Introduction: Upcycled Oak King Headboard

About: I work as a Environmental Health and Safety specialist for Clark Reliance. Most of the guys there don't think I would know how to use a hammer. Sometimes, people are more than what they appear. :)

My wife has been asking for a headboard for our bed for about 2 years. We upgraded to a king size bed and the queen headboard just won't work. At the time when we purchased the bed, we also couldn't afford to drop $500 on a solid wood headboard. So I made a promise I would build her one. I just didn't give a time frame. I probably said Tuesday but not which Tuesday.

Just recently, a local store was going out of business and all fixtures were for sale. I bought a couple of wooden towers they had as part of a large display a week before the final closing day. They were marked all the way down to 10 dollars each to just get rid of them. The towers had to be torn down and taken completely apart to get them out of the store as they were basically 10 foot tall by 4 foot wide and 4 foot deep. 2 and a half hours later, all pieces were unscrewed, unbolted, un nailed, and biscuit joints broken apart. Finally, they were loaded into my truck and the project began. Well that's not completely true. The pieces sat in our living room and dining room and basement workshop for 2 weeks until I finally got them all put away and then the project began. Something about my kid not being able to get to a harry potter dvd that was trapped by 10 foot tall posts made the process speed along a bit or I definitely would of had lumber in my living room for months.

I spent a total of about $40 on this headboard, less really because I have left overs of the stuff bought.

Wooden tower - $10 I only used one of the two towers for the build

Dark Oak stain - $10 . I used less than 1/4 of the can of stain

Poly clear coat - $13 Still have 1/3 left

Nitrile Gloves - $3 I used maybe 12 gloves

Screws - $2 - 16 screws

Sand paper - $5 4 pieces of 80 grit, 1 sanding block.

I have stain, clear coat, sand paper, and a bunch of wood left over. I could easily make the foot board and some custom side rails without adding another penny to the cost, just time and effort. Maybe that will be a later project.

And the best part is I was able to upcycle some lumber that was destined for a landfill just 2 days later if no one bought it and saw the value of the lumber there. Or maybe the best part is my wife finally got a hand made headboard..... you decide.


Reclaimed oak towers - 20 dollars for both from a closing World Market store

Stain - Minwax Dark Walnut

Clear coat - Minwax wipe on poly

Hardware to attach the frame to the headboard - I re-used hex head bolts from the towers


Miter saw

Table saw


Drill Press

Hand Drill

Kreg pocket hole drill bit


Hand scraper - carbide tipped

Tape measure

Pin nailer and air compressor

Marking devices - pen, marker, and knife

Rags to apply sealer/ stain

Hex key wrench to tighten hardware

Step 1: Creating a Plan

When I went to the closing store, I found the towers and thought they may work for what I wanted to build. I looked closely at how they were assembled and took some notes. I purchased some grids for my basement tool storage and went home to get a tape measure and the tools.

I made a simple drawing of what I wanted and got my wife to approve the design. This is super important. You should also ask what color she wanted it, because that apparently is important too, as you will see later. I went back, purchased the towers and set to work.

My design then went through some changes. Originally when I drew out what I wanted, I planned to use the plywood from the shelves on the towers. I found out it wasn't ply, but oak faced compressed MDF, which wouldn't hold up over time, so I changed the design to not include panels, but slats.

I made sure the headboard design would fit on my bed frame. The frame is 77 inches wide so my total headboard length will be 80 inches. Since the bed is going in front of a picture window in our bedroom, I wanted it to not be too tall but instead opted for a lower profile. That meant the corner posts were 42 inches but the center was only 36, leaving the majority of the window exposed. I mean hey, the view of the river is nice and I don't want to cover that up.

Step 2: Cutting the Tower Down to Size.

The sides of the towers were 10 feet tall. I need 42 inch uprights for the corner posts, and one 36 inch piece for the center. The issue with the posts are that they have unusable spots due to the metal brackets that were held in place with lag bolts, the sections where the biscuit joints were for the shelves, and any other spot they drove screws in to hold up store signage.

I cut a bunch of sections of the posts out that had previous hardware damage and holes, and kept the clear sections for my build. I screwed up a couple cuts due to a biscuit joint causing the board to be uneven and me not noticing in time when I cut it. Luckily I have some extra to work with. The cut down posts were going to be used for not only my corners and center post, but also the top and bottom rails for my slats to fit into.

I was then able to use the side angle bracing for the wood slats. The braces were 60 inches each. Each slat needed to be 28 3/4 inches long but the end 3 inches would be hidden. This allowed me to cut one brace in half and make 2 slats and not worry about the pocket holes that were in in the ends of the braces as you would never see them.

I also needed some end caps for the tops of the posts. I cut some square sections out of some of the cut off pieces from the tower posts to make sure the wood was the exact same. Same grain lines and density so they should stain very similar.

All of the wood for this build is coming from the towers and I have a ton left over for other projects. I used about 1/3rd of the total wood from the towers in this build.

Step 3: Thinning and Notching the Rails

The original posts are too thick for my liking and the look i wanted for the bed on anything other than the corner posts. I wanted the center rails to be the same thickness as the corners, but I wanted a thinner look. I measured the thickness of the boards that made up the post, and the thickness of the center slats I was going to use, and subtracted that from the total width of the post. That left me taking out basically 3/4 of an inch of wood. This would leave a pocket in the center the exact width of the slats so they would hold fairly tight.

I got some scrap pieces of the post and cut it down the center and didn't like how the seam would be on the top edge of the bed. I then offset the cuts so there wasn't a center seam. This left me with a 2 part, hollow rail that was as wide as the corner posts but thinner. Now I needed to cut slots into one side so the slats would fit up inside.

I measured and drew the cut outs and the in-between no cut sections to ensure my original drawings and math were correct. Remember, measure twice, cut once. This left 3 1/4 inches between slats with a 3 inch cut out for each individual slat. I had to do this 4 times accurately to make sure the top and bottom would line up, and the left and right sides would be exactly the same. To do this, I set a fence on the table saw to the edge of my first cut on each slot. I only marked the first board, the rest would be based off this first one. I then ran all 4 boards to this fence length. Next I set the second cut and did the same thing, all 4 the exact same. Now it was just cut out the center of those lines. 20 times through the blade and then running it side to side to clean it up. Now just repeat that for 4 more slats per board (20 total slots for slats). Now all 4 boards were cut with the exact same slots.

At this point, I had to router the edges on two sides as the tower was square on two corners and rounded on the others two for each post. I made all 4 corners rounded the exact same with a 1/4 inch round over bit.

Step 4: Wife Design Approval, Rejection, and a Paint Color Change.

So after I received the initial approval of the design, I set to work for several hours cutting out the best sections of the posts and slats so I would have minimal touch ups to do when I was done. I dry assembled one half section, clamped it together and brought it upstairs to show my wife. She loved the design but then......She wanted it changed, I mean completely changing all surface area.

She decided that it was just too purple red for her taste and the color needed drastically reworked into a deep brown. This meant I would need to remove multiple layers of a clear coat, then sand all the old stain off the surface, then prep the wood, re-stain in a deeper color, stain a second time for color richness, and then clear coat at least twice, probably 5 times, on each and every surface. So I contacted a marriage therapist.... kidding.

Lucky for me, I had not glued anything up or this would be harder yet. I also had another thing going for me. The original stain was sprayed on as a quick drying coat so it didn't penetrate too far into the wood. To start the whole process, I had to scrape the clear coat off as it gummed up the sand paper in an instant. I ruined a sanding sponge in less than a minute when I tried to get just a small spot sanded and test stained. So, I got out my trusty carbide tipped scraper and took the clear finish off. This is tricky though because if you angle the scraper, you gouge the wood leaving a hard line, chunk missing, or chipped up area and ruin the chances of a new finish. I think I only did that once or maybe 2 times. Fine is was 7. I will call that line, chunk and gouge character, or distressing the piece.

Once all of the clear coat was off, I used 80 grit paper on a hand sander and cleaned off all the remaining stain on each surface of each board. I did this over 3 days. My forearms hurt and my fingers were numb from the vibration even with wearing anti vibration gloves. So I worked on it for a few hours a day until all the scraping and sanding was done.

Step 5: Stain and Clear Finish Coats

I didn't want to do the whole "this is the wrong color" thing again. So I tried several different stains on scrap boards to come up with the correct color on try 2. I went with Minwax Dark Walnut. Why? Because the remaining Jacobean stain I had from Minwax isn't made anymore and I didn't think i had enough in the can from past projects to finish the whole headboard. Plus the dark walnut isn't too far off from what I was going for.

Prep work is just as important if not way more important than the actual job of painting/staining. I went back over each board and hand sanded with a 180 grit fine sanding block to make sure I don't have raised grain and rough edges. Any residual dust was then cleaned off with a dust cloth. The boards were then stained by hand rubbing in stain with a simple cotton cloth. Once dried for 15 minutes, each board was lightly rubbed down with a clean cloth which removes the excess stain that didn't soak in. After this you have to leave them alone which is super hard for me. I just want to touch all the things. The boards are not sanded between coats as recommended on the Minwax can. Each board was stained a second time about 2 hours later to get a deeper rich color, repeating the soak in process and excess wipe down. Now the second coat remained tacky in just a few spots. This meant I had applied it just slightly too heavy or basically I didn't clean enough off after the 15 minute soak in time. To fix this, you can do one of two things. You can apply another light coat which will dissolve the tacky stain and wipe it down again. Or you can apply a light buffing of xylene which clears off any undried tacky stain and leaves a clean surface. I did this even though I knew it would lighten it just a hair. Minwax isn't supposed to be a surface sitting stain and I had too much on it which is why it was tacky.

For the finish, I did not want to spray this piece because I have an unventilated shop and it is too cold to spray outside. Plus spray looks too thick. But I still need to protect it so the finish lasts for years. I used a clear coat by Minwax called wipe on poly. This puts a thin layer of poly on each surface without bubbles or thick build up in low areas for a hand rubbed look, which is exactly what it is. This was the finish I wanted. As I want the finish to last and it goes on so thin, I put on 2 coats before I assembled it, and one after. The can recommends at least 2.

Step 6: Hidden Brackets and Mounting Bolts

The attachment points for the rails to the posts were my main concern on stability. I didn't want end grain attaching straight to the posts or the glue would never hold. As soon as a small child climbs on the frame it would break the joint. To solve this, I made some small pieces to be screwed and glued to the posts and slip into the rail ends.

I started out making 4 and drilled through them with a counter sink bit. It wasn't deep enough, so I drilled it further with a Kreg jig bit. I started the screws. All 4 cracked because I am an idiot and was drilling with the grain, not through it. So I made 4 more and drilled cross grain. No more splitting. I put them in the top pockets of each rail and noticed that I am again an idiot as I needed 4 for the top and 4 for the bottom. So I made another 4 having 8 total.

To attach these, I started with the center post as I knew how far down I wanted the rail to be. I measured and centered the bracket. I screwed the tip of the screw just a tiny bit past the bracket and held it in place over the post. I hit it with a rubber mallet to mark the wood below with the screw tips. Then I used my tapered drill bit from the counter sink bit to drill those marks so the screws would go in easy and not split the wood. I lightly sanded under the bracket location before adding glue to help with max adhesion. This was repeated 8 times. As there are 8 total, it should have only been repeated 7 times. The first one I put together was off by 1/8th of an inch and didn't fit so I had to take out the screws and move it and try again. All dimensions for height were based off the very first bracket so they were all the same.

I wanted to add mounting bolts and receivers for the corner posts instead of just screwing it to the frame with random drywall screws and holes. I measured the height of the mounting slots on my metal bed frame, 6 and 8.5 inches. I drilled holes for each receiver. I then had to get them mounted to the post. I held them with a magnet and screwed in the hex bolt from the outside of the post. I then used a crow bar to pull up on the receiver bolt to lock them into place with friction as I made the hole just big enough to hold them. I then had to make a thin spacer as the bolts were a bit longer than they needed to be. I would add the oak spacer when the bed frame was mounted.

Step 7: Assembly and Final Finishing Plus Some Thoughts

Once the hidden brackets were in place, I worked on dry fitting everything to make sure they fit together. Once I was sure they fit right, I applied glue and re-assembled. 2 pin nails per side on each bracket were added to hold the sides in place until the glue dried.

Once the two sections of rails and slats were created, I attached them to the center post and then the corner posts. I got a phone call while mounting the last corner post. I was distracted. I attached the post upside down. So guess what, I got to hammer it out of place flip it over, and mount it again. But hey, mistakes happen and failures are ok. You can fix them and learn from your mistakes to get better with each project.

I finished up the headboard and mounted it to our bed. I should have made the holes a little closer together for the bed frame attachments. I made them just barely able to fit. A 1/2 inch offset to center would have made my life so much easier as I had to pull and push and sweat and not mumble under my breath for 15 minutes to get all 4 bolts in.

My wife loves the headboard and loves even more that I made it. I am glad I made the color change. She was right, as always. It needed to be a dark yet more natural color showing the grain of the wood. It looks great and is a wonderful addition to our bed. Although it took me two years to decide to finally make it, I am glad I made it from the store display tower as it set my starting dimensions for the corner posts and that made the whole design. Plus who doesn't love using old things and making them new again?

I am going to enter this into the trash to treasure contest. If you like it, maybe vote for it. If you don't, well have a wonderful day anyway.

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