Use these step-by-step instructions to build a garden obelisk from wood. It’s strong and easily support climbing vines and looks great painted and used as backyard decor.
This project is suited to beginners wanting an afternoon project. If you would like more, also see 32 Wood Projects for the Garden.
Build a Garden Obelisk
I built this obelisk using two sizes of lumber (2x2s and 1x2s). The top does not have the traditional pyramid top because I wanted a spot to place a flower pot or add garden art instead.
I covered the sides in chicken wire to give the watermelon plant’s tendrils something to grab onto.
While there are many ways to build obelisks, I encourage you to use a miter saw: either electric or manual. This enables you to easily cut angles that give the obelisk a more professional and finished appearance.
Before you run for the hills, please know that a good electric miter saw with a built-in laser guide does the thinking for you. The laser light shows you exactly where the saw blade will cut the wood, and the miter settings let you line up the wood exactly as needed for the perfect cut. I find it much easier than woodworking without one.
I understand if you do not have one available for use, but if a basic fear is holding you back, I’ve got a pep talk here for you: How to Get Comfortable with Power Tools (So You Can Make Cool Stuff).
Alternately, for this project you can use a hand saw and rig up something to guide the angled cuts: the ones in this project are nothing fancy.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to build your own obelisk and give some tips for keeping the construction process simple.
2x2s – 51 feet total1x2s – 37 feet totalIf you want a pyramid top, you will need 59 feet of 2x2s (for an 8-foot obelisk), some scrap wood, and some sort of wooden ball or other topper.
2×2 Vertical Wood Posts
(4) 2 x 2 x 6-feet (use 8-foot side pieces if you want a traditional pyramid top)2×2 Horizontal Rails
(4) 2 x 2 x 24-inch(4) 2 x 2 x 19.5-inch(4) 2 x 2 x 13.5-inchDo not cut the 1x2s until you have assembled the main structure with the 2x2s: the exact wood sizes you need may be slightly different than mine.
1×2 Design Pieces (Optional)
(8) 1 x 2 x 25-inch(8) 1 x 2 x 22.5-inch1×2 Top Frame
(2) 1 x 2 x 17-inch(2) 1 x 2 x 14.75-inch
Miter saw – my favorite is sliding and dual bevel (lets you angle it in different directions, which is not necessary for this project, but great as you become more experienced with woodworking), and has a laser beam to show your cutting line.OR Wood saw with guide to cut 7-degree anglesElectric drill with 3/8″ drill bit for predrilling holesElectric screwdriver (or drill with drive bit)Tape measurePencil and ruler or squareKreg Pocket Hole Jig (for hiding screw holes- optional)(32) 2.5-inch deck screws(40) 2-inch deck screwsCarpenter’s wood glue (optional)Wood stain or exterior primer and paintPaint brushSafety gear: ear protectors, eye protectors, work gloves, work apronChicken wire (optional) and stapler/strong>
Cut 2×2 pieces of wood as listed above. DO NOT cut the 1x2s yet: your measurements may need to be different than mine.
After cutting horizontal 2×2 rails—3 of each size: 24-inch, 19.5-inch, and 13.5-inch—trim the ends at 7-degree angles using a miter saw. The lengths listed are the longest (bottom) edges of the pieces.
The end cuts are known as ‘not parallel’, because they both angle inward.
Layout all the pieces for your two main sides of the obelisk on the floor.
Each side consists of two 6-foot side posts and three different horizontal rails.
Follow this next diagram to mark where each horizontal rail goes. The distances between rails (in blue) are from the top edge of one rail to the bottom edge of the one above.
Mark and predrill where you will be inserting screws. Predrilling holes with a drill bit smaller than the screws is essential: otherwise the wood can split.
Keep in mind that you will need to place two screws at each corner where two horizontal rails both attach to the same side post. To do this, don’t screw through the middle of each horizontal rail but instead place one screw head lower than the other.
You can also use a pocket hole jig to better conceal your screws.
Here’s how it works:
This is one of my favorite tools. In the photo (above), you can see one of the horizontal rails sitting in the jig. A special drill bit is used to make an angled hole in the wood. Don’t worry, the jig guides it perfectly, so you just have to drill with no measuring required.
Here’s what the jig holes also called ‘pocket holes’ look like. They are actually like little tunnel through the wood, enabling you to drive a screw right through to an adjoining piece of wood. When these jig holes are located on the underside of the horizontal rails, they are not visible. Just a nice extra touch but not essential.
Now, with all your pieces ready and your holes predrilled, you can go ahead and assemble two identical side pieces.
Work from the bottom horizontal rail up (marked as 1 in the diagram above).
When screwing the pieces together, the ends of the horizontal rails should be nice and snug against the side posts, so there are no gaps. You can also use carpenter’s wood glue to further seal the deal.
5Add Horizontal Rails
With two main sides assembled, add the remaining 2×2 horizontal rails. This is the part where you’re glad you left room for the screws to go through the corner pieces into each of the side rails.
TIP: Once you have the basic structure made from the 2x2s, the rest is best done by measuring your obelisk to confirm exact lengths of 1x2s needed.The simplest way to do this is to take lengths of wood and hold them against the area you need them and mark you cut lines with pencil.
6Add Decorative Details
Next comes the decorative details using 1×2 lumber. You will want to double-check the measurements needed before cutting your wood.
In the next photo, on the right side, you can see how I do V arrangements with the 1×2 wood. The top V is right side up, the lower V is upside-down)
To get the pieces right, I first marked the middle of each horizontal rail.
I then took some long pieces of 1×2 and measured it against the obelisk to mark exactly where cuts were needed for the pieces to fit between the horizontal rails, on an angle.
Preplan your screw hole locations and predrill them. As long as you sink your screw heads (drill until they are just below the wood surface), they will look fine. You can also use the pocket hole jig to attach these decorative pieces if desired. You know I love it.
If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see I also did a few X arrangements with the 1x2s. This uses more wood so stick to Vs if you prefer.
7Add Top Pieces
Add top pieces (see them in the next photo). Measure your obelisk at the top before cutting this wood to confirm what lengths you need.
I used two 17-inch 1x2s, and two 14.75-inch 1x2s.
I found these measures by holding a piece of 1×2 where I wanted it at the top of the structure and measuring the width of the obelisk plus two wood-widths extra. This allows enough length to sandwich the shorter pieces, forming a frame around the top of the obelisk.
8Stain or Paint
Stain or use exterior primer and paint.
Repeat as needed.
9Add Chicken Wire (Optional)
I added panels of chicken wire with a craft stapler so I could train a watermelon plant around the obelisk. The vine is held loosely in place with twine.
10Add Top Decor
Add a topper or decor.
Ideas include a flower pot, watering cans, or a giant orb.
You can make a giant orb from wall-mounted metal hayrack planters like these ones:
I attach four of them together with cable ties. You can also add lights like this:
Here’s the obelisk in my garden with a flower pot sitting on top:
And two weeks later, the watermelon vine is looking very happy:
And the fruit is starting to form:
I hope you’ll make one for your garden. But remember, once you get into woodworking, it’s the gateway to many more creative projects.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛