Bunk Beds! (and there was much rejoicing!)
(from wikipedia): A type of bed where one bed frame is stacked on top of another.
Like Minivans, the more children you have the better bunk beds start to look. And unless you are lucky enough to live in nice big house where everyone gets their own room, the ability to stack your children at night provides more floor space for things like desks, couches, and toys to trip over.
Unfortunately, bunk beds can be pretty pricey - putting them out of reach for most people. Worse than that, most of the production bunk bed frames on the market that I've seen are pretty flimsy - and I just couldn't justify spending $1,000 to have my kids spend 8 hours a night, 5 feet in the air, worried they were going to come crashing down every time they rolled over!
The good news is, you can pretty easily build a bunk bed that is rock solid, looks great, breaks down easily for moves, and is completely modular - and for only $125 - $200 in wood and supplies.
What do I mean by modular?
Once built, this bunk bed can be assembled as a traditional stacked, one-over-the-other bunk bed frame; as an L-shaped bunk bed, where the bottom bed is only half covered by the top bunk; or even as two separate beds sitting on the floor - all with minimal effort to change around once the pieces are built.
The only power tool you absolutely need is a drill, but having some kind of saw and a hand sander will make your life easier. I'll go over the materials in the next step.
I have 4 kids, and made two sets of bunk beds. There are some style differences in the two (see pictures above) but the one big lesson learned from one to the other was to incorporate that safety bar on the top bunk.
All of the instructions in the guide are for version 2 (with incorporated safety bar)
Step 1: Materials & Tools
2" x 6" Boards - 13 boards at 96"(8') long. These are used for the bulk of the frame. I used 2" x 6" boards - it will make the finished product rock solid, and I like the big chunky look they provide - but you could easily use 2" x 4" boards if you wanted; you would save about $1 - $2 per board; or up to $30 in total.
1" x 6" Boards - 8 boards at 96" long. These are used for the uprights on the head/foot boards. Plus 2 more boards for the mattress supports. $20.
2" x 2" Boards - 4 boards at 8' long. These are used to support the mattress. $6
4' x 8' sheet of 1/4" Plywood - Really important to use under the mattress IF IT IS A NEW MATTRESS. Otherwise 4 or 5 extra 1" x 4" boards will work fine. I'll explain the difference in a later step. If you are buying plywood for this project, spend the extra on a decent sheet and don't buy OBS or cheaper board - they are often sealed with a chemical bath that you really don't want your kids sleeping near. If in doubt, give the sheet the sniff test. If it smells like wood, it's probably good (give a sheet of OBS a sniff and you will know exactly what I mean.) ($35 - $45)
5" or 6" 5/16 Lag Bolts and Washers - 20. About $12.
1.5" Screws - Drywall or any other kind of screws you may have laying around. You will need a couple dozen. $3.
2" Finishing Nails (or Brad Nails) - You will need a lot of these, between 150 and 250. Used to hold the head and foot boards together. $7.
Wood Glue - For gluing... wood. $4.
5/16 Metal Doweling Rod - Used as a little extra support between the two beds. $3.
Sandpaper - This is dependent on the finish you are looking for. I put the time in to get a nice smooth, satin finish. This required the following sandpaper (I used a Dewalt palm sander): 1 package of 6, 60 grit; 1 package of 6 120 grit; 1 package of 6 220 grit - (about $15 in total)
Stain - 1 946 ml tin. Whatever shade suits your fancy. I chose 'Golden Oak'. You won't use the whole tin, but it's better than buying a smaller one and running out. (about $10)
Varathane - 1 946 ml tin. Comes in several finishes - I chose 'Satin' which is a low gloss finish. Don't skip this step; not only will it protect your hard work, it will also seal in the smell of the stain :) (about $12)
The more tools you have, the easier it is to work with wood. But, other than a decent drill, they are all pretty much optional.
Measuring tape - You could guess your measurements, but you'd end up with a Tim Burton looking bed.
Saw - Required: Hacksaw for the metal doweling (about $6 - $12 if you don't have one) Optional. If you don't have one of the following: table saw, skill saw, radial arm saw, jig saw, hand saw, beaver; ask the nice people at the lumber yard to pre-cut your wood for you. They will usually do this free of charge.
Router - Optional. I used a router along the long edges of all my boards to round the edges. If you want to skip this step, a little judicial use of sandpaper can achieve a similar effect.
Palm Sander - Optional, but recommended. There is a lot of wood used in bunk beds, and depending on the type of finish you want, there will probably be a lot of sanding. I you have forearms like Popeye, feel free to use a hand sander instead.
Drill - Needed to pre-drill holes through wood members. I assume that if you are considering building wood bunk beds, you likely have one of these already. Not optional.
Safety Glasses - Highly recommended if you don't enjoy eyes full of wood splinters and dust ($7 - $30 depending on how cool you want to look while working)
Dust Mask -Again, highly recommended while sanding. The dust from most types of wood is really not good for either your sinuses or your lungs ($6 for a pack of 3)
Nail (Brad) Gun - I used an air powered Brad Nailer with 2" brads, but you could use a hammer and finishing nails easily enough.
Paint Brush & Sponge - Stain is easier to apply with a sponge brush ($.99 or $1.99 for a pack of 3). Varathane is best applied with a good paint brush ($1.99)
A carpenters square, or quick square as well as some quick clamps will come in pretty handy also.
Total cost of project, assuming you don't have to buy any tools: $120 - $180
If you want to build an 'L' shaped bunk, you need to construct an additional head and foot board, and this will add approximately $25-$35 to the cost of the main project.
Step 2: Optional Step - Shape the Boards
I have included a few pics here for you to see the process - if you don't have a router, but still want rounded corners, just use some sandpaper to soften them up a little.
I router'd and even rough sanded many of the boards before cutting them down to size. This way, I could clamp the boards to the sawhorse while I worked.
Proper technique with a router includes even, flat pressure on the grips and move across the board in the opposite direction the bit is spinning. If you move with the bit, it becomes harder to control - a router has a very high RPM and the bit can jerk the router around if you aren't careful.
Step 3: Cutting the Boards to Size
Separate your 2x6's into 2 piles:
4 boards will become the mattress supports (the long horizontal side rails of the bed) and need to be cut to 75" (inches)
The remaining 2x6 boards need to be cut into 42 1/4" lengths. You should get 2 from each 8' board.
Using the scraps, cut 2 pieces of the 2x6 to the same width as the 1x6's, about 5 1/2".
Cut all 4 2x2's to the same length: 72" or 73". They will be attached to the inside of your long 2x6 side rail boards and your mattress supports will rest on these. The exact length isn't critical, they just need to be slightly shorter than your 75" 2x6 boards.
You will need:
12 boards @ 32 1/4"
4 boards @ 41 1/4"
You will also need to cut down your extra boards for mattress supports, they will run between the 2x6 bed side rails and rest on the 2x2's. These boards should be about 38" long. Depending on the type of mattress you have, you may or not need a piece of plywood
If you need a sheet of plywood under your mattress, cut to the size of your mattress, about 38"x73" should work inside the frame we are building.
* See step one, Materials list, for additional notes about selecting the right plywood.
How do you know if you need plywood?
You didn't know you were going to learn about the exciting world of mattresses when you started reading this Instructable did you? Mattresses cost a small fortune unless you have someone on the inside (the markup on a mattress is crazy) and you don't need to become an expert to have a good nights sleep, but a little knowledge can add years to the life of that expensive mattress you bought.
So, here's what you should know:
There are essentially 3 types of mattresses:
Spring Mattress - Traditional mattresses, and the type you likely think of if you think about mattresses at all, consist of a bound spring base wrapped in padding and fabric. Think: lots of coils, all tied together. It is getting harder and harder to even find this type of mattress anymore (at least here in Canada)
Pocket Coil Mattress - A number of years ago, mattress companies began innovating, and created the 'Pocket Coil'; a base of independent coils set inside a shell of dense foam and wrapped in padding and fabric. Think: lots of coils, each individually wrapped. These have become the standard lately.
Dense Foam Mattress - The newest in mattress technology is compressed, dense foam all the way through - no coils at all. It seems most mattress companies are moving to this style of mattress.
In 'the olde days' your parents would just throw a few wood boards under your mattress - it worked because the whole mattress frame was tied together and body weight is evenly distributed across the frame. Newer mattresses are designed to NOT distribute your weight, and don't even have a 'frame' anymore (think about those old commercials with the bowling ball dropped onto a mattress and NOT knocking over the bowling pins.)
The point here is, by throwing a few boards under your newer mattress you will only be supporting a small portion of the actual mattress and over time (a year or two) you will see significant sag in the unsupported areas. Both Pocket Coil and Dense Foam mattress need to be evenly supported on a flat surface.
You can do this with a box spring, but I find this is just overkill for a kids bed - new mattresses are very thick on their own, they cost a few hundred dollars on top of the cost of the mattress and they aren't really necessary. A sheet of plywood underneath provides the same support and costs less than $40.
Once everything is cut down, grab some 80 or 120 grit sand paper and give the edges a quick once over to get rid of any splinters - like my helpers are doing in the final picture above.
Step 4: Sanding Your Wood
Sanding - Your Guide to True Grit
40 Grit - Extra Coarse: Removal of surface imperfections and stripping
60 & 80 Grit - Coarse: Moderate removal and imperfection leveling
120 Grit - Medium: Light removal of surface and smoothing
180 Grit - Fine: For finish sanding
220 Grit - Very Fine: Preparing wood surface for stain and sealing
For this project, I wanted a smooth finish, so I used the following process on all of the boards:
Start with 40 grit and give the whole board a once over. Grind out edges, and lumberyard stamps (as seen on the board in my 'router action shot' above). Give any knots a little extra love with this grit to smooth out any cracks and imperfections. * If the lumberyard stamp has soaked into the wood too deeply to sand out without leaving a huge divot, you can try to bleach or clean it out. Check out this guide for more information. For this project, I think a little unevenness is okay, it gives the wood some character.
Once you have ground down the worst rough areas, move to an 80 grit and give the whole board another once over. Spend a little extra time grinding on the knots again.
Move to the 120 grit and give the whole board another once over. Spend a little extra time smoothing out the now slightly indented knots (this should be a barely visible indent).
Move to the 220 grit and finish up the boards. The 220 will give your boards a very smooth final finish.
It's time consuming, and probably took 4-6 hours to sand all the boards - but the finished product is great.
If you wanted something that was merely 'good' you could do a: 60 grit, 120 grit, 220 grit process. You may use more 220 grit sandpaper as it will have to work harder to get the job done, but it would take less time and you would still be happy with your boards while shaving off (or would that be sanding off?) a couple of hours work.
This step takes the most effort so once you are done all that sanding, go crack open a beer while everyone admires your wood.
Step 5: Staining
Wood has amazing character with all it's knots and whorls and growth lines. No two pieces are ever identical. So celebrate the awesomeness of nature with a nice, natural stain that will complement the wood you are working on.
As I mentioned in the Materials list, I went with a 'Golden Oak' coloured stain. Do NOT shake your can of stain - bubbles suck. Instead, get a stir stick and stir gently until the stain reaches a consistent colour (scraping the bottom of the can gently helps). Apply with a foam brush.
I believe good practice for staining is to apply several thin layers. I am too impatient for that and tend to put on a nice thick layer and letting it soak in whenever possible.
For these boards, that meant staining the top (top and bottom is arbitrary, whichever side is facing the ceiling when you start is the top) and sides of the boards in round one and letting them sit for several hours. Stain is applied thickly to the top, and thinly to the sides to prevent dripping. Apply with long strokes, with the wood grain and don't leave any pools.
For round two, I then flipped them over and stained the bottoms, and applied a second thin coat to the sides. This method will help hide any lines where you stopped/started a coat of stain.
If some of the stain dripped down on either round one or two, and left a mark, simply take your foam brush, apply a small amount of stain to it, and rub the marked area. This should spread the stain around and remove the mark left from the drip.
Also, don't forget the cut ends of the boards. They tend to soak up a lot of stain, so I apply a coat in both rounds and basically give it as much stain as it will absorb in a few minutes.
Once the boards have been stained, apply a couple of coats of Varathane to seal them. This will seal in the smell of the stain, and keep the wood looking fresh for many years.
Use water based Varathane. It dries quickly, cleans up easily and is simple to work with. Use a quality paintbrush to apply, and like the stain - DO NOT shake the can. Bubbles in Varathane really suck and affect the application in a significant way. Unless you WANT to do some more sanding, DO NOT SHAKE the can.
Gently stir the can with a stir stick and apply thinly. By the time you finish the second board, the first will be dry. So line up your boards (like in the second image above) and work your way across. Once you get to the last board, start flipping them over and apply to the a coat to the bottoms. Once you get to the end again, start flipping them back over to start applying the second coat.
On a nice dresser, or table, you would want to sand with a high grit sandpaper between coats of Varathane in order to get a really smooth finish. But the ends of this bed will act like a ladder for kids to get to the top bunk, so a little grit is actually a good thing and will prevent the ladder from being too slippery.
Two coats of Varathane is good. Three is better.
Also - having a nice bright light source (like the sun... or a light) pointing at your boards from an angle is really useful to see what you have Varathan'd and what you have missed. It is really difficult to see the Varathane when applying but it is very reflective when wet.
Step 6: Building the Frame
Throw some scrap wood down on the ground, so you don't scratch up your newly stained boards.
The head and foot boards for the 'bottom' bed are a little different than the head/foot boards for the top bunk because of the "don't fall out of bed" rail on the top bunk.
See pictures 1 through 3 above for this section.
Grab 4 1x6 uprights and 4 2x6 cross-pieces (42 1/2" pieces). Lay down 2 of your 1x4 uprights as a guide and then place your 4 2x6 boards across them to form a big wide ladder. See picture1.
Line the boards up with the edges of the 1x4's below and space them evenly. Make sure the 2x6's are flush with the tops and bottoms of the 1x6's.
Once everything is lined up, get out your wood glue and apply to the right edges of the four 2x6's - then take another 1x4 and lay it down on top of the glue - apply some pressure.
Once you have everything lined up again, hammer 3 or 4 finishing nails into through the glued areas. I have an air compressor and brad nailer which makes this job quick and easy, but a hammer and finishing nails works well enough too. Use 2" nails/brads. To ensure nothing shifts I suggest putting 1 nail through the top board, then line up the bottom board and put a nail through it. Then do any last minute adjustments to keep the frame square before banging in the rest of your nails.
Repeat down the left side of the 2x6's.
Flip the tacked frame over so the underside is now facing the ceiling. Repeat the procedure on both left and right sides again.
Once finished, you will have a one completed head/foot board ladder. Woot - you are 1 quarter of the way through this step!
Now grab 4 more 1x6 uprights and 4 more 2x6 cross-pieces and repeat all of the steps above to complete the ends of the bottom bunk.
The process is the same as the bottom bunk, but you will have the longer 1x6's on one side of the frame and an extra 2x6 piece. Lay your boards out as before - see picture 4 above for reference and to see the difference in the layout for the top bunk.
The process is the same as the bottom bunk. Layout the boards, line them up, glue, nail.
See picture 5 to see the finished frames.
Lay down your long 2x6 boards and set a piece of 2x2 on each. Apply a little glue and clamp them together. After pre-drilling holes (otherwise you can split the thinner 2x2) sink screws into the 2x2 every 8" or so.
Repeat for all 4 of the bed cross-pieces.
Step 7: Drilling
You will need to drill 4 holes in each piece. For the two bottom bunk end pieces, you will be drilling through the board that is 2nd from the bottom. For the 2 top bunk pieces, you will be drilling through the board that is 2nd from the top (not including the extra "do not fall out of bed" rail board). This will provide adequate headroom in the bottom bunk.
First step is to mark off where you will be drilling. You should drill your holes (the 2 holes on the same side) about 4.5" apart, measuring from the center of the holes. You need to leave at least 38 1/2" between the two cross-pieces, which means your holes will likely be closer to the outside of the 2x6's.
To get a clean hole, with no splintering, drill MOST of the way through the board from the top, then flip the board and finish the hole from the other side (see pictures 3 and 4.) You can do this more easily by marking off the drill distance on the bit before you start drilling (see picture 2 above)
- Try to drill as straight as possible. Holding a square can help - as per picture 3. A drill press would make this step easy, but the rest of us have to make due!
- Back the drill bit out when you are half way through. This will allow some of the wood dust to escape the hole, making it less likely that you will blow through the bottom. See my 'how to fix it' step at the end to learn how to fix splintering if this happens to you.
Drilling the Cross-Pieces
Since you drilled all of your holes on the head/foot boards at 4.5", add 2 marks to the ends of your long cross-pieces at the same distance (with 4.5" centers). and drill them out about 4" (you can mark your drill bit again for this) - see picture 6.
Tying the two beds together
Mark off your drill bit at 1.5" for this final drilling job. (picture 7) Then get your head/foot boards back out.
You are going to be sticking 3" pieces of that metal doweling between the two beds to keep them stuck together nice and tight. To do so, you will drill holes in the top ends of the bottom bunk, and the bottom ends of the top bunk - 4 pieces of metal doweling, 8 holes in total (see the final picture above.)
Drill all 8 holes 1.5" deep - try to keep the drill nice and straight.
Step 8: Some Assembly Required
First, construct the bottom bunk.
(see pictures 2 & 3)
Setup the two end pieces (the foot and head boards) and set two of the long cross-pieces on the ground between them. Either get someone to help you by holding one end up while you work, or prop the cross-piece on something that is about the same height as your drilled holes. The end pieces should stand up on their own.
Insert lagbolts, with washers, into all of the holes in the foot and head boards, line up the holes in the cross-pieces and start tightening your bolts, one at a time. It's best to leave them all a couple of turns loose until you have all the bolts in place, then go around and give them all a final couple of turns to tighten them up.
At this point, I stuck the mattress in, juuuuussssst to make sure it fit (not that I doubted it for a second...) Having your children climb up the ladder at this point is optional.
Stacking the Beds
First, take your metal doweling rod and cut off 4 3" pieces with a hacksaw. You can use a little of your left over sandpaper to gently scrub the cut ends to remove any metal burrs. Then hammer the pieces into the tops of the bottom bunk head and foot boards. (see picture 1)
You really should have at least 1 other set of hands for this. The wood is chunky, and that means heavy, and getting the holes for the metal doweling lined up just right can be a little tricky, so 1 adult on either end is the way to go.
Lift either the head of foot board for the top bunk and set it down on the metal doweling. This may take a little finagling if you didn't drill perfectly straight holes. Keep a hammer handy and don't hesitate to give the doweling a good whack in the right direction if they need a little encouragement.
Repeat for the other end piece and ensure you are putting the extra 'safety bar' piece on the same side of the bed for both ends! (see picture 4)
Once both ends are standing on the bottom bunk, get your 'helper' to hold up the cross bar while you insert lag bolts, line them up and tighten them. Repeat for the other side.
I recommend assembling this in the bedroom, as it is very unlikely to fit through the door assembled. I put the second bunk together in the garage because we are moving in a couple of weeks and won't be using it until then anyway.
That's it folks!
Step 9: Fixing Mistakes
In fact, I made a big one when I built my bunks by drilling some holes in the wrong spot (I drilled the holes for the cross bars too close together and the mattress wouldn't fit inside the frame - Doh!) - of course... it happened because I was busy thinking about how to write the instructable, and not paying enough attention to what I was actually doing.
Well, because I had to "fix 'er up", I thought I would add a section to help show you how to overcome some common 'oops' (this is absolutely NOT the word I used when I realized I had drilled holes in the wrong spots... but you know what I mean.)
See pictures 1, 2 and 3.
Preventing splintered holes is why I had you drill 'most' of the way through, then flip your boards over and finish drilling from the other side.
Even still, splintering can happen (I had to fix 2 splinters.)
When drilling through a wide expanse of wood, the sawdust can collect in the hole and create extra pressure as you drill. Backing the drill out of the hole periodically will help clear out some of the sawdust and relieve that pressure.
If you don't clear the extra sawdust, you have to push on your drill harder to keep it moving forward, and it becomes more difficult to stop on the line you drew on your drill bit, resulting in you splintering through the bottom of your board.
The easiest way to fix this, is hide it under another board. Look to see if you can make the splintered area the inside - if so, the cross-piece will be screwed on here and hide the splintering.
If not, (perhaps you splintered all over the place?) sand out the hole with a medium grit sandpaper - 150 grit will work - to get rid of the worst of the raw edges. You can sand as much or as little as you like, but remember, even on the outside this will be partially hidden by the washer.
Once smoothed out a little, dab on a little stain, and then Varathane once dry.
The Hole Was Supposed to Go Where?!?
See pictures 4, 5 & 6.
So ah, I drilled a couple of holes in the wrong spot.. just so I could show you how to fix them... yeah, that's what I did...
Okay, maybe I was busy thinking about taking pictures and writing this Instructable and not paying enough attention... either way, here's how you fix 'the hole that wasn't supposed to be'.
Get a piece of round wood doweling the same size as the hole - in this case, 5/16". It will cost you about $3.
Push the doweling through the hole until it just pokes out the other side. Tap gently with a hammer if it gets stuck half-way through.
Using a hack saw, cut the doweling down to size.
Sand gently until smooth and flush with the wood around it.
If there are any gaps, you can use some wood filler. Otherwise stain and Varathane.
If you run into any other issues, let me know in the comments and I can try to troubleshoot.