I love PVC pipe. You can do so much great stuff with it! It's cheap, readily available, easy to work with simple tools, non-toxic as long as you don't burn it, and there are a lot of fittings that make accurate joining of pieces easy. You don't have to be terribly accurate with your cuts and the bed will still come out fine.
This bed was designed and built for my son when he was about 4 years old. The plans have been on my web site for several years and I still get a couple emails per week about them. People always ask me three questions:
1) How much weight can it hold?
Answer: I have loaded my son's bed with >300 lbs on many occasions with no problems. The weight gets divided among the 8 vertical pipes, so each pipe is supporting only about 1/8 of the total load. That statement isn't 100% accurate, but it's close enough.
2) Is it durable?
Answer: My son has been using the bed for 9 years. I think that means it's durable.
3) How much does it cost?
Answer: When I built it I spent about $180 for all the pipe, fittings and glue. I suspect the cost is about the same today.
The bed is made almost entirely from schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings available from any home improvement store. The design can be easily adapted to a bunk bed. It includes a ladder and railing on the top to prevent your kid from tumbling out at night or when preparing to board a pirate ship. You can make a cloth skirt that turns the bed into a great fort for the kids to hide and play in, or you can put a desk underneath where kids can do homework. At xmas you can hang lights all over it.
I don't recommend this design bed for really little kiddies- they may fit between the rails and fall or go over the top rail if they're getting really crazy. If you're concerned about it you can easily modify the plans to beef up the railing. If you choose to make this bed you assume all responsibility for your kid's safety in using it.
For those who care, the drawing below was made using AutoCAD. You can make similar drawings using Google Sketchup. There is a Sketchup library of schedule 40 pipe fittings here: Sketchup PVC Pipe Library
Step 1: Shopping for Parts
Print out the shopping list and go to your favorite home improvement store and buy the parts. Be sure to buy extra fittings and pipe so that if you make a mistake you can just keep going. You can always return the extra parts to the store after you've finished making the bed. I usually buy at least two extra fittings of each type and size and a couple extra 10' lengths of pipe. Get a couple small cans of PVC pipe cement and a can of acetone.
You will need a few pine boards or a piece of plywood to fit on top of the mattress platform. 36" x 72" +/- a few inches will fit just fine.
The only tools you'll need are:
some sort of saw:
a clamp or vise to hold pipe while you're cutting it:
a rubber mallet,
a tape measure:
and a pencil or felt tip pen. The rubber mallet is used to dry-fit parts before gluing them together (and to get them apart again so you can apply the glue). Acetone will take most of the inked markings off the pipe before you glue the pieces together.
Clicky clicky: Shopping List Cutting List
Step 2: Building It
Marking and cutting the pipe takes a while so get out a pencil and tape measure and start marking the pipes. I marked the letter of each piece inside the pipe at each end so I could tell which piece was which. You might want to work in stages- make the ladder first, then the base, mattress platform, and railing. Don't mark or cut the vertical support pipes until after the ladder is assembled. Measure the assembled ladder and cut the six vertical pipes to match the height of the ladder.
The drawings show the lengths of the pipes after the parts of the bed are assembled. Those lengths do not include the portion of the pipe inside each fitting, so the actual length of the pipes is greater than you can measure on the assembled bed. The cutting list shows both the visible and the total length of each pipe. Be sure to cut the pipes to the longer dimension!
There are two things to do before you start gluing the pipes- clean off the ink markings by wiping with a rag soaked in acetone and wash the pipes because the home improvement stores frequently keep them outdoors in the dirt and weather.
After the pipes are cut dry-fit he pieces to make sure everything will fit properly. Use the rubber mallet to get them apart again. Think through the sequence before you start gluing. For example, glue the tees to the ends of the rungs (C) of the ladder before you start gluing in vertical pipe (M) pieces. Glue the vertical pieces (M) two at a time.
Use a flat surface such as the concrete floor in your garage to align fittings on the ends of a pipe. Glue one fitting to one end of the pipe then glue the other and quickly, before the glue sets, push the fittings down on the floor so they rotate into alignment. You can also use unglued pieces of pipe for leverage or the rubber mallet to "motivate" the fittings into alignment.
When you glue PVC pipe, use the applicator in the lid of the glue can to wipe the glue all the way around the end of the pipe then slide and twist the pipe into its fitting. You have to be very quick because the PVC cement sets up fast. Wipe away excess cement carefully- if you drag it over the surface of the pipe it will become permanently scarred.
The bed will come apart easily to move it if you DON'T glue the ladder and vertical support pipes to the base and mattress platform. You can drive a single screw through each fitting and pipe to hold each of the vertical supports if you're worried about it somehow coming apart at the wrong time. I haven't bothered and the bed has never come apart unless I was trying to take it apart.
Step 3: Modifications
Build a bunk bed by making two mattress platforms. You'll need a few more pine boards.
Make a cloth or cardboard "skirt" and let the kiddies decorate it in a pirate or midieval castle theme. For a pirate ship, add a small ship's wheel to the top railing and a Jolly Roger flag. A castle can use a flag with a coat-of-arms and a script from Monty Python and the Holy Grail ("English pig-dog, I fart in your general direction!").
Paint the pipe by first wiping it with a vinegar soaked rag. The acid is supposed to modify the pipe surface so that paint will stick.
Hang lights on it at Xmas.
Build a desk into the the frame by adding a couple pipes to support a work surface under the mattress platform.
Add wiring and lighting by running wires through the pipes.
Add speaker platforms for some music. Run wires inside the pipes for maximum neatness.