I've recently moved into an unfurnished house and have been acquiring furniture for it from sites like Freecycle and the free stuff section of Gumtree. While these sites are great for getting cheap or free furniture, often it looks a bit shabby or has a few things wrong with it: "You might need to tape this bit together...", "Do you have a nail gun? That would probably help...", "Yes, it has all the fixings" (turns out to definitely not have all the fixings) etc. Hence why people are probably giving it away.
As I'm working on a budget, I'd rather get some free furniture that needs a bit of attention rather than buy new or second-hand. As my first attempt at furniture hacking, modifying furniture that I acquired for nothing was also a lot less stressful than hacking stuff I paid money for since, as you'll see in this tutorial, there's a lot of things that will probably go wrong as you go through the learning curve.
While a lot of these tips may seem obvious (and probably are obvious if you've ever done something similar before), as a complete newbie to the world of DIY these are all things I learnt the hard way, which was all part of the fun :)
Step 1: What You'll Need
For this project, I cut down an old wooden bed frame with an ugly pine headboard to make a simpler frame, then painted it to finish.
For the modifications, you will need:
- A hand saw or hacksaw
- Pencil and ruler
- Course sandpaper or wood file
- Fine sandpaper or steel wood
- Wood or hobby paint
I haven't included specifications of the best types of tools to use as I was mostly working with what I had to hand. Where I've discovered particular tools that work well or not so well, I've included some tips in the relevant steps.
To dismantle and put the frame back together, you will also need the relevant fixtures and fittings and tools (eg, screws, dowels, nails, a hammer or a screwdriver / electric drill).
Step 2: Cut Off the Headboards
You're aiming to cut into the frame an inch or two above the join where the sides of the bed meet the headboards. Depending on the style of frame you're working with, it might already be moulded into a shape that makes removing the extraneous wooden frames of the headboards very easy.
In the 2nd picture above, the leg is moulded in a way that meant I could cut into the frame just above the join and blend the cut into the natural shape of the frame. Then, I just had to cut through the vertical bars supporting the headboard as close to the main part of the frame as possible.
However, the other headboard (shown in 3rd picture) didn't have any convenient moulding above the join for me to cut into. Instead, I measured the first headboard to gauge how far above the join I'd cut into on that side, then used a ruler and pencil to mark on the second headboard where I wanted to make my cut so they would be at an equal height (see 4th picture).
Step 3: Sand Down and Prepare for Painting
As one of the headboards I was working with had rounded corners as part of the original shape of the frame, I sanded down the edges of the other headboard to give it slightly rounded edges to match. I was using coarse sandpaper as this was only thing I had to hand, but it wouldn't gone much quicker if I'd used a wooden file to round off the corners.
Before painting the frame, prepare it by sanding down all the surfaces with fine sandpaper or steel wool (0000).
What Not To Do #1: Try and strip varnish off an unvarnished frame
So far, everything had been going quite well, but this was where I fell into the trap of trying to do something that was completely unnecessary and therefore messing it up quite badly.
I assumed that before painting the frame I would have to strip off the coating that was already on it, and diligently looked into how to strip varnish off wooden furniture. I bought a standard bottle of paint and varnish remover from B&Q, applied it according to the best instructions I'd gathered online, and then went to strip it off. Instead of taking the coating off easily as it should have done, the remover had done pretty much nothing and I found myself scraping the top layer of wood off instead of the coating. After wasting a lot of time and making a complete mess of my garage floor (see 2nd picture for evidence), I realised the frame had probably been treated with wood stain rather than varnish which is why the remover had no effect, and it actually wasn't necessary to try and remove it at all before painting it.
This is a bit of a shame if you're hoping to return a frame to its natural colour: however, painting the frame has its own advantages in covering any nicks that the furniture's probably gathered over the years, and in covering the areas where you've cut down the original frame.
Even if the frame you're working with has been varnished, I'd recommend considering whether it's really necessary to strip it off instead of just painting over it. Most hobby paints - and even standard wood paints - will probably adequately cover the varnish, and as varnish remover is expensive and applying it time-consuming this could be a better option for you.
Step 4: Paint It
Choose some paint and apply it to any areas of the frame that will be visible when assembled. Any type of wood paint should be suitable here, as well as hobby paint that's advertised for use on furniture. A paint with a low or medium sheen tends to look better than a gloss finish.
Personally, I left the fittings in place and painted over them so they would be less visible, but this is entirely up to you.
What Not To Do #2: Paint the frame then decide you don't like the colour
Another one from Captain Obvious: I originally chose a duck egg blue option that looked great on the tin, but awful when placed on the dusky pink carpet I unfortunately have to live with (see 2nd picture). I hated it so much I repainted the entire thing, which meant buying more paint and waiting a few more days for the layers to dry.
Also, as I was applying the second colour on top of hobby paint with a medium sheen, it took a lot of paint to cover it properly and it ended up dripping somewhat so I ended up with a slightly textured frame. I can live with it as it all adds to its character, but if you want something professional-looking consider carefully what colour and texture of paint you're going to use.
Step 5: Put It Together
Assemble the finished frame. (This step mostly included for the following tip:)
What Not To Do #3: Start putting it together before checking you've got all the fixings
This one genuinely wasn't my fault (mostly): when I picked up the frame from it's previous owners, they insisted that the plastic bag they gave me contained all of the fixings needed. I eventually discovered this wasn't true, and it would have been a lot easier if I'd found this out *before* clearing everything out of my room to make way for the new frame.
Check that you have all the dowels, screws or nails needed to put it together, and plan for a trip to B&Q if you think you might be short of anything. I was also worried about the stability of the new frame, as the original was obviously quite cheap, so got a few extra screws to attach the slats to the outer edges of the frame to make it more stable.