Our family recently grew from 4 people to 5, and that meant the kids had to play musical beds. The new baby got the crib, her big brother moved up to his big sister's bed, and therefore big sister needed a brand new bed! We decided on a loft bed, since the older two now share a room, but we weren't happy with the options for buying a loft bed. And when you're not happy with what the stores have, you've just got to make it yourself!
These are the goals I was working towards as I designed the bed:
- Sturdy: safety is number one!
- Durable: I wanted a piece of furniture that we could use for years.
- De-mountable: a big bed like this needs to come apart or it will never leave the house!
- Build able without a shop: I don't have a wood shop, so I had to be able to do all the work in the house or in the back yard!!
The final bed design is a simple, hardwood, twin-size frame built from dimensional lumber that can be easily assembled and disassembled. I managed to build it over the course of about two months despite the interruptions of a newborn, a full-time job and a business trip to Tokyo!
I hope you find this bed design useful and inspiring! Please don't hesitate to send me a message if you're thinking of building this and have questions. I've attached a SketchUp model of the main elements (it doesn't have all the joinery details) to this step so that you can explore the design.
I suppose that I should add that I'm not a professional bed designer: this is something I've made for my family. Only build it for yourself if you are satisfied that it's a sturdy and safe design.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
I built this bed out of red oak, but you can substitute other similar hardwoods.
Here are the materials that I purchased for the project:
- Posts: Four 2x4s, 63" long
- Step Stringers: Three 2x4s, 83" long
- Top Stringers: One 2x6, 83" long
- Bed Rails: Two 2x6s, 73" long
- Railings: Four 1x3s, 73" long
- 1 set of IKEA twin bed slats
- Dowels: 5/16" and 7/16"
- Four 6" long 5/16" bolts (1/2" head) with 1/2" nuts and washers
- Two 1"x1"x1/16" Aluminum angles, 73" long
- Titebond III glue
- Wood screws
- Self-Adhesive Felt Pads
I bought all the wood D4S (Dressed 4 Sides, sometimes called S4S), since I don't have a jointer and planer. This made it more expensive, but shortened the time it took to finish. Usually, a 2x4 is 1 1/2" by 3 1/2", however the hardwood that I bought was actually 1 5/8" thick, which threw off some of my planning. Whatever you buy, make sure to check it's size before you start!
Once I bought the wood, I stacked it under our bed and left it for a week to acclimatize. At the end of the week, our daughter was born, so I let it acclimatize for a few more days :)
Here are the tools I used for the project. I borrowed all the tools with a * next to them from the Toronto Tool Library, which is quite possibly the most awesome thing in my neighbourhood.
- Mitre saw
- Japanese Ryoba detail saw
- Hand Plane
- Saw Horses
- Marking Gauge
- Veritas Rounding Tool
- Drill Press *
- Portable drill
- screw driver
- socket wrench *
- contractor’s pencil sharpener
- square *
- measuring tape
- clamps *
- countersink bits
- sandpaper (150 grit and 220 grit)
- coloured chalk
- twine and scrap wood
- spokeshave *
- sanding pad
A quick word on my sawhorses you see in the pictures: they are Krenov-style sawhorses. I made the first one at a Lee Valley seminar run by Steven Der-Garabedian, and then made a second one to match. They are fantastic tools, and I strongly recommend them, especially if you're woodworking without a shop! Check out http://flairwoodworks.com/2010/04/25/a-new-set-of-sawhorses/ or http://www.finewoodworking.com/workshop/article/smart-sawhorses.aspx for more details.
Step 2: End Frame Stringers
The bed has two end Frames, one with five stringers (this is the one you climb up), and the other with 3. In total, you'll need 6 2x4 stringers and 2 2x6 stringers. You could make both frames with five stringers, but since we have one end of the bed pushed up against the wall, we've just made one frame climbable.
The first job is to cut the tenons in the stringers. I used a marking gauge to layout the tenons, and then cut them down with a Japanese ryoba saw. It is great for cutting tenons because the blade has both rip and crosscut sides. If you don't have a workbench with a vice, just clamp the stringer vertically to something sturdy, like I did to my sawhorse.
The tenons on the big top stringers look a little funny because they are off centre, but be sure to cut them that way! They need to be offset for the joints to all fit into the post.
Step 3: End Frame Posts
Now that you have all your stringers ready, you can lay them out on the posts to fine tune the spacing. We intend to build a mid-height platform at the end with 5 stringers, so we spaced them out to leave a gap that we can use to store boxes under the platform. Feel free to change the spacing: just leave the top and bottom stringers exactly where they are shown, but move the middle ones up or down to suit your preference.
If you have cut clean and exact tenons, lay out the mortises and cut away. If your tenons aren't all the same size, lay each stringer tenon next to the post where it will be attached and transfer the exact dimension of the tenon. This is tedious work, so maybe cutting a few practice tenons will make your life easier. I cut the mortises by drilling out most of the waste with a spade bit, then cleaning up the sides with a chisel.
At this point you can dry fit the end frames - congratulations! There's still a lot of work ahead, but I always find it encouraging to see the piece coming together.
Step 4: Post and Rail Joints
The post and rail joints are butt joints with dowels and bolts to transfer the force, so preparing this joint is mostly drilling a bunch of holes in the sides of the posts and the ends of the rails.
In the images for this step you'll find the dimensions to layout bed rails and railings, and a template that shows where the dowel and bolt holes are on the ends of the rails. Use these two sets of dimensions to layout the holes on the posts.
To start with, drill the hole for the bolt in the post. Drill from the outside face of the post. It is very important to get this hole straight, so I recommend you use a drill press. If your drill press doesn't have enough travel to go all the way through the wood, drill as far as you can (many entry level drill presses, like the one I used, have 2" of travel), then finish the drilling with a hand held drill. The hole you've started will keep the drill bit straight.
Now drill the dowel holes. If you have a thicker mattress than I used and have extended your posts, be sure to keep the main (6x2) bed rail the same distance from the floor, and shift the smaller (1x3) bed rails up. Drill these dowel holes with the drill press - make them a little deeper than half the dowel length.
The 5/16" dowel holes should be just over 1" deep, and the 7/16" dowel holes should be just of 1 1/2" deep.
Finally, create a recess for the bolt head. I cut a square mortise with a chisel, but you could just as easily use a fostner bit to create a circular recess. It should be about 1" deep.
For the small bed rails, just cut them to length, transfer the exact dowel locations from the post and drill the dowel holes. It's pretty much impossible to drill holes in the end of a long piece with a drill press, but thankfully, you don't need to be perfect for the dowels to fit snugly. Just clamp down the rails, and drill as straight as you can.
The main bed rail is a little more complicated. Let's start with the bolt hole. Since the bolt hole on the post goes all the way through the post, you can just line up the post and the rail, clamp them in place (I’ve made a diagram of a suggested clamping method) and start drilling into the rail through the post.
Now cut a mortise to house the nut. Cut the opening from the inside so that you won't be able to see it when the bed is assembled. You can uses cross dowels, or regular nuts. If you have better skills than me, you can drill a hole from the inside and slip in a cross dowel.
I used the technique that Peter Sellers describes here http://youtu.be/q_NXq7_TILA to cut the recesses for the nuts.
Next, transfer the dowel locations to the rail and drill the holes in the end grain. Remember that the dowels in the main rail are 7/16” because this connection has to carry a lot more force.
Step 5: Bed Slat Support & Diagonals
The last thing to do is to attach the slat support to the bed rails. First drill and countersink about 5 holes in the vertical leg of the angle. Distribute them evenly along the length of the angle, these are to screw the rail into the stringer. Don't skip the countersinking step, otherwise the bed slats will snag on the screw heads.
Next, cut 4 1/2" lengths of 3/4" dowel and pre-drill a hole in the centre of each one. Don't drill all the way through. Lay out the two angles on the ground, and place the bed slats as you would if you were putting the bed together. Stretch the slats apart so that the ribbon holding them is taut. Place one of the pieces of dowel on the inside edge of each ends slat, and mark the centre of the dowel on the angle. Drill and countersink a screw hole from below into the horizontal leg of the angle, and screw the dowel in place. These dowels will hold the slats in place and prevent them from sliding around and falling out.
Now, screw the angle to the bed rails. You should predrill holes for the screws to prevent splitting of the rail. This is especially important since we are connecting near the bottom of the rail!
Finally, make 4 diagonal braces to hold the bed square. These are made from 1x2 lumber. I pre-drilled and counterbored the screw holes in the four diagonal pieces.
Step 6: Finishing
Before you finally assemble your bed, it's time to put some finishing touches on the wood.
First, round over all the edges. I used the Veritas cornering tool, but you could also use sandpaper, a block plane or a router. I used a smaller round over on the thinner pieces, and larger round over on the larger pieces. Experiment on some scraps, and use whatever radius you prefer.
There is one place you shouldn't round over: the inside edges of the posts where they meet the main bed rails. Leave these spots crisp so that they'll meet the posts square.
I had some large splinters and cracks on the edges of the posts. I used a spokeshave to carve down the edges to below the level of the cracks. This does three things; it prevents injuries, stops the cracks from spreading further and adds a bit of visual interest. Keep in mind that you don't want to be doing this near the connection to be big bed rails, so be sure to check for these cracks and splinters before hand and lay out the post so that they end up elsewhere.
I sanded all the parts with 150 grit, then 220 grit. Since I had purchased dressed lumber, this didn't take too long. I cleared off some marks with a plane, but then sanded all over.
I haven't yet applied any finish to the bed. This is because it was too cold to finish outside and I didn't want to expose my kids to fumes by finishing inside. In the spring, when it's warmer, I'll take it outside and apply some polyurethane or oil. Thankfully, I designed it to be demountable, so that should be easy.
Step 7: Assembly
Alright - let's put this bed together!
First off, glue the end frames together. I used half-blind drawbores to make the mortise and tenon joints nice a strong. There is a good explanation of draw boring here: The Wood Whisperer: Drawbored Mortise & Tenon. The only thing I did differently was to not drill the drawbore hole all the way through the post. I started on the inside, drilled across the mortise, then into the opposite side of the post, but I stopped short of the outside face of the post. This way the drawbore will clamp the tenon into the mortise, but you'll maintain a clean surface on the outside face of the post.
Before putting the bed together, I stuck some felt padding to the underside of the posts. This will make it easier to slide the bed around on a hard wood floor, and prevent scratching.
To assemble the bed rails, you’ll need some dowels. Since dowels are usually sold in packs of 100, I made my own dowels from a long dowel. You’ll need 16 - 5/16” diameter x 2” long dowels (for the railings), and 8 - 7/16” diameter x 3” long dowels (for the bedrails). Cut the required length from a long dowel, then taper the ends slightly with a contractor’s pencil sharpener.
Now we come to the final assembly. I find that putting beds together is always tricky, and this one is trickier than most because it is pretty heavy and very high off the ground. So I recommend that you assemble this bed sideways, and have someone else helping you if at all possible!
Start with the end frame with only 3 stringers. Lay it on its side in a big open space, and then fit the main bed rail into place with the dowels. If you can't get the rail to sit flush against the post, then you'll have to drill the dowel holes a bit deeper. Make sure that each pair of opposing dowel holes are about the same depth so that the dowels sit halfway between the two pieces.
Now insert the bolt and nut and tighten them together. A socket wrench is really useful for this. (Note that when I say 'insert the bolt', if your bolt holes don't align perfectly, you'll be swinging your mallet to get the bolt in ... :) )
Slip the two railings into the first frame with their dowels, then bring the second frame into place and slip the bed rail and railings into the frame on their dowels. Add the bolt and nut and tighten them up! The railings are held in place once the bed rail is tightened in place, so you need to get them in place before tightening the bolt.
Now that you've got the bed rails on one side attached, turn the bed over onto it's other side. Repeat the same process for the other three bed rails, then lift the bed upright.
Let's square up the bed. I measured the diagonals between the posts, and tied a loop of twine around the two posts that were farther apart. I then stuck a piece of scrap wood in the loop and turned it until the string tightened enough to bring the bed into square - just keep measuring the diagonals until they're the same. There quite a few ways to bring the bed square, but this one is simple and gives very fine control over the work. Once the bed is square, use another piece of twine to hold the scrap wood in position, and install the diagonals.
Then start the screws into the diagonals far enough to just stick out a hair from the back side of the diagonals. Then just hold each one in position and drill the screws in the rest of the way.
Now lay out your bed slats, drop in the mattress and, congratulations! You've got a beautiful bed!
Step 8: All Done!
We are thrilled with this bed - it looks good, it's sturdy and my daughter loves it. As I write this, she's been sleeping on it for about 2 1/2 months without any problems. I managed to build a sturdy, durable and demountable bed without access to a woodshop. I had to practice my patience and persistence, but I couldn't be happier with the outcome - I hope this inspires you to make something great for your family and/or loved ones!!
The great thing about making things yourself is that it's super easy to make changes. Here are some areas where the design is flexible, and you can add your personal touch:
- end railings: if you want to add railings at the end of the beds, just add one more 2x4 stringer at the end, about 1" below the top of the posts. Don't use 1x3 wood because you have to climb over this stringer to get into the bed and so it's got to be tough.
- stringer tenons: instead of flush through tenons from the stringer to the post, you could either use a blind mortise or extend the tenon beyond the opposite face of the mortise and then shape it with round overs or chamfers.
- stringer layout: leave the big stringer at the top, and the bottom stringer in the same place, but you've got a lot of flexibility in how you lay out the stringers in between, so long as they are more or less evenly distributed
- thicker mattress: if you are using a thicker mattress, be sure the extend the posts higher so that they are high enough above the mattress to be effective.
- different wood: you can use other woods, but be sure to use a strong hardwood. I doubt that this design will be safe if you use pine or another softwood.