French Style Bed (Roubo)




Introduction: French Style Bed (Roubo)

About: I'm an atheist tatooed soundman and woodworker. I also have qualities...

A bit of history,

My store bought bed broke after years of use (I'm a passionate man) and moving so I decided to build one based on Andre-Jacob Roubo's (1739-1791) L'Art du Menuisier (The Art Of The Wood Worker), a massive 1 300+ page book with 400 plates of scaled drawings that he took 14 years to create which comprise of geometry, doors, windows, moulding, auto body (think Cinderella's chariot), parquetry, marquetry and every piece of furniture you can think of!

The book is public domain (in french only, Lost Art Press is working on a translation if I am not mistaken). Since it's my native tongue, this was not a problem but to help me with decoding the drawings, I used Lost Art Press ''The Book Of Plates'', a magnificent book of all Roubo's plates scanned in high quality and to the original size. It's a must have for serious wood workers. The bed in question is in vol.3 and refers to plates 242-243.

It is the ''French Style Bed'' or ''Duchess bed'' as it was also called, now I'm not building a historical reproduction by any means, I modified and adapted a few things like Norm Abram would do on ''The New Yankee Workshop'', so it's not 100% historically acurate, but still, I think it's pretty damn close.

Step 1: The Bed

Roubo describes 2 types of french beds, one with wood lattices and one with straps. He prefers the straps as he says it makes the bed softer, but with modern matresses which are plenty comfortable I opted for the lattice one as I think it will be sturdier.

He describes it like this:'' It is to be prefered (the lattice bed) for the common people because they are less expensive and less likely to house bed bugs which no matter how carefull you are will be nearly inevitable in rented housings, more so if they are old.'' I rent an old house so it's perfect!

Of the wood he says:'' Generally the beds are made of oak or beech wood but the first is prefered (...) they can also be made of walnut when they have the qualities I ask for of oak (...) Which is to be prefered and would be used more in this country if it wasn't so expensive.'' Some things don't change in 225 years and both my wallet and I agree to go with red oak because the price of walnut is just too damn high!

Of the sizes:'' Beds are usually 6' long and 4' wide to accomodate 2 people but those seeking more comfort make them 4 1/2' to 5' wide. The beds of the great Lords are 5' to 7' wide and 7' to 8' long, not that it is necessary for them (...) but for the size of their beds to fit in relation to their rooms.'' I have a queen size matress (5' x 6' 5/8'') so not quite Lordily but it'll do.

Step 2: Jig

Before starting the building process I need to make some jigs to make it easier on myself.

First is the headboard, I modified the design in the first illustration because when mirrored the top looks like a camel's back and my girlfriend didn't want that so I came up with the design in the other photos.

Then I made the foot board, Roubo mentions only in passing that some beds have foot boards and provides no drawings for them so I made one inspired by the head board.

I also made a jig for the feet, at the shop with have an automated lathe with a copier so I made a jig which will turn the 4 feet at once.

Step 3: Color

I did some color and finish tests, the winner is Black Walnut dye with 3 coats of Garnet shellac which gives it a nice brown/orange color.

Step 4: Shellac

Speaking of shellac, here's how you do this: first you need a small digital scale, mesuring cups, coffee grinder, mason jars and denatured alcohol.

You need to dilute the flakes (I use dewaxed shellac) in alcohol, the ratio is 1oz of flakes to 1 cup of alcohol, that gives you a 1 pound cut. Using a coffee grinder speeds up alot the dilution time. For this project I used a 2pound cut, meaning 2oz of flakes to 1cup alcohol.

Step 5: Cheat

For the head board and foot board and their panels underneath, I wanted the quartersawn oak look. Oak has medullary rays (the little lines you see in the photo) which gives it a beautiful look when finished. Problem is, it only shows in quartersawn boards or side grain. Quartersawn boards are rare and expensive because it requires a lot of operations for the sawmill and has a lot of waste on the log. So what's a guy to do? Cheat!

Since the medullary rays show up in side grain, that's the side I will use for the show face.

I'll show you next...

Step 6: Production

It is of capital importance to plan your cuts ahead, on a big project like this cost rises fast and waste is your enemy. An example would be the rails which are 83" long by 2" thick so on a 10' board gives you 38" left that you can use for the legs glue up ( at 3" thick it needs 4 boards) the rails needs 3 boards each. So like this when the rails are done, you got 1 leg to glue.

Step 7: Glue

Glue the panels together, there's a lot of them. I used 1" boards which gives about 7\8" when surfaced. Since nearly everything is 2" thick or bigger, you need 3 to 4 boards thick to do it. For the panels, rip everything to 2" wide and turn them on the side to glue them. Scrape or wipe the glue squeeze out.

Step 8: Leg Design

Roubo says to cut both headboard legs from the same piece of wood with the feet included to prevent waste, I found it cumbersome and opted to turn the feet separately and do each leg separately. I know I just said waste is your enemy... but still... you know...

Step 9: Feet

I'm horrible at the lathe, thankfully at the shop we have a hydraulic lathe with a copier so I used that to turn the 4 feet at the same time with the jig I made earlier. Now on paper my design was gorgeous, but in practice the finest part of the foot came down to about 1 1/8in in diameter which would more than likely snap under the weight of the bed or in the throes of passion... So turns out I'm horrible at that lathe too but no matter I cut the feet from another part of the turned piece excluding the thin part so it gave me 3 feet instead of 4, that meant I had to glue up another piece to put back on the lathe to get the 4th foot. That's why It's a good idea to calculate 30% more lumber than you need for a project.

Step 10: Fabrication

Fabrication starts yay!!! I started with the legs, get them to size. The headboard legs are 37" long, the foot legs are 34" and all 3"x3". Then pick the show face and mark them.

The last 12" of the head legs are 1 1\2" thick but don't cut it yet! Draw everything first, they will receive the stiles with a single tenon held by 2 pegs, then the rails which have a double tenon and a bolt through the middle, then the panels that have a single tenon and 3 pegs.

Then line everything up, make sure all is identical on the 4 legs for the stiles and rails. when all is good then we machine.

Step 11: Machine the Legs

It is good practice to machine everything you can when the piece is squared, that way you always have a flat part to put against a fence, then you can shape the piece.

First up is the drill press, It's a good idea to put a flat piece of stock underneath what you want to machine so that when you drill, the bit won't go in the metal plate below and it will also prevent tearout.

Pick a piece of scrap of the same dimensions as the legs. With a 15/16" fostner bit set the depth you want for the bolt and washer then practice on it.

When you're satisfied, apply to the 4 legs, then with a 3/8 bit drill the rest of the holes including the pegs. The bolt hole (say that 3 times as fast as you can) should come out the other side smack in the middle of the double tenon. I realised doing this that the drill depth is too short to go through the piece in one go, so I had to go 3/4 of the way in then raise the bottom plate and go the rest of the way.

I set the pegs to a 1/2" deeper than the mortise of the stile and used that depth throughout which means the upper panels will have pegs going completely trough but not now since we haven't cut the shape of headlegs and scooped out the footlegs yet.

Next, the mortiser. Set the fence square and the bit squared up with it. Then with a piece of scrap set the depth. Clean the mortises with a mortising chisel.

Then find the center of the legs for the foot and pre-drill the hole for the dowel screw.

Now we can cut the upper part of the head legs on the bandsaw and clean it up with the belt sander and spindle sander.

Next we scoop the foot legs...

Step 12: Foot Legs

The foot legs are scooped on the upper 12inches, this was done so you could slip your hand comfortably between the foot and the matress to make the bed. To do this I used my fathers chop saw which has a 8 1/4in blade, it's the closest I could get to the right radius without scooping it out with a chisel.

It's a Karate chop saw so you know it chops good... but I had to improvise a lot to get the job done, it does'nt lift high enough so the 3in leg can fit at 45 degrees so I had to take out the excess with the bandsaw and finish the cut with a crosscut saw. Next I had to cut a couple of pieces to 45 degrees to secure the piece in place. The Karate does'nt have a depth stop, like a karate master, it only chops all the way so I had to make one.

Clean the cuts with a random orbit sander or by hand.

Step 13: Tenons

I made the panels and stiles tenons at the table saw with a dadoe set. First like everything else draw it out on the piece, then install the dadoes. It consist of 2 blades that have a raised profile on one side, these profile go against each other so the teeth don't rub together. There is also inserts you can add between them to make the dadoe bigger, mine all combined was 3/4in.

If you never used one before, you have to make a throat plate because standard throat plate are too narrow. So cut one out of plywood to the same dimensions as the one you have, install it and put the fence over it on one side, then start the saw and slowly raise the blade to create the right opening.

Check the depth with a piece of scrap first then make the tenons.

Always check the fit with the mortises while the table saw is at the right setting that way you don't keep changing the table saw blade constantly.

Step 14: Loose Tenons

The headboards are joined to the panels underneath by loose tenons which are marked ''C&D'' on the first picture.

First, put the panels and headboard together and draw the mortises. now to do the machining, I clamped the board on its side and used 2 small clamps to act as start and end stops. The self centering jig I made (I put longer screws with washers on the base of the router) worked wonderfully for this. I made 3 passes to get to 1 inch deep: 3/8, 3/4 and 1 inch.

I made 3 mortises 5in long by 1 inch deep in the footboard and its lower panel and four 2in by 1 inch mortises in the headboard and its panel, they are smaller on the headboard because they are mainly for alignment, there will be supports added later on the back, and the headboard will be detachable. The footboard will be glued to the panel so I wanted strenght also.

Step 15: Dry Fit

Once the mortises are done, you can cut the shape of the headboards. I used a jigsaw to ruffly cut the shape, then a router and a flush bit, trim the shape. Go SLOW, the pannels are thick and the blades will loose sharpness fast so there will likely be tearout. If need be, smooth the pannels with a spindle sander.

Then you can make a dry fit, make sure the joints are tight and everything is aligned.

Then you can build the supports for the headboard...

Step 16: Headboard Support

Since the headboard is detachable, It has to be supported or it will probably wobble. The long pieces are 2 1/2'' wide x 22'' long x 7/8'' thick. The bracket on the lower panel is made so the long pieces are symmetrical, ruffly 1/3 the way from center.

Step 17: Rails

Alright, the last big piece, The rails are 83'' long by 4'' wide by 2'' thick. There's a double tenon at both ends. The tenons are both 3/8'' wide and 1'' long separated by 1/2'' in the middle.

Cutting them is labor intensive! First at the dadoe cut 3/8'' all around, then with a saw, cut the interior line. Next with a fret saw cut the middle part. Finally clean the middle part with a chisel. Make a test fit with the legs.

When all is done make another dry fit with the four legs/rails/stiles, check for squaredness and you will get the measure for the las pieces to make: the lattices and support beams.

Step 18: Rails 2 (The Comeback)

The rails are joined to the leg via a bolt that goes through the middle of the double tenon to catch a nut inserted in the rail like fig.14. I couldn't find a square nut but I found a 1/2in bed nut, close enough.

While in dry fit you can use the bolt holes (still funny to me) in the legs to start the holes in the middle of the rails.

Next, take everything apart and drill the holes in the rails, Drill the hole for the bed nut and pray you find the bolt hole...

Step 19: Rails 3 (This Time It's Personnal)

Then there are 7 lattices, 2 1/2'' wide, as thick as you can get them, in my case 15/16, Roubo says 1'' but I think the bed will hold...

3 of the lattices are dovetailed at 72degrees and 1'' long. The others are left square. Spread all the lattices equally, 10'' apart. The support Beams are 2''x2''x84 1/4'' and recessed 1'' into the stiles. They are spread 1/3 from center, they should land ruffly under your sleeping position. The top of the beams has to be flush under the lattices, 15/16'' in my case. If not they won't support anything and the lattices will bend. To do this, I used a Mortiser, even the dovetails, that left a little cleanup work with a chisel but I would have had to do the same thing if I made a router jig.

Step 20: Support Beams

With the mortiser still, bore the holes for the support beams in the stiles. Round the ends of the beams with a belt sander for ease of entry.

Step 21: Draw Bore

The panels and stiles are joined to the legs by pegs using draw bore technique.

Draw the circle where the peg will be, drill about 1/16 off center closer to the rail/panel.

When you drive the pegs, it will draw the stile/panel tighter to the leg.

Now a word about movement: wood moves according to temperature/humidity change that comes with the seasons. I didn't do all this work for the pannels to crack once installed in my home so to prevent this I did 2 things:

1: The panels have 3 peg holes and I drilled them all with the draw bore technique but the bottom and top one I elongated so when the panel moves, it has room for it around the pegs.

2: I chopped off 3/16in off the top of the tenon again to prevent cracking.

Only the panels are done that way, don't chop the tenon or elongate the holes of the stiles!!!

Step 22: Dry Assembly

Make one final dry assembly see if everything fits, if so, take a moment to enjoy the end of fabrication (you could chamfer the edges if you want...)

To aid myself in assembling the bed, I made a couple of supports using 2x4s that raise the bed about 1/8th off the ground. Once you're satisfied, take it all apart and sand everything to 120 grit. I spray painted the bolt black so it blends better in the asembly.

Step 23: Sanding

Sand everything up to 120 grit. A trick I use to prevent over-sanding is to draw lines on all sides of the piece so that when the lines are gone, that means I touched everywhere with the sand paper and i'm done!

Step 24: Partial Assembly

I plugged the hole for the bed nut in the rails but first, I put sone epoxy on the botton to prevent shifting. once It's plugged, if it shifts, you're f****. I put the bolt in to make sure everything is aligned. Don't put too much epoxy or you risk it rising and jamming the bolt in the nut. Then I inserted the dowel, cut it and sanded it flush.

I assembled the legs/stiles/panels, then I sharpen the pegs for ease of entry. once that's done, cut the excess and sand flush.

Step 25: Dye!

Now my friend you dye! That's always a scary part because if there is a scratch, ding, glue squeeze out It's gonna show.

I'm using a water based dye so you want to saturate the wood when you apply it, don't let it dry before the piece is completely dyed or it will show up darker. Once everything is saturated and even, wipe the excess.

Then comes the finish prep, cover everything you don't want to finish with tape, that means tenons mortises, the top of the panels, bottom of headboard etc .

Step 26: Finishing

I used a HVLP gun to shoot the shellac, first make sure the gun is clean and working properly, then load it with water and food coloring to set the spray settings and shoot some cardboards or scrap plywood to test everything.

When loading the shellac, strain it first with a paint filter so you don't spray undiluted flakes particles on your work.

Place your pieces underside up, shoot the sides first then finish with the top. Move in one uninterupted pass, be as even as possible, overlap half the pray on subsequent passes.

Wait one hour, flip the pieces and shoot the show face top (you already did the sides). Wait an hour and sand very litely with 600 grit paper. The paper should have white residue on it, if you see color, you sanded through the finish!

The lattices, support beams and headboard brackets get one coat, everything else gets 3.

Once the last pass is dry, sand everything with 1000 grit paper and you are DONE!!!!

Step 27: Enjoy!

There you go, 100hrs and 1000$ later the bed is done! As I said in the beguining, It's not a 100% accurate reproduction but It's pretty damn close, it would not be out of place in a 1750 french home.

Thank you for Reading.

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    8 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I like your post very much . I could gain some of the information from your post. And you snapshot are really good. Through your post I could know more about french style bed.
    Ref :


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you


    3 years ago

    A passionate man has the right to own a handmade French bed of this quality.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Damn Right! Thank you.


    3 years ago

    Wow, this is fantastic! I love Roubo. My workbench is patterned off of his. Well done!


    3 years ago

    This is georgeous and your instructable is fantastic! :)