Why would you do this
When learning that I will be a dad, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to make the little guy his very first bed. Reasons why I think this is a good idea: 1. you can build a style that integrates into your bedroom or kidsroom, 2. selecting the materials yourself means you can make sure nothing potentially harmful is used. Price was not an advantage: While the materials sum up to about 200 Euros (~230 USD, depending on the sort of wood you use obviously), for which you easily buy a baby bed, the time spent on this project easily exceeded 50h.
How the design came about
Initially I wanted to go with solid wood for the whole thing. But I also don't like the usual design of wood poles for the sides/rails - I felt this open design is not "cosy" enough. I got inspiration from a very expensive (1000€) Scandinavian-designed crib that uses cut-out plywood instead, and decided to do something similar. While the pole-based rails look like a fence, this design is more like a wall with windows - I liked that idea. Using plywood on the side boards, I decided to at least use solid wood for the head and foot board.
Step 1: The Size of the Bed
There are usually two sizes out there: 120x60cm and 140x70cm. I decided to go with the smaller version. While of course the child will fit longer into a larger bed, this does not mean that it will want to sleep there - and I am already looking forward to build some sort racecar- or spaceship-shaped children bed when the time comes. So the baby-bed does not need to fit the child forever.
The decision here is safety-related. As soon as the baby can stand up, there needs to be at least 60cm between the mattress and the top end of the sides if you do not want your offspring to climb over it. I went for an overall height of 80 cm, which is safe and a nice height to lean on when standing in front of the bed.
Size: Easy mistakes
When buying and cutting material, always keep in mind that 120x60cm is the size of the mattress, so everything surrounding it need to be a bit larger: The side-boards need to be 120cm plus the thickness of the head walls (so about 124cm).
Step 2: Materials & Tools
I used birch plywood because of the bright colour. 15mm thickness gives good balance between stability (the sides should under no circumstance bend - the baby could get stuck between the mattress and the side board) and not looking too massive.
To contrast the plywood, I used alder wood for the head and foot sides. Since it was not possible to get more than 60cm width, I decided to build little foot extensions so the side boards do not "hang in the air", but rest on the extended head board. Choose a material you like, thickness needs to be at least 19mm, because large screws will go in there to hold the plywood sides. 80cmx60cm (2x) plus some spare material for the foot extensions.
Other stuff and tools
The bed is mainly made when you have the above, but you also need some insert nuts and screws to fix the sides to the head boards, and a rest for the slatted frame attached to the head sides. The slatted frame itself can be built as well, or bought (these are not expensive). You should use a slatted frame instead of a board to allow air to flow through the mattress. Tools: power jigsaw, plane, loads of sandpaper, 60mm hole saw, column drill (handheld works, too), wood glue, a japanese wood saw.
I went for wood oil, which can be bought as organic and child safe ("saliva-safe" / speichelsicher). The short sides got a bit of colouring (dark cherry oil) as well to match the rest of the room's interior. I found a vendor specialised in organic wood oils, message me if you need details. Keep in mind that the finished wood should have a week to completely dry out before placing your child in it.
Step 3: Short Sides: Frame Rest and Feet
I started doing the head boards. After planing the edges, I needed to attach some rest for the slatted frame that is at least 5cm thick. In the end I glued some plywood together to make this bar that thickens at the ends.
Since the head board is exactly as wide as the mattress (60cm), the feet on which the side boards will rest need to be glued on the outside of the head board. Of course the solid wood is thicker (19mm) than the side boards (15mm), but the 4mm leftover will be cut away later.
Step 4: Head Board Feet Cuts
My partner wanted a sloped cutout for the feet of the board to make the whole thing look less massive. At first was not sure how to get the curve right, but a makeshift template was the solution. Notice the strengthening in glued inside the feet - I did not want the feet to fall off when you push the bed somewhere.
Step 5: Side Board Cutouts
I attached a second layer of plywood to the top end, so it is nicer to grab. Cutting out the "windows" in the side board was by far the most time-consuming step. First, a word about the measures: It is said that the ideal distance between rails (normally: poles) is between 4.5 and 6.5 cm. It is important to respect this because otherwise heads might get stuck - and you do not want to explain to your partner why this happened with your self-built bed.
Then began the marking and cutting. Makeshift compasses helped to get a nice curve to the lower end cutouts. I used a 6cm hole saw so the width of the cutouts was given, and decided to make the rails with a width of 4.5cm. This resulted in 11 cutouts overall on each side.
Step 6: Cutting the Cutouts
With 11 cutouts on to side boards, I ended up with an overall of 44 holes. Remember to never cut through the wood in one go! Always go a bit more than half and then cut from the over side to avoid the plywood's top layer to tear out. So, actually 88 cuts - yay.
After that, everything between the two holes must go. I used a padsaw to start the cut, but as soon as there was enough room for the Japanese wood saw, I finished the cut with this. With the Japanese saw, it is very easy to make long and straight cuts.
Step 7: Final Cutting and Screwing Together
Using clamps, I put everything together to mark the overlaps. Note that the wood of the feet (19mm solid) is thicker than the side boards (15mm plywood). This is one of the parts where the Japanese saw comes in handy: just leave the side boards on and cut away the overlap.
Drilling the holes for the screws to go in (I used 10mm insert nuts and stainless steel screws, M5) leaves all wooden parts ready for sanding and finish. Notice the board on which the hole thing stands? Yep, that was supposed to be a side board, but I screwed up.
Step 8: Bonus: Adjustable Height
I was wondering if something useful can be made with the hole cutouts. I then figured if I glue them together, they would fit perfectly in the sideboard-cutouts. They make quite stable rests for the slatted frame, and since the cutouts start at different heights, there is even some room for adjustment. Lifting the little one in and out of the bed, your back will thank you for the raised mattress.
Step 9: There You Go
Before finishing, it is important to sand every part as much as you can to make all surfaces smooth. No bits of wood should come loose (choking hazard) or stick out in any way (skin injuries). I went over the parts with 120 sand, then 180 sand, oiled, and sanded again with 240 paper. It is a lot of surface, but the smooth result is worth the effort.
Like most projects, this took longer than I thought in the beginning. And I learned a lot, like how to destroy plywood-surface by sanding against the figure of the wood rather than with it. And of course: measure twice, cut once.
Complete list of materials
- 2 sheets of 15mm plywood 130x70cm
- 2 solid wood boards 19mm 80x60cm
- solid wood for the feet, 4 x 10x8cm
- additional plywood for the top end of the side boards and the frame rest
- if you want, material to build your own slatted frame. Use pinewood bars, not more than 10cm between them
- loads of sandpaper (120, 180, 240)
- wood glue
- 8x insert nuts and matching screws
- child-safe oil for finishing
- 60mm hole saw
- power jigsaw
- japanese saw
- power / column drill