine, and tropical hardwoods like ipe and teak. Each has its own strengths and tradeoffs.

  • Consider your climate and weather conditions when choosing wood, as some varieties handle moisture and sun exposure better than others.

What is the Best Wood to Use for Pergola?

The best wood for an outdoor pergola is western red cedar. This versatile and durable softwood naturally resists rot, decay, insects, and moisture due to its built-in oils. It also has many other advantages.

However, western red cedar is, no doubt, an excellent overall choice, one of the other wood varieties could be an even better fit depending on your climate, design, budget, and personal preferences. 

Taking the time to understand the unique characteristics of each wood type and match them to your specific project needs is the key to choosing lumber that results in a beautiful, durable pergola you’ll enjoy for years to come.

different types of wood

Popular and Best Types of Wood for an Outdoor Pergola

Now that we’ve covered how to evaluate lumber for pergolas, let’s go over some of the most popular options and their unique benefits.

Western Red Cedar

Western red cedar is one of the best and most commonly used woods for pergola construction. Here’s an overview of its strengths:

  • Naturally Durable and Weather Resistant: Contains natural oils that resist moisture, decay, insects, and rot. Ideal for outdoor use.

  • Attractive Appearance: Has a warm, reddish-brown hue when new that grays and weathers to an attractive silvery patina over time. Grain is typically straight and even.

  • Easy to Work: Soft and lightweight compared to many other woods. Easy to cut, shape, and fasten using both power tools and hand tools.

  • Low Maintenance: Doesn’t require much upkeep thanks to its natural resilience. Periodic cleaning may be all that's needed.

  • Good Availability: Grown sustainably and abundantly in many regions of North America. Available in various grades and prices.

Overall, Cedar’s blend of toughness, beauty, workability, and availability make it a perennial favorite. It’s suitable for many design styles and budgets.

Pressure-Treated Wood

Pressure treated lumber is another top option. Here's an overview:

  • Enhanced Durability: Treated under pressure with chemicals that help resist rot, moisture damage, and insects.

  • Low Cost: Since it starts as ubiquitous wood types like pine or fir, costs are very affordable. A budget-friendly choice.

  • Easy to Source: Readily available at most major home improvement stores. Can be used for entire builds or key components prone to moisture.

  • Regular Maintenance: Requires re-sealing or re-staining every 1-2 years for best results and appearance.

  • Versatile and Customizable: Available in a range of grades, sizes, and types like posts, beams, deck boards, and plywood. Take your pick.

Pressure-treated wood allows you to get sturdiness and workability at a reasonable price with a bit more maintenance.

Tropical Hardwoods

Exotic tropical lumber like ipe, tigerwood, or teak have unique benefits:

  • Extreme Durability: Some of the most rot and insect-resistant woods available. Great for wet, humid climates.

  • Rich Colors and Grain: Attractive variety of grain patterns, colors, and textures not found in domestic wood. Stunning and unique look.

  • Sustainable Options: Sold by reputable suppliers of sustainably harvested tropical lumber.

  • Low Maintenance: Natural oils and properties mean minimal upkeep is required. Occasional cleaning is all that is needed.

  • Expensive: Higher cost than domestic wood since it's imported. But pricing varies among species. Shop around.

The unparalleled beauty and resilience of these woods make them prized choices if exotic appearances and resilience are top priorities.


Redwood is another naturally durable domestic softwood suitable for pergolas:

  • Rot Resistance: Contains tannins and oils that help resist damage from moisture, insects, and fungi. Stands up well to the weather.

  • Attractive Coloring: Has a warm, reddish hue when new that evolves to a silvery, gray patina over time.

  • Easy to Work: Soft grain and lightweight allow for easy cutting and fastening with both power and hand tools.

  • Limited Availability: Previously overharvested, but now grown sustainably in California and Oregon. Available, but more limited than cedar.

  • Higher Cost: More expensive than pressure-treated or cedar lumber. Prices can fluctuate based on availability.

Overall, redwood is an excellent choice for beauty and sturdiness. But supply limitations and higher prices limit its use. Check regional accessibility.


For those on a tight budget, pine is very affordable but requires ample maintenance:

  • Low Cost: One of the most inexpensive and readily available domestic woods.

  • Easy to Work: Soft grain and lightweight. Saws, drills, and fastens with little effort.

  • Lacks Natural Durability: Requires preservative treatment or very frequent staining/sealing to resist moisture damage.

  • Higher Maintenance: Must be protected by heavy-duty stains or finishes and reapplied regularly. More labor-intensive.

  • Prone to Warping: Tends to warp, twist, and crack more than other woods unless properly sealed.

Pine is best suited for pergola components that get minimal direct weather exposure or kits that include lumber that has already been pressure-treated for exterior use. Use with caution.

wood comparison for pergolas

Wood Comparison for Pergola

Since cedar, redwood, and pine are three of the most common woods for DIY builds, here’s a quick comparison:

Wood Type Durability Weather Resistance Appearance Maintenance Cost
Western Red Cedar Excellent Excellent Good Very Low Moderate
Redwood Excellent Excellent Excellent Low High
Pine Poor Poor Good High Low

So, of all the wood options for outdoor pergolas, western red cedar stands out as the ideal choice for most homeowners. Its unbeatable blend of natural sturdiness, beauty, availability, affordability, and ease of use make it the best all-around wood for DIYers and professionals alike. 

Key Considerations for Your Pergola Wood Choice

Beyond looking at the qualities of various wood types, it’s also important to factor in considerations specific to your climate, project, and needs:

  • Consider your local climate and typical weather. Pick wood varieties that handle rain, snow, heat, and humidity well in your area. Tropical hardwoods excel in wet, humid areas while cedars and redwoods are better for dry climates.

  • Larger pergolas and those with tall overhead framing need stronger lumber that won't sag or warp over time when spanning long distances. Cedar and redwood work for most standard home pergola sizes. Use dense tropical woods or naturally stiff oak for very large commercial structures.

  • Wood left fully exposed to sunlight will change color and weather more quickly than wood kept in partial or full shade. Expect some natural color change over time, but excessive sun can damage untreated softwoods. Use naturally durable, sun-resistant wood varieties or add shade cloth covers to protect the structure.

  • Wood that gets regularly wet from rain and then dries out repeatedly is more prone to checking, splitting, cupping, and rotting than wood that gets wet infrequently. Use lumber rated for high decay and moisture resistance if routine water exposure is expected.

  • For a long lifespan, choose wood varieties known for resilience. However, even the best woods require proper construction and regular maintenance for peak longevity. Cheaper wood may need replacing sooner.

  • Factor in your personal DIY skills and tools when selecting wood. Softwoods like cedar and pine are more beginner-friendly to work with using common tools, while very dense and hard tropical woods require more expertise and specialty saws.

  • Be sure to check Homeowners Association rules on allowed pergola woods and appearances. Historic district neighborhoods may restrict materials but offer tax credits for using historically appropriate wood species.


There are so many fantastic options when it comes to choosing wood for your custom pergola. Whatever you prefer, follow the tips in this guide, and you can feel confident selecting a wood that balances your budget, visual desires, and performance needs.

And while there is a lot to consider when selecting wood, don't become overwhelmed. Focus on the characteristics most important for your climate and project. Consult experts at your local lumberyard if you need guidance matching wood features to your needs.

Outdoor Living Today Pergola with Retractable Canopy outdoor lounge chairs on a wooden deck


How do I build a pergola using western red cedar?

To build a pergola using western red cedar, you'll need to follow a set of plans or hire a contractor. The wood can be cut and shaped to create the desired design, and the pieces can be secured together using screws or nails.

What is modified wood and can it be used for a pergola?

Modified wood is treated with chemicals to enhance its resistance to rot. It can be a suitable choice for a pergola, but it's important to check the manufacturer's recommendations for outdoor use.

How do I maintain my pergola made of wood?

To maintain your covered wooden pergola, you can stain or paint it to protect it from the elements. Regular cleaning and inspection are also recommended to identify any signs of damage or decay early on.

Can you use plywood for a pergola roof?

Exterior-rated plywood can be used for pergola roofs. Look for a ply with a few knots that resist delaminating. Seal and protect it well from moisture.

What kind of nails should be used for pergola construction?

Use galvanized, stainless steel, or coated decking nails. Nails are easier for pergola builds versus screws. Ensure nails are compatible with your lumber type.

Previous article How Much Does a Pergola Cost? A Comprehensive Guide to Pergola Costs in 2023
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About The Author

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

His main focus is on sheds and generators!

In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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