Hello fellow DIYers. I'm the DiscountCollegeStudent, but you can call me Disco Stu for short. As my name implies, I'm a college student, and I'm cheap. But don't assume that just because I said you can call me Disco Stu, that I like Disco.
// A quick intro - why I'm on this site, and what I'm looking to accomplish. Feel free to skip if you're bored by long-winded speeches //
I began college at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008, and halfway through my first semester, the economy collapsed. I struggled to make ends meet in the second semester, and after the school year finished, I withdrew due to financial constraints and moved back home to OC. I spent 2 years taking courses at the local community college in an effort to save money on my GE. College has always been expensive, and a relatively difficult time in a student's life, but it has gotten worse in recent years. If you graduated before 2007, consider yourself very lucky - no matter how much debt you may currently have or whatever worthless degree you may have gotten. If you're currently in college, or getting ready to go soon, cheer up - the worst has yet to come!
Because of the nature of today's economy, anyone right now, but especially college students, can truly appreciate a good bargain. I'm returning to Berkeley to finish up my degree in Computer Science, and have set out to further change my spending habits in an effort to stretch every dollar. I'll document my efforts on this site in hopes of helping my fellow college students, or anyone else, who may be looking to save a few bucks here and there.
I will try to post up about 2-3 major projects per year to try to give college DIYers a nifty way to save money, acquire something functional and useful, while also getting that DIY monkey off their backs. I'll also post mini-projects if I have any. This is the first project of the many I currently have planned.
// Ok, done rambling //
Back in 2008, I went to my local Wally Mart and got myself a nice futon. It was rolled tubular steel, had good welds, and came with a decent mattress, all for $100. Because of its size, I had to give it away to a friend when I moved. Now that I'm going back to college, I want to get another one. Unfortunately, current futon prices, much like Pet Rock prices, are plain ridiculous . However, unlike Pet Rocks, making a futon at home isn't as easy as some Elmer's glue and googly-eyes.
I searched all over the internet for a good set of Futon instructions. And by, "All over the internet," I mean the first page of Google. A lot of information is scattered here and there, and many of the whole project pages are old. Really old. Like, 1989 "I typed these instructions while playing a radical text-based MUD game..." old. Amazingly, I couldn't find a fully fleshed-out set of plans on Instructables for a proper futon. So I set out to change that.
I collected what I could, and aggregated it all here on this project page for your viewing pleasure. If you've wanted to build a futon all your life (pretty low life expectations, if I may say so), and you wanted proper instructions from someone who knew what they were doing, you're in the wrong place. My woodworking and metalworking skills are next to none. I only own 2 power tools: a B&D cordless drill and my trusty Dremel 300. What I do have, is a good set of basic hand tools, and a lot of patience. If you want to try this project out, I'd recommend you have the same. Being a beginner myself, my instructions, and my assumptions, will be written with the beginner DIYer in mind.
To qualify as a proper futon in my book, it must have:
- Comfortable cushions
- A complex-motion folding mechanism (ie. something more complex than a bi-fold hinge design).
- A sturdy frame.
- Modularity (the ability to be broken down for moving, repairing, replacing, or cleaning purposes)
Remember to use full safety gear, including, but not limited to, work gloves, eye protection, and face mask/respirator. I am not responsible for anything stupid you might do to yourself. If you do something brilliant in the process of building this futon, I claim all the intellectual property rights to it. Patent pending. All rights reserved. No take-backs.
If you're up for it, let's begin. If not, there's probably a rerun of the Simpsons on right now. If you're lucky, it'll be one that doesn't suck (but don't hold your breath).
Step 1: A brief description
If multipurpose furniture were Transformers, the futon would be Optimus: confident and understated; the sofa-bed would be Wreck-Gar: trashy and hyphenated.
In building this, we want a functional, sturdy (hopefully aesthetically pleasing), affordable piece of furniture that will last you at least through college with proper care. Most importantly, it must be comfortable. However, this is largely up to you. I can recommend the cushion materials and methods for making the cushion itself, but how they feel to you and what you are getting for your money will be independent of what I say or do. In other words, for comfort, you're on your own. Just use your best judgment, and if you want, experiment with other methods.
This is a low-profile, smaller futon. The futon frame will be approximately 23.5" high, 28" deep, and 80" long. If you include the seat, it will be ~34" deep and 42" high. As a bed, it will be 54" deep and 25.5" high.
The combined mattress is 54" x 72". This is slightly shorter than a standard full. The reason for this is that a standard sheet of plywood is only 48" wide, and 24 is a factor of both 48 and 72, thus, using six 24" x 27" cuts, we can get away with a single sheet of plywood. If we made it standard full, 54"x75", we would need two sheets of plywood to accommodate the dimensions we need (six 25" x 27" pieces). I realize that in reality, we won't get two 24" pieces from a 48" piece. Because of the saw, we'll end up with a 24" piece and a 23.75" piece or so. But, for our purposes, it's fine.
Cushion thickness will vary depending on the materials you use and how much you use, but expect around 4-5 inches of thickness with my method. For reference, my old futon had a 3" mattress and I had no trouble sleeping on it. The mattress itself will be split into 6 sections of 24" x 27" for modularity. The ability to remove small sections of the seat is very important to me, in case I need to clean it, or replace/repair it. Of course, you could make the mattress in however many pieces you wish.
The seat will be about 16" off the ground where your legs hang off. The armrest will be 23.5" high. In the bed position, the bottom of the mattress will be about 14" off the ground.
You could easily build this entire futon using bolts and screws reinforcing butt joints, but there would be a lot of visible hardware showing. In an effort to maximize aesthetics, I intentionally set out to build this with as few bolts, screws, or nails showing as possible. The best way to reduce the number of visible fasteners is to reduce the actual number of fasteners. Because of that, this futon is largely held together by mortise and tenon joints and hidden fasteners. As a matter of fact, almost every major joint load-bearing is a mortise and tenon joint. The only exceptions will be the long pieces of the frame, which are held together with a lap joint and reinforced with 2 bolts. Every other non-major joint will be a dowel inside a butt joint. The rear of the frame is reinforced with a few screws (a pocket-hole joint), but it is still fundamentally a mortise and tenon joint.
I lack the sewing skills necessary to make the cushion with a removable cover, so the covers in this project are stapled onto wood. If you have the know-how to make zippered covers, more power to you.
Although I used other sources as reference material, the designs specified on this project are my own. They were cobbled together after careful observation of dozens of other futons both in real life and in photographs and schematics. It is not a copy of a single design, but an amalgam of them all, with some simplified ideas of my own thrown in. I have tried my best to give credit where it's due, but if there is any dispute, feel free to contact me. However, don't pull an Apple on me an say I stole your rounded corners. It's a futon - they all fundamentally look the same.
This design is a first draft. I drew it up once, and have made no major modifications to it - much like my English essays. And, if it's anything else like my English essays, it'll be barely passable.