Introduction: Dresser Platform Bed From Scratch
Second Prize in the
Living Without Closets Contest
My wife and I are moving into the city for school and work, and we found a great apartment. The only problem is that our new bedroom has no closets. We had some time on our hands and a shop where we could work in temporarily, so we decided to build furniture that would help us out. What we came up with for our bedroom is “The Dresser Bed.”
The theory is pretty simple. Two low, long dressers under the bed, with bookshelves at the end for further storage. Also, we planned an area under the bed between the dressers that we could make long-term storage.
I had never built dressers from scratch before, and I have to say it was more difficult than I had anticipated. It takes a lot of wood and a lot of work, but the result is attractive, functional furniture that we will use for years.
Materials for Project
· 3 sheets ¾“ plywood (all sheets were 4’ by 8’)
· 1 sheet ½“ plywood
· 2.5 sheets ¼“ plywood
· 1 2x4
· Titebond III wood glue
· Kreg Jig with associated screws/clamps
· Wood putty
· Plastic drawer runner replacement kit (6 kits of 2 each)
· Table saw
· Jig Saw
· Miter Saw
· Framing square
Step 1: Dresser Frame
Based on your desired bed size, you need to first calculate the dimensions of your dressers. We received a hand-me-down full sized mattress, so we decided to make a flexible design that would work with either a full or queen sized mattress. We settled on a 65”x20” dresser top, which we would set 18” apart. Then bookshelves on the end would make it long enough for a mattress. Before cutting any wood, I used a free google sketch up program to design a front and back panel to use for reference dimensions. On the back panel of the frame I had two 3” vertical boards for securing the runners, and I recessed the frame ¼” into the dresser so that ¼” backing would sit flush. Another important forethought on the back panel was 1-1/4” deep, ¾” wide grooves along the top edge. These grooves allow cross pieces to span the 18” gap between the dressers to hold slats which will support the mattress. I made three equally spaced grooves, but if I were doing it again, I would make four grooves and have the outside ones at each end of the dresser, for added mattress support.
I measured all of the pieces off the google sketch up model, planned the most efficient use of our ¾” plywood sheets, and cut out our pieces. While we were using the table saw and cutting ¾” pieces, we also cut out our two dresser tops and set them aside. After cutting out all of the frame/side pieces and laying them out, we marked where we would use the kreg jig at each joint including holes for attaching the dresser top. We used the kreg jig to drill pocket holes where we marked and glued/screwed the front frame and back frame. Getting the front panel to be square and in plane is very important. One thing that helped us was making a piece of ¾” plywood that was the exact height our drawer spaces would be, so when we were screwing them together we used the spacer to make them all the correct height.
After giving the front/back frames time to dry, we assembled the basic rectangular shape of the dressers by drilling counter-sunk pilot holes and screwing them together with the addition of wood glue.
For reference, the pieces between the drawers vertically are 1” wide, and piece between the two columns is 1-3/4”. We left a 2-1/2” border on the top and 3” on the bottom.
Step 2: Drawers
Drawers were a little daunting at first, but after figuring out the design and style we wanted, I had a lot of fun making them. The face and sides of our drawer are cut out of ¾” plywood. The backs are ½” and the bottoms are ¼”. After determining the dimensions of all of our pieces, we cut them all to size using the table saw.
Faces: 28-3/8” by 7-3/8”
Sides: 6-5/8” by 15-3/4”
Back: 6-5/8” by 27-3/8”
We designed it so that there would be 1/8” gap on each side of the drawer when it goes into the drawer space. The face overhangs the drawer opening by ¼” on the top and the bottom and 3/8” on the sides.
We used a dado blade on the table saw set to 1/4 “ width to cut a ¼ “ deep groove 11/16” above the bottom edge of our drawer sides and back. On the face piece, we cut the groove 1” from the bottom, so that the face would be centered over the frame opening when the drawers are closed. If you don’t have a dado blade, you can do the same thing with multiple cuts on the table saw blade. To accommodate the drawer slides that we will talk more about in the next step, we cut a 2 “ gap centered on our back pieces that extended up to the cut groove. Next we used the router to round all the edges of our drawer faces.
To assemble the drawers, we cut a spacer to the exact dimension of the inside of our drawers and cut 2 small ½” spacers, which is how much the face of our drawers overhang the drawer sides. We used a nail gun with 1.5” brad nails and wood glue at all the surfaces to hold the drawers together. To assemble each drawer, we laid the face of a drawer down on the table, put the sides into position, slid the bottom piece into the grooves, and put the long spacer between the sides and the short spacers on the outside of the sides. Then we used a long clamp to hold the whole assembly onto the face of the drawer. This centered our side pieces in relation to the face and the groove for the bottom aligned the pieces vertically. Since the clamp held the pieces together, we laid the drawer backwards and used a nail gun to nail through the face of the drawer into the side pieces. Then we laid the drawer back on the face, removed the clamp and used glue and nails to attach the back piece in place. After constructing all of our drawers, we gave the glue time to set.
Step 3: Drawer Runners
We bought plastic drawer runner replacement kits for 12 drawers from Lowes. We bought them in the biggest size so that we could make wooden runners. We ripped a 2 by 4 in half and then ripped the dimensions to 1-1/16” by 1-5/8” by 16-3/4”. Using the dado blade, we put ¼” grooves into each piece to create a t-shaped runner. After cutting each wood runner, we slid the plastic drawer runner piece over it to make sure it was a smooth fit. We screwed our plastic pieces onto the backs of all of our drawers and then installed our wood runners into our dresser frame. To install the runners, we re-trimmed each piece to fit exactly in the desired position. After marking the center of the drawer space, we put glue on the front and back end, centered the piece and used a nail gun to attach the front end. Then I moved to the back to hold up the runner, while my wife put in the drawer and leveled it. We adjusted the back of the runner so that the front of the drawer was flush against the frame. When we thought the drawer looked level and flush, I nailed in the back piece. As we went, we left each drawer in place to make sure the faces were parallel. We also labelled each drawer to ensure it could be matched back to its custom fit spot.
Step 4: Installing Dresser Top and Trim
To start installing the dresser tops, we first routed our tops with the same bit we used for the drawers. Next we removed all of the drawers from the dresser and set the top onto the frame. For our design, the top overhangs the frame 1.5” on the front and sides and ¾” on the back. We marked the top when we had it in place, removed it, and put glue on the joints. Then we clamped the top down and screwed it into place using the existing pocket holes we made using the kreg jig earlier.
We didn’t buy any trim for this project, so we made our own with some old wood laying around. We routed one edge with a fancy looking bit, then ripped it so we got a 1-1/4” wide long strip. We made four long strips, used the miter saw to cut 45 degree angles for the corners, and nailed them under the top overhang.
Then I cut out ¼” backing and nailed it into the back of the dresser. With that, I was structurally finished!
Step 5: Drawer Handles
My wife and I picked up some great simple hardware from a surplus store for $0.10 each! We drilled the holes for them before we painted and could hardly wait to see them on our dressers.
In order to drill the holes in a centered and repeatable way, I made a little jig to do the job. As you can see in the photo, all I had to do in each drawer was line up the side pieces with the sides of the drawer and clamp it in place, then I could drill the holes in the same place on every drawer. We also countersunk the back of the drawer face so the bolts would sit flush.
Step 6: Bookshelves
The bookshelves were much easier to build than the dressers. Since our total bed platform width was 58”, we decided to make two 29” wide bookshelves. That way, we can slide one out of the way to get into the long-term storage, and they are easier to transport. We decided we wanted them to be 15” deep, which would make the whole assembly long enough for a queen size mattress. We didn’t mind that the full size mattress we have would leave a ledge on the top of the bookshelves.
Board sizes – We cut out two sets of the following, from ¾” plywood:
Top = 28.75”x15” (1)
Shelves = 27.75” x 15” (2)
And a 28.75x28.75 piece of ¼ plywood for backing.
We chose our shelf height based on some big tin cans that we were going to use for storage on the bottom shelf, but you could make the shelf at any level. We found the dado blade to be very useful, because we just cut ¾” wide grooves ¼” deep at the bottom and at the shelf height. That made the assembly very easy.
We assembled the shelf dry (without glue) face down on the workbench, then glued and screwed the top onto the sides (remembering the countersunk pilot hole to avoid splitting). Then we did the same for the bottom shelf. We found that our middle shelf was so snug in its groove that we just put in some screws instead of forcing it out to use glue.
Then we nailed the backing onto the back of the shelf and were finished!
Step 7: Putty, Sanding, Painting
Building the dressers and shelves was the most fun part, but sanding and painting was what made them look so good. Since we used plywood, we had a lot of holes and imperfections to putty, especially around the routed areas. After letting the putty set, we sanded everywhere carefully. How much you sand is up to you, and at some point you have to declare it enough and get on with the project.
We found an old white paint to use as a primer, then did two coats of a “Cathedral Gray” Behr paint, because we might have to move apartments a few times in the next four years. We figured that a nice gray would go with any paint color.
Step 8: Assemble and Enjoy!
We were very excited when we put all the pieces together and everything worked like we had planned. The night before we moved we cut out the 1-1/4” support cross pieces and some slats to hold up the mattress, and it only took 3 minutes to assemble everything and set the mattress on top. We are very pleased with the amount of storage this allows in our closet-less apartment. As you can see, all of our camping gear fits between the dressers with room to spare!
For those of you who have limited tools, time, or budget, an alternative way to accomplish a similar set up would be to only build shelves. What I would do is buy any old dresser that you can find and refinish it to whatever color you would want (there are plenty of refinishing instructables), and then build shelves for the other side of the bed and the foot of the bed. That way, you would only need to build shelves, but you would get a dresser on one side and accomplish the same look.
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