I work by myself, and oftentimes find myself wishing for an extra pair of hands. When I was building a pergola recently, for example, I needed to install a pair of overhead beams while making sure the posts that would support the pergola framing stayed plumb.

To do this, I poured a pair of footings, installed metal post bases, and fastened the posts to their bases. Then I nailed blocking around each post to the framing, so the posts were locked in place while I finished installing the decking. To make it easier to plumb the posts—and keep them plumb while I worked on the pergola framing—I attached simple plastic post levels (johnsonlevel.com) to the posts and left them there after I braced the posts into position.

Next, I cut four 2x4 assist braces that were 1/4 inch shorter than the proposed height of my beams above the deck, and attached a 2x4 cleat to each assist brace to prevent the beams from rolling over while they were sitting on top of the braces. I temporarily fastened the 2x4 braces to the posts. Then it was a simple matter of lifting the beams in place on top of the braces and leveling them with shims. When the beams were level and the posts plumb, I fastened them together with 1/2-inch-diameter galvanized carriage bolts, removed the braces, and installed the rest of the pergola framing. 

Rich Blumer owns BREM Construction Co., in Streamwood, Ill.