So, you want a tutorial on how to build a chuppah. Most synagogues have chuppahs for congregational use, but maybe you’re not religiously affiliated, or maybe you just noticed their chuppah… isn’t the prettiest. For our wedding, we wanted a chuppah that reflected our personal taste, but it also felt meaningful to get married under something we built together. The chuppah is, after all, a sketch of the home you build together as a couple, so as two people who fell in love making things together, it made emotional sense that our chuppah would be something of our own creation.
We opted for a simple freestanding chuppah. Most officiants advise you to make your chuppah freestanding and have your chuppah holders in a more… symbolic… role. Apparently chuppahs are harder to hold up than they look, and more than the odd chuppah holder has fainted, even during a short ceremony.
We used a tallis (prayer shawl) as our covering, which was simple, but also gave us an instant family heirloom. Our son was wrapped in the very same tallis for his bris, and one day maybe one of our children will use the tallis to get married under (it seems more likely than them wearing my wedding dress). However! If you’re not using a tallis for your covering, you can still use this same tutorial. You’ll need to attach loops to your covering to hook it on to the frame (a tallis comes with pre-made loops, bless it, pun intended). And if you’re using a heavier cover, like a quilt, you’ll want to use four additional poles to frame the top of your chuppah like so. (See our wedding arch tutorial for an up close look at how you can use zip ties to secure the poles together).
Now, with all that discussion out of the way, let’s discuss building the base (which involves creating four of the same bases that we created for this wedding arch).
A few tips from Michelle (our resident wedding designer) and David (my husband) who built this sucker, on making this as sturdy as possible:
- These silver buckets can be picked up at Home Depot on the cheap, so don’t worry about getting fancy.
- The stronger your poles are, the sturdier it will be. An alternative to birch poles (which I just sourced for you, so you don’t have to hunt them down like a crazy person, a la my life) are poles made for closets that can be found at Home Depot. PVC pipes, while cheaper, are not recommended as the support beams for this project, because they are too bendy. You also won’t want to use poles higher than eight feet tall (see, top heavy).
- Buy your poles FIRST then your PVC pipe pieces SECOND. This way, you will definitely know that the poles will fit into the PVC.
- It’s easier to buy short pieces of PVC that will easily fit in the buckets (can be found in the plumbing section) rather than long pieces that need to be cut down. If you can’t find short pieces to fit in the buckets, you can use a Dremel or a hack saw to cut through PVC pipe. Please don’t screw around with thinking you can cut this with a kitchen knife. You can put your eye out/lose a finger that way.
- Buy more cement than you think you’ll need. Each bucket will hold about twenty-five pounds of cement. Also, you are going to be tired of mixing cement. Keep going, persevere, even when your arm hurts from mixing. The buckets NEED all of that cement to be heavy enough to not fall over in the middle of your ceremony. Fill the silver buckets three inches from the top.
- The poles CAN be cemented right into the buckets, but they’ll be very hard to transport and store. The technique with the PVC pipe means you can strike your arch, and pack it away easily.
- The PVC pipe is invariably of a larger diameter than the pole. Wooden shims (or cardboard) are needed to stick into the PVC pipe when the pole is inserted to steady the pole into place. Otherwise, the poles won’t stand upright.
The end result ends up looking like this. (We covered our cement in decorative moss.) For this project you’ll (rather obviously) need four buckets and four poles to serve as your base.
Then, you’ll want to attach a hook to each of the four poles, put the poles in your stands, hook up your tallis (or other covering), and TA-DA! A beautiful and simple chuppah.
Quick Note: Even though we built this chuppah for our own wedding, I’ve dragged my feet for five years before writing this How To post because the chuppah is an important religious and cultural artifact. Since the symbolism of the chuppah—a sketch of a home the couple will build together—is so beautiful, it’s become popular to appropriate the chuppah in non-Jewishly-affiliated weddings. Cultural appropriation is a loaded and complex topic, best saved for its own discussion (let’s not dominate the comments with it). But! If you love the symbolism and are looking for a non-religious wedding canopy, we used the exact same chuppah base to build this best ever bohemian wedding arch, so start there for inspiration and instruction.