DIY Tarp Canopy – How to Build Outdoor Canopy Frame

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Shelter

Home - Shelter - DIY Tarp Canopy – How to Build Outdoor Canopy Frame

For anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, you know the discomfort the elements can cause. There is a solution and an easy one at that. Read on and discover how constructing a DIY tarp canopy can improve your time outside quickly and effectively.

DIY Tarp Canopy Basics

Choosing the right tarp is an important part of building your own canopy. Some of the factors to consider include if the tarp is waterproof, strength of the material, resistance to corrosion or abrasion, and if there are any special features like reinforced stitching or steel rings on the tie-holes.

The best types of tarps for DIY canopy projects are strong, waterproof, and durable so that they will last for a long time. Insulated, heavy-duty, or blue tarps are all good choices. Here’s a shortlist of tarp material choices that work best for outdoor canopies:

  • Canvas
  • Polyethylene
  • Vinyl
  • Polyester

What is a Tarp Canopy?

Traditionally, a tarp canopy is a framed structure with a tarp covering on the top and possibly on up to three sides, used as a shelter from the sun, pollen, rain, and other elements of nature. They don’t have actual flooring, just the ground. Usually, these structures are about eight to twelve feet tall and cover an area ranging from 20 square feet to over 150 square feet.

Making a canopy from a tarp provides a sheltered space for many outdoor activities. Use your tarp canopy for outdoor events such as family get-togethers or a vendor booth for local market experiences. If you work in a garden at home, or if you work in your yard or outside regularly on any task, a tarp canopy will provide shade and shelter while you work. Alternatively, with a large enough structure, you can park your car or store equipment under your tarp canopy, to add protection from the elements.

Why Tarps Make Great Canopies

Tarps provide excellent protection from the weather because they were created to withstand outdoor environments. Quality tarps are extremely durable, made to last for a long time and some are even backed by a warranty.

Tarps are also lightweight and easy to work with. There are no special tools needed for a tarp. Plus you can find a good quality tarp for a reasonable price online and at many different types of retail stores.

There are plenty of other benefits associated with using a tarp to build your own canopy. The most enjoyable benefits are space to work, ventilation for airflow, the wide range of options to build what’s best for you, and how easy it is to build a tarp canopy for your outdoor needs.

Canopy Materials You’ll Need

One thing that you’ll need for this job is often overlooked, and iot can cause big problems later. You need the measurements for the space where you plan to build and cover once the canopy is complete. If you don’t start the supply list with the dimensions for your canopy’s area, then finding a tarp will be a tough challenge. Measure the area with a tape measure and write the numbers on the top of a paper. Then use that same paper to write out the materials you need into two columns: what you need to buy and what you already have.

Before you start an online order or make a run to the local hardware store for your supplies, you’ll need to decide what you want material to use to build a canopy frame.

The most common choices are beams of wood, PVC or metal poles.

Once you have your measurements and make your choice, then gather the following materials and tools.

  • Tarp
  • Rope or Nylon String
  • Upright Poles (One for each corner and one to center sides longer than six feet)
  • Connecting Poles (Equal number to upright poles)
  • Connectors (Framing brackets for wood, fittings for PVC, connectors for metal)
  • Box of Nails/Screws or Tube of PVC or Metal Epoxy or Glue
  • Shovel
  • Hammer or Cordless Drill
  • Stepladder

How to Make a Tarp Canopy

Now that you’ve chosen your spot for the canopy, gathered all your supplies, and possibly enlisted the help of a teammate, you’re ready to begin the process of putting it all together. This is a three-step process. First, you’ll need to scope out your spot and prepare the area for the canopy to go there. Next, you’ll build a canopy frame. Then, you’ll secure the tarp to the frame.

1. Scope and Preparation

Scoping out the area for your canopy means giving it a solid look-around to check for potential hazards and hassles. Potential threats include rocks that will cause instability for your stepladder, uneven or sloping ground, trees, and so on.

After you’ve scoped and solved any possible problems, you can start preparing that spot for your build. This includes marking where each upright pole will be and making a hole in that spot. Each hole should be about a foot and a half to two feet deep and only as big around as the pole going into it.

The last part of prepping the area is bringing out all your materials. Be sure as you’re bringing everything to your work area that you’re also separating it all into relative categories. This makes it much easier to find and grab what you need when you need it. Upright poles and connector poles should be separated, as should the poles’ connectors by type.

2. How to Build a Canopy Frame

Lay two of your upright poles on the ground near their holes with a connector pole between them. The connector pole should be perfectly even or flush, with the top of each upright pole. This will be the front of your canopy’s frame.

Place a bracket or connecting fixture at each end of the connecting pole and use a nail or screw to secure the brackets to the top center of wooden beams or use the epoxy/glue to secure the connectors in place onto both the upright and connecting PVC or metal poles. Be sure to give the glue time to harden and dry before moving that part of the frame.

If you’re building your frame with wood beams, go ahead and place a second bracket on the upright poles and secure them in place at the center top of each. Both of the second brackets must face the same direction on their respective poles. This will help you greatly when it’s time to start connecting the front and back to the sides of your frame.

If you’re using metal or PVC for the frame, you’ll need a three-way elbow or 90 degrees three-way for the corners of your frame.

Repeat the process for the back part of your frame. If you have upright poles for the sides, it’s a good idea to secure a bracket onto the wood at the top of opposite sides of them. You don’t need to add the connecting poles to it yet though. For PVC and metal upright poles that will go along the frame’s sides, place a tee connector or fitting on the top of those poles.

When your glue has dried completely or you’ve finished securing all the brackets to your wooden beams, call your teammate over to your work area. If it isn’t already done, line the front of the frame up with the holes for the two front-facing upright poles. At the same time, each of you will pull one of those poles into its hole so that the connected frame stands upright.

Once both poles are in their respective holes, ask your helper to keep the frame-front steady while you pack the dirt you dug out tightly back into the holes around the upright poles to help keep them securely standing. Repack as much of the dirt as tightly as you can all the way around each of the front poles, starting at the bottom of the hole.

Repeat the same process for the connected poles that make the back of your frame. Remember to pack the dirt around the upright poles once the structure is standing in place. If there are upright poles for the sides, go ahead and drop them into their holes and pack them with dirt too.

With all upright poles in place, you still need to install the connector poles around the top. Have your teammate hold wooden beams up while you stand on your stepladder and nail or screw the brackets to the connecting brackets. If you’re not using wood, then ask him or her to hold up the pole as you add glue and fasten the connecting pole into its connector on both ends. Allow all the glue to fully dry before moving forward to attach the tarp.

One by one, secure each connecting pole to the tops of the upright frame. Don’t rush this step. Take your time and use caution on the stepladder. Also, be sure to thank the person helping you build your frame.

3. Secure the Tarp to Make the Canopy

Thread your rope or nylon string through one of the corner holes of your tarp from the outside so that the rope goes into the inside of the tarp. Wrap the end of the rope all the way around the top of the appropriate corner upright pole. Tie the rope or string into a tight knot.

Wrap the untied rope around the top of the upright pole and onto one of the connector poles. Continue wrapping the rope around that connecting pole until you reach the next hole along the side of your tarp. Thread the end of the rope through the back of that hole, around the pole you’ve been winding, and back through the back of the hole. Then wrap the rope around the pole alone, and continue to the next hole. Repeat the same process as the first hole along the side of the tarp.

Keep wrapping the rope around the connector pole and threading holes along the side of the tarp until you reach the next corner of the tarp and frame. Here, before you thread the rope through the corner hole after you wrap it around the connecting pole for the last time, go to the inside of the upright pole with the rope. Then wrap it around to the other side of that upright pole and thread it through the corner hole in your tarp.

Tie the rope together in a knot at the corner then wrap it around back to the inside of the pole and make another knot in the rope there. Then wrap it around and around the next connecting pole until you reach another hole in the tarp. When you get there, repeat the process for threading holes and continue on.

Keep wrapping, threading, and cornering all the way around the frame using the holes of the tarp to secure it to the frame as you go. If you run out of rope, it’s more effective to tie the end of the first one off to the connector pole. After, thread the next hole in the tarp rather than tying the two ends together like a single rope.

Thread the new through the outside of the hole into the inside of the canopy, wrap it around the connector pole, and back through the hole from the outside. Tie a tight knot in the rope’s end and around the connector pole. Then proceed just like you did with the first rope.

Once you reach the corner where you’re wrapping and tying began, knot the rope around the connector pole. Then, tie the rope to the starting upright pole with a double knot for added security.

Additional Tips to Keep in Mind

This simple project can become a real headache if you’re not attentive and mindful of your measurements. Keep them on point. Double-checking never hurts.

Use caution with tools and on the stepladder. Don’t be in a hurry.

Use quality items that will function correctly and last longer. It may cost a little more in the beginning. But it will also save you in repair costs for a longer time and less frequent necessity.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

About Bushcraft Wild

At Bushcraft Wild, our goal is to help people learn the necessary skills to reconnect with nature. From basic survival skills to recreational camping, we’re confident you’ll find a way to spend more time in the great outdoors.

Affiliate Disclaimer

Bushcraft Wild participates in programs designed to provide means for sites to earn advertising fess by linking out to other sites and products. We are compensated for referring traffic and business to these sites and companies.