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Support your habit with an inexpensive and easy-to-build trellis.

If you want your morning glories to reach for the sky, choose a few laths (or make some on the tablesaw), drill some holes, practise the old maritime skill of riveting and cut a few notches: you'll have a pretty trellis for plants to clamber up in no time.

We built our trellis using 4-foot spruce laths, but you could easily apply our method to longer lumber: the 3/16" thickness is strong enough to withstand bending over a couple more feet. If you want to build a trellis taller than 6 feet, however, increase the thickness to 1/4" or more, and add another notched cross piece to support the verticals.

Consider making more than one trellis-used together they can provide symmetrical interest, frame a view or fence in a tall tomato plant; use them singly or with stretchers overlapped alongside your house, against a fence or strategically sited in a flowerbed near a path or patio, supporting fragrant sweet peas or roses for heady, sweet summer memories.

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Step 4a

Step 4b

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Step 7

1. Begin by constructing a jig using a 36" long, 10" wide board. Centre and clamp a 10" long piece of 1 1/2" thick lumber an inch from one end, and a 29" long piece an inch back from the other. Drill two clearance holes through the board into each crosspiece, and two pilot holes in the crosspieces themselves; make them as deep as the threads on your screws. (The screw length will depend upon the thickness of your stock.) Screw the crosspieces in place and remove the clamps. With the crosspieces on top, measure and mark the centre points of both on their top faces. On the long one, measure and mark 1/8", 6" and 12" on both sides of the centre line. On the short one, measure and mark 1" on both sides of the centre line. Hammer 2" finish nails into each of these marks except the centre lines. Set the jig aside.

2. Choose 5 laths from the bundle and sort them so that the straightest is in the middle and any with slight curves are oriented naturally to the sides. Align them with faces touching, even up one end and clamp them together. The clamps should be placed about 5" and 11" from one end. Measure and mark 3" and 9" up from that end. Drill clearance holes straight through at these marks. Slide a rove under each of the heads of the copper nails and tap them into the holes; they should pass through with a slight resistance. Release the clamps and flip the bundle over.

3. Prop the free end up so that the bundle rests level with the anvil. Slip a second rove over the end of one of the nails and snip the nail off about 1/8" above the rove. Holding the bundle of laths steady, with the head of the nail square to the top of the anvil, strike the trimmed nail with the flat of the hammer to spread the copper over the hole in the rove, then use the ballpeen end of the hammer to work around the metal, making a facetted mushroom to hold the rove in place. Repeat the steps for the second nail. Then turn the bundle over and peen the heads of the nails into similar mushrooms over the roves. This is an ancient technique for fastening planks on boats. The beauty of the system is in its flexibility: in boat building if you have a leak and want to tighten the seal between the planks, a couple of taps with a hammer (with a backing iron on the other side) will snug them up; or if one needs to be replaced, the end can simply be filed off, the rove and rivet (nail) removed and new ones hammered in place.

4. Place the bundle in the jig with the butt end in the 2" slot. Working from the centre outwards, spread the laths carefully, hooking them over the nails placed on the 2/8" lines hold the centre lath between them as the other four are sprung into place over the 6" and 12" nails. Place another piece of lath, called the spreader, on edge, straight across the fan 6" to 8" from the top. Hold it in place and mark both edges where they cross each of the fan pieces. Remove the spreader. Using a combination square set to half the width of the lath (3/4"), draw the sides (3/16" apart) and bottoms of the 5 notches on both sides of each fan piece. Saw down the sides of each notch. Using a 3/16" chisel, score the bottoms of the notches on both faces and snap the waste piece out. Clean up the ridges in the bottoms of the notches using the chisel.

5. Slide the stretcher into this row of notches leaving a minimum 2" overhang on one side. If the piece doesn't slip in with only slight resistance run a fine-bladed saw down the sides of the notches, using the stretcher as a fence. Once the stretcher is in place, mark where the notches will be cut on it, paying close attention to marking its bottom edge. Note that only the centre notch will be cut at 90º. Mark one of the outer fan pieces, and the stretcher where it crosses it, with an X. Remove the stretcher. Measure to check that all the notch depths are the same, and square up any roughly drawn guidelines.

6. Clamp the stretcher in a vise and saw out each notch, following the lines on both the front and rear faces as you cut. Score the bottoms of the notches on both sides with a chisel as before; snap the waste wood out and finish up the bottoms with the same chisel. Line up the two locator Xs and slot the stretcher in place so that the notches straddle those in the verticals, and the stretcher lies flush with the tops of the fan pieces.

7. Cut the stretcher at a pleasing angle about 2" from the outer fan pieces. Using a flexible batten (strung like a bow or fixed in a bow with finish nails), draw a curve across the ends of all the fan pieces and trim them to length. Square up and trim the butt end.


  • Bundle of spruce or cedar laths, 48" long (6 required)
  • 2 copper nails 21/2" long, or as long as necessary
  • 4 copper roves to fit the nails

For the jig:

  • 36" x 10" x 1/2" board *
  • 30" x 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" board *
  • 10" x 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" board *
  • 2" finish nails

(*Use what lumber you have to build the jig; these are only guidelines.)


  • Handsaw
  • Ballpeen hammer
  • Heavy-duty snips
  • 3/16" chisel
  • Drill and bit sized to the copper nails
  • Pencil
  • Combination square
  • Measuring tape
  • 2 clamps
  • Workmate or bench vise
  • Anvil, or other heavy backing iron

Sources for roves and rivets:
Lee Valley Tools ( 1-800-267-8761)
Stright-MacKay (, 1-888-661-7144)

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