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Arbors over gates create a beautiful entrance to a yard or garden.

Arbors over gates separate your home sanctuary from the busy modern world.

When I was in the Marines, a crimson signpost of two upright columns topped with a crossbar was a frequent sight. Usually, the unit’s sign and the names of its officers and senior non-commissioned officers swung from chains below the crossbar. It wasn’t until I was stationed in Okinawa that I learned where this came from. It’s called a torii, and it’s a type of gate used to mark the entrance to Shinto shrines in Japan. The military had taken a liking to the look of these and had begun using them wherever possible.

The ones outside unit headquarters caused me dread, usually because I only saw them when I was in trouble. The traditional ones, though, seemed like a lovely way to mark an entrance. When I finally bought my own home, I looked for a similar way to mark the entrance to my private sanctum. The idea that I hit upon was to build arbors over the gates to my backyard. They would lend a similar elegance to the threshold, and, hopefully, a similar feeling of leaving your worldly troubles behind as you cross through.

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Garden arbors with trellises beautify a garden and add shade.

Garden arbors with trellises can define areas in a yard as well as provide privacy.

One of the best features a house can have is a stately old tree in the yard. Trees provide shade for a home, but more importantly, they shade the yard on a hot summer day and make it a joy to be outside. However, many of my friends have seen their stately old oaks, maples, and other trees get struck by lightning, contract diseases from unhygienic tree cutters, or just expire from any number of the factors that affect centenarians.

My friends, of course, plant new trees in place of the old ones. We are, after all, part of the generation that grew up with Carly Cardinal and the National Arbor Day Foundation spreading the word across the nation about trees. Where the old trees could shade an entire yard, though, the new trees will take some time to get to that height and lushness of foliage. But in the meantime, garden arbors with trellises can provide shade and a place for quicker-growing plants to grow.

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Backyard grape arbors aren't hard to built and can take many shapes.

A pergola or arbor supports vines and provides shade and interest in a yard, making it both beautiful and functional.

Back in my early twenties, I bought a younger friend of mine a home brewing kit for his twenty-first birthday, little knowing what I was unleashing. The beer from that first batch was terrible. The next twenty batches were bad, but uniquely bad each time. The twenty-first batch was acceptable as a near substitute for beer, but by then my friend was in college and had moved on to spirits and took up distilling. I hadn’t realized before this that Listerine could be made at home. As middle age beckons, our tastes have matured, and my friend now ruins parties with batches of his homemade wine. It works surprisingly well as salad dressing, but it’s a struggle to keep smiling through a glass of it.

At our last get-together, though, my friend surprised us. The bottle he presented us with was going to be the last of his special vintage; buying grapes from a vineyard was getting just too expensive. In a moment of misplaced sympathy, I suggested building backyard grape arbors to grow his own. Volunteering the idea, of course, meant that I’d volunteered to help build the arbors and grow the grapes—or at least that was what they decided it meant when my friends discussed it among themselves.

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An DIY outdoor doghouse is easier with a plan.

Adding a window and grate to your outdoor doghouse can encourage more airflow, which is perfect for warm climates and breeds that tend to overheat.

The best thing about having friends that are as close as family is that you get to share in their most embarrassing moments. One of my favorite of these memories has to do with a doghouse that my friend’s father built for a beloved old mutt named Taco. Inspired by a surfeit of concrete left over from creating a patio and some concrete casting techniques from a survivalist magazine, my friend’s father decided to cast a doghouse instead of building one. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that, in his case, the concrete mix called for rebar reinforcement, and his initial effort collapsed. So did the second and third attempts. Undeterred, my friend’s dad pushed on. He finally succeeded by thickening the walls and thinning the roof, creating a bunker that Taco stubbornly refused to use even though my friend’s father squeezed himself into it to prove that it was safe.

This was when my friend and I arrived in the backyard to find his father stuck in the doghouse with Taco licking his face. Our feelings were, and are, that if the dog knew better than to go in, then my friend’s dad should have, too. But even if you don’t try to use concrete, building a DIY outdoor doghouse is a challenge. It’s a project that usually begins with someone saying, “How hard can it be?” and ends with a mess. Instead, try starting with the question, “What does my dog need, and why?” You should end up with a great doghouse.

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Screws, nuts, and bolts that won't rust also look better than galvanized fasteners.

Powder-coated fasteners stay rust-free, making them attractive and easy to remove, if necessary.

I grew up in one of the most hurricane-prone states. What that means is that I consider storms that are Category 3 and below to be the prime sleeping-in weather. They’re the Florida equivalent of a snow day. Living in this state has also created in me a deep appreciation for quality fasteners.

The reason is the 2004 hurricane season, where four hurricanes struck Florida in the span of six weeks. Even the sturdiest structures sustained damage. I spent eighteen months after the storms doing demolition and repair work as part of the recovery effort, and the first month of that period was without reliable access to power or power tools. It boiled down to using two large crescent wrenches to twist off nuts that had rusted onto their bolts. Quite often, the shaft of the bolt would shear through before the rusted nut would budge, and this would still be quicker than trying to get through a 6×6 with a handsaw. The experience left me with a deep appreciation for screws, nuts, and bolts that don’t rust–I learned that something as simple as a nut that would actually turn could save hours of hard work.

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Bolts with sleeves don't need to be cut and have a neater appearance.

Bolts with sleeves create a cleaner, ornamental look when joining two timbers.

I’ve built many boardwalks, decks, arbors, pergolas, and pavilions over the years. Usually, they’re made from four-by-four posts with beams made from two two-by-sixes held on by bolts and nuts sandwiching the boards to the post. The bolts are usually bought in bulk, and are extra long so they’ll be able to reach through any number of boards. This leaves an unsightly three or four inches of threads clearly visible beyond the face of the board. If the bolt is any lower than about seven feet above ground, this becomes a safety hazard, because anyone using the structure could walk into the bolt end and injure themselves. If it’s higher than seven feet, then it’s just plain ugly. Cut bolts in a pavilion roof truss design, for example, can seriously detract from the structure’s appearance. Either way, using these bolts means I have little choice but to cut the bolt down to a more reasonable half inch or so of threads showing.

However, this creates a whole new host of problems, because cutting a bolt down neatly and safely is a surprisingly hard thing to do. It’s a “make-do” construction standard that persists because until recently there was no other option, and for the most part, no one has spared it any thought. However, newly developed bolts with sleeves work in a clever way so that there’s never any extra length sticking out. Before we explain them, though, let’s talk about why you should stop using your old bolts, the type that need to be cut down.

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Figuring out pergola rafter spacing requires a few basic tricks.

Careful pergola rafter spacing along with attractive hardware will make your pergola a thing of beauty.

I spent a happy eight months working as part of a carpentry crew at the Canaveral National Seashore in Florida. The seashore is a wildlife preserve, and to protect the unique ecosystem of the dunes, we were charged with building boardwalks, viewing platforms, and other elevated areas to keep visitors from treading the delicate flora of the dunes beneath their sandal-clad feet. Sometimes we would build pergolas on the existing deck surface of these platforms. The park service had a tendency to order too much lumber, and building pergolas was a useful way to use up the excess lumber while providing visitors with a somewhat shaded place to rest when they’d gotten too much sun.

These extra pergolas ended up being horrible time sinks. The reason was that the structures weren’t part of the original plans, and were added on halfway through. Usually, we did this by deciding to leave certain posts in the center of the platform excessively long so we could use them as posts in the pergola. This led to odd shapes, weird spacings, and constant trips back to boardwalks that were already completed to mess around with the rafters to try to get things to look right. It can be difficult to get pergola rafter spacing exactly right, especially if it’s a pergola with unusual dimensions.

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International Builders' Show (IBS) 2018


Come by The International Builders’ Show (IBS) 2018 Booth W7355 Meet the OZCO Team: Ian Hill, Tony Radilla, Jesse Gomez, Jerry Trehan and JR Craven. Stick around take some time to see many of the 2018 products like the Rafter Seam, OWT-Lite, Post Band and Cool Accessories up close! Oh and don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2018 OZCO Catalog packed full of all the new products including new product levels like the 2 packs of rafter clips and 4 packs of the Hex Cap Nuts.


OZCO Building Products is known for disruptive innovations and product design features that accelerate installation while enhancing the attractiveness of the end-users’ projects. OZCO is the originator and leader in the Ornamental Wood Ties (OWT) hardware category, offering high-quality structural connectors for use in decks, pergolas, arbors, pavilions, planters, and more. OZCO also offers a great selection of specialty fasteners through its OWT Timber Screws and OWT Timber Bolts product lines, and OZ-Post features the largest selection of drivable post anchors for fence, deck and sign installations. The OZCO family of products are designed and manufactured for superior performance, visual appeal, and functionality, all with innovations so revolutionary they have been granted 10 US patents and others patent-pending.

OZCO Building Products created the hot new category of Ornamental Wood Ties. The heavy rustic and rugged looks of OWT is the icing on the cake for any wood framed project from pergolas, decks, pavilions to exposed trusses indoors or out. Seen several times on this seasons hottest home improvements shows OWT hardware is what your customers want to enhance their projects as well. Come see our newest connectors and structure at  International Builders’ Show (IBS) booth number W7355. We can confidentially say we have a project like nothing you have ever seen before. Also, be the first to see our new project app.





Adding a pergola is one way of updating a ranch style house exterior

Updating a ranch style house exterior with a front yard pergola gives the home an entirely new aspect.

Ranch style houses are the homes of the American Dream. Also known as ramblers and California ranchers, these are houses that were developed in the 1920s, built during the 1950s and into the 1980s, and, because familiarity breeds contempt, abandoned in the 1990s for a variety of revival homes that have collectively and contemptuously become known as McMansions.

But the humble rancher endures, and was actually the first home designed for the modern lifestyle. They’ve been built and refined for over a century, and they’re a staple of the American landscape for a reason. Yet these homes were built in batches, and as a result, they can blend together. It can be hard to make a ranch house stand out or reflect your family’s personality, but updating a ranch style house exterior with a structure like a pergola can change the whole look of a home and give it a unique and sophisticated style.

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A wooden fence with metal posts will last much longer than an all-wood fence.

Wooden fences are a standard for privacy, but a wooden fence with metal posts will last much longer than one built with the usual wood posts.

When making the rounds visiting friends and family at their homes this Thanksgiving, I noticed something odd. Everyone’s rear fences had doubled posts with a pale brand new wood posts planted next to an old weathered post. Closer inspection revealed that the old, gray, mildewed posts were nailed to their new neighbors, and these new posts were what was holding the fence up. They were also making it abundantly clear that the fences were old and in need of TLC, and that their owners were at a loss as to how to make a fence look better.

A lot of this damage was the result of a hurricane that came through earlier in the year. What happens with your typical wooden privacy fence is that the posts are buried in the ground, where they accumulate water and begin to rot. When a major wind event occurs, these posts snap off at the ground level and entire sections of fence topple. In the aftermath, as people begin recovery, they repair their fences and look for ways to build a fence that better resists the wind. In my opinion, adding a new wood post next to the old one is not the way to do this. A better way is to build a wooden fence with metal posts or replace your existing fence’s wood posts with metal ones.

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