Introduction: Minimalist Bunk Bed

About: I'm just a guy that likes to make stuff.

I've got a growing family, and like most people we're always looking for better ways to use our space.

My two oldest boys share a room and wanted a bunk bed so they could spread out little, and I was happy to build them one. So I began looking at every bunk bed I could find for inspiration, but could not find a single design I liked.

So as typical, I started sketching out my own ideas trying to figure out a design that was sleek and minimalist, but still rock solid.

And this is what I came up with!

Despite the clean and simple look, this is an intermediate level project that is fairly complicated. However, I've made an effort to be as detailed and thorough as possible in this instructable, so ideally anyone with the necessary tools has all the information needed to reproduce this bunk bed.

If you end up making this and have any questions along the way, please ask!

Step 1: Features

The bunk bed is made from two identical platform-style, twin-size bed frames that can be used individually or together.

When used together, the bottom frame is inverted and sits flush on the ground, so no more lost toys, missing homework assignments, or junk shoved under the bed when it's time to clean up!

The overall height of the frame is only 40 inches and mattresses can be slid on and off easily if desired, so making up the beds is much easier for kids than it would be on a typical bunk bed frame.

The frame is made from a single sheet of 3/4" plywood, along with two boards that are used for the mattress platforms.

The total cost for all materials was $130.

Alright, let's do this!

Step 2: The Layout, and Some Words on Plywood

I began this project with no intention of trying to make a bunk bed frame from a single sheet of plywood. All I wanted to do was make a bunk bed that was sleek, simple-looking, and sturdy.

However, after sketching out several ideas I realized that with just a little tweaking, my basic plan could be squeezed into a single 48" by 96" sheet of 3/4" plywood.

So I fussed over the design and dimensions of the parts until I had the layout you see in Diagram 1.

The order of cuts is very important, as I had to take into account every bit of kerf loss and plan for which parts would absorb these losses. Due to this, the final measurements of the prepared pieces vary a bit from the layout, so it's important to follow the coming steps closely.

Regarding tools, this project could reasonably be done with just just a circular saw, along with some other basic tools, like drills, a router, and a sander.

However,if you have access to a table saw this will greatly increase the ease of precision and the likelihood of avoiding costly inaccuracies. If you've needed a great excuse to buy a table saw, this is it!

Some notes on plywood:

For the bed frame I recommend only using 3/4" thick plywood, and not MDF or any other type of sheet material.

I used a sheet of oak plywood which was purchased at my local Home Depot.

I generally avoid big box store plywood for making furniture because of its relatively low quality. It can be frustrating to work with, especially if you're not familiar with its characteristics. The outer veneers are paper-thin and prone to chipping, and the inner plies are made of pine that is and often full of voids.

I prefer using Baltic birch plywood, which is made of uniform layers of pure birch with no paper-thin outer veneers. However, since this material comes in 5" x 5" (1525 mm x 1525 mm) sheets, it was not an option for this project because of the long bed rails required.

So in this case I went with big box plywood, and was still quite pleased with the final results.

Step 3: Initial Cut

To make the sheet of plywood more manageable when we take it to the table saw, I recommend first cutting it into two pieces.

The best way to do this is to lay out several 2x4s on the floor to support the plywood, precisely mark the full cut line with a sharp pencil and straight edge, and make the cut with a circular saw.

See the notes in Diagram 2 for where to mark this line and on which side of the line to make the cut.

I used a thin kerf 24 tooth framing blade for this, and just cut along the line very carefully. The edges created by this initial cut will eventually be trimmed off later at the table saw.

Step 4: Rip the Strips

Use either a table saw or circular saw with an edge guide to rip the plywood into strips as shown in Diagram 3.

If you are using just a circular saw, I still recommend working inward from the outside factory milled edges, rather than working straight across the full width of the plywood sheet from one side to the other. (This will limit any perpetuating of inaccuracies to only halfway through the sheet of plywood.)

Step 5: Break Down Strips

At this point we should have ten 4" strips and two 3 1/4" strips.

The order of how these strips are broken down is important. For cross cuts I used a sled on my table saw. A miter saw would be great, or even a circular saw if done very carefully.

Refer to Diagram 4 and break down the strips as follows:

  1. Pieces A are cut 76" long.
  2. Pieces B and F are cut 38" long. The remaining pieces from each strip (the green box C pieces) are complete as they are, and will be very close to 19 3/4" long.
  3. The red box C pieces are trimmed to match the precise length of the green box C pieces.
  4. Pieces D are cut to match the length of the completed C pieces.
  5. Pieces E are cut 73" long.
  6. Pieces E and F are ripped in half lengthwise.
  7. A section of the remaining material from one of the 3 1/4" strips is used to make eight triangle blocks, with the right angle sides being 3 1/4" long. I used a band saw to make these cuts.

Step 6: Route the Edges

I recommend routing the edges of the pieces with a 3/8" round over bit. This can be done in a router table or by hand. Here is a list of the parts and how they should be routed:

  • Frame Sides (A): All four edges along the length of the strips, but not the end edges.
  • Frame Ends (B): Same as Frame Sides.
  • Leg Pieces (C): Route all edges except for one length along one face.
  • Leg Pieces (D): Route all edges except for two corresponding edges from each face along one length.
  • Platform Supports (E & F): Do not route.

Note: When the leg pieces are assembled, the narrower-width D pieces will butt against the wider C pieces. If you are concerned about potential differences in coloring of the wood faces (my plywood had distinct differently-colored faces), care should be taken at this point to ensure that routing is done with the final assembly orientation in mind. The assembly of the leg pieces is covered in Step 10.

Step 7: Prepare Notches in Support Pieces

The platform support pieces hold up the mattress platform boards, as well as strengthen and solidify the frame structure.

For each twin frame, two of the shorter and two of the longer platform support pieces need to be notched accordingly so they fit together as shown in photo 1 above.

Notches should be made a third of the way in from each end of the longer pieces, sized to fit notches created on the ends of the shorter pieces. Care should be taken so these pieces fit together snugly. See photos 2 and 3 above.

Carefully measure, mark, and cut out these notches. I recommend using a jig saw with a fine-toothed blade for this.

Step 8: Attach Platform Support Pieces to Frame Sides and Ends

The platform support pieces are now attached to the frame sides and ends.

I used copious amounts of wood glue along with 1 1/4" screws to attach these pieces together. I used 1 1/4" nail gun brads to tack the support pieces in place prior to pre-drilling, countersinking, and installing the screws.

Care must be taken so the support pieces are attached perfectly centered onto the frame sides and ends (so the frame can be used in either orientation with legs up or down with no difference). I used some scrap pieces to create the small jig shown in photo 4 above, which greatly assisted in spacing the support pieces the correct distance from the edges of the frame sides and ends.

Care must also be taken so the supports attached to the frame side pieces are precisely 1 1/2" in from the ends.

Step 9: Assemble Outer Frames

The outer section of the frames are assembled using wood glue and screws. I used 2 1/2" screws for this.

Prior to pre-drilling and countersinking the holes for the screws, glue was applied to both surfaces to be joined, and the pieces were tacked in place temporarily with nail gun brads.

On both of my frames, the final corners needed just a bit of coaxing to come together correctly. A pipe clamp was used to hold the pieces together in order to tack them in place, then the clamp was removed and screws were installed through pre-drilled holes, just as all previous corners.

Step 10: Install Platform Support Cross Braces

The notched platform support cross braces are now installed.

Apply wood glue to all mating surfaces, and install a single screw into a pre-drilled and countersunk hole as shown.

If there is a loose fit in any of the notches, you can glue in bits of thin material to tighten them up. I sanded down a tongue depressor and used a small piece of this in one of my notches (photo 2 above).

Step 11: Assemble Leg Structures

The leg pieces (C & D) are now assembled.

I used glue and pocket hole screws along with clamps to fasten the two leg pieces together. If you choose to do likewise, the pocket holes are drilled on the inside faces of the narrower D leg pieces, along the edges that were not routed.

To ensure that the two leg pieces are fastened together precisely, you will need to hold them in place firmly with strong clamps prior to installing the pocket screws.

The triangle pieces cut out earlier are fastened flush to the inside bottom of the leg assemblies using glue and nail gun brads. Note that for uniformity on the assembled bed frames, you need to fasten the triangles in place so two sets of four mirror-imaged leg assemblies are created (see photo 1 above).

Step 12: Finishing

There are three topics you should never bring up in polite company: religion, politics, and wood finishing.

If you want to discuss these things, that's fine. However, you must be ready to deal with strongly-held and vastly-varying opinions, flaring tempers, and the potential for the conversation to come to fisticuffs.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad. But then again, maybe it is.

Regardless, I'll just tell you what I did, and you can do whatever you want. How's that?

I first sanded everything with 220 grit sandpaper.

Then I applied an oil based stain, followed by several coats of semi-gloss lacquer spray. This was followed by a light hand sanding with 220 again, and then an application of paste wax.


No hurt feelings or bloodied faces? Success!

Step 13: Drill Bolt Holes

I used carriage bolts to attach the legs to the frames.

To drill the bolt holes as accurately as possible, I made a jig using some scrap materials, which could then be clamped in place and used as a guide.

I recommend using a backing block of some kind as well, so the drill bit makes a clean exit rather than blowing out the plywood on the backside of the hole (see photos 3 and 4 above).

I also recommend labeling all legs and corresponding corners, as there will still be minor differences in the drilled holes from one leg/corner to another (photo 5). Labeling ensures that perfectly lined up holes will always be matched up after dis-assembly for moving, etc.

However, note that these frames are narrow enough assembled that they can be moved around the house (up and down stairs, through doorways, etc.) without being disassembled.

Step 14: Fasten Legs to Frames

For a cleaner look, I chose to use 5/16" diameter 2 3/4" carriage bolts to fasten the legs to the frames. In conjunction with carriage bolts, I also used these no-spin pointy-toothed washer things.

The trick to seating the the no-spin washers inline perfectly with the bolt hole is to pound them in place with the bolt initially through the hole. When the teeth have sunk in about halfway, you remove the bolt and pound the washer down flush against the wood. Be sure to use a plastic mallet for this rather than a metal hammer.

With all the washers in place, bolt the legs to the frames. I used regular washers on the inside along with basic lock nuts (the kind with nylon inserts).

Step 15: Mattress Platform

For the mattress boards, I recommend using 5/8" particle board. It's cheap and works great.

Particle board gets a bad rap, but when used for certain applications in line with its strengths, it is by far the best option. It is hard and impact resistant on the faces, and consistently flat and completely uniform. And did I mention it's cheap?

I stacked two sheets of particle board on my sawhorses, measured and marked them, and cut them to the right dimensions. I then sanded away the sharp edges.

If desired, you can apply a basic finish like shellac to the faces of the boards that will be against the mattresses. This will allow the mattresses to slide on and off more easily, which we found is very beneficial when we're making up the beds. (We found that our mattresses would stick to the unfinished particle board like Velcro. While that might sound like a good thing, it made making up the top bed especially more difficult for our 11 year old. Now he can slide the mattress around a bit to get the sheets and blankets in place, and then just slide it all into position when he's done.)

Step 16: Attach Frames Together

To fasten the frames together, invert one frame and place the mattress board on the internal supports. Put the second frame on top of it, right side up.

Fasten each pair of legs together through the triangular pieces using a 1 1/4" screw, fastened into a pre-drilled and countersunk hole. I recommend using clamps to hold the legs in position as you pre-drill this hole.

Add some twin mattresses, and you are done!

Step 17: In Use

All other images of the bunk bed up to this point were "glamour shots."

Here's a shot of it in the wild. All things considered . . . this is pretty clean and tidy. Note the old stool being used rather than a homemade ladder, which wouldn't be that hard to throw together if needed.

Please be aware that toddlers probably shouldn't sleep on a top bunk, safety rails or not. The general rule I've always heard is that top bunks are okay for kids 6 and up. My kids were sleeping on top bunks much earlier, but that's your job as a parent to decide what's best for your kids.

I am quite proud of this bunk bed, and hope many people make one for their kids based on this instructable.

If you do make a bunk bed like this, I would love to see how yours turns out!