In a new home with little room and my kids too big for cribs, I built my first kids’ bed with rough plans, reclaimed timber, and a little help from my dad.
By Chad Stokes
Aside from one very crude table, I had never tackled a piece of furniture. On the other hand, I’m no stranger to wood and woodworking.
Growing up, I worked side by side with my dad and my uncle, who is a good carpenter and a very giving man. I’m nowhere near his league, but I figured a bed for a child should be no great challenge. My wife sketched up a plan of one continuous L-shaped bed. It was my job to figure out how to build the kids’ bed. I pictured two identical frames built from construction timber with the sides and headboards built from reclaimed wood. That’s very nearly how it all turned out.
I admit that overcoming my wife’s scepticism was an important motivator. I wanted to prove myself. Frankly, it was almost as important as providing beds for the youngsters. And I reminded her that, in general, our goal was to be more self-sufficient: build more, spend less. She got on board.
What materials you’ll need for the kids’ bed
|A||Long frame||4||50 x 100 x 1 300|
|B||Short frame||4||50 x 100 x 725|
|C||Backboard||1||20 x 610 x 2 135|
|D||Sideboard||1||20 x 610 x 1 390|
|E||Headboard||1||20 x 610 x 760|
|F||Headboard||1||20 x 610 x 840|
|G||Sideboard||1||20 x 300 x 630|
|H||Sideboard||1||20 x 300 x 1 370|
|I||Base||2||20 x 725 x 1 370|
– Parts C and D are made by edge-joining reclaimed wood to a 25 x 300 ripped to 250 mm wide.
– Parts E and F are made from two pieces of edge-joined reclaimed timber and positioned so the grain is vertical.
– Part I, the plywood base, is given here at full dimension; that is, without the author’s 50 mm gap.
Measuring for the kids’ bed
First, I measured the mattresses, added dimensions to her drawing, and headed to a reclaimed timber joint. This was key. A basic structure can look incredible if you use wood that’s old and full of character. In a gritty though rapidly transforming neighbourhood I found warehouse walls lined with massive time-forgotten planks, carefully salvaged from barns and mansions and industrial buildings. It felt good that my kids’ beds would be built from timber that had already had a long service life. Who knows what it will be used for after our kids outgrow the beds.
In places like these, organisation of wood is not immediately discernible to the infrequent visitor, but that’s part of the fun. With a little rooting around, you can find what you set out for and then some. I settled on some beautiful old wide pine planks, some of which had inlaid butterfly keys inserted by the
staff to keep them from cracking apart. I didn’t mind. The wood is beautiful and dense and rich in character.
My next stop was to ask my 77-year-old dad for permission to use his workbench. Actually, I did more than that. I basically went and grabbed everything that was there. That’s what determined the kids’ bed’s basic construction. I would put it together with wood screws and metal brackets. Crude? Maybe, but effective and fast.
Cutting the pieces
I crosscut and fastened all the 50-by-100 beams for two identical base frames. Then I simply screwed them together to form the L. I ripped the ply-wood for the mattress bases. The pieces came up 5 centimetres short. No matter. Maybe instead of being a hole through which Matchbox cars would fall, there would be an added benefit to that unplanned gap. What the benefit might be didn’t know, but if my wife ever asked about it, I’d mumble that it was very important for ventilation and things like that.
Next came the headboards, sideboards and backboards for the kids’ bed. These were a good bit more tricky. I crosscut the pieces for the headboards to length and fastened them edge to edge using straight brackets. I made the backboards the same way. Then I discovered my mistake: I hadn’t bought enough reclaimed wood. I solved that problem with some improvisation. I bought new 25 by 300 pine timber and joined it edge to edge with the reclaimed lumber using more straight brackets. Because the new wood is located below the mattress, you can’t even see it’s there.
I marked a gentle curve on the front of each headboard using a pencil tethered to a piece of string so that it would swing in an arc. I cut the curve on the headboards with a jigsaw and made a diamond cutout in the centre. To do that, I outlined the shape with a pencil – you could do a heart or any shape you like. I didn’t need to drill a starting hole because I put the diamond right where the two boards came together.
Putting them together
After all the pieces were cut, I screwed them to the base frame and finished everything with a wipe-on tung-oil finish. I sawed a corner gusset from a scrap piece of beam, then nailed it into the corner where the interior sideboards met each other.
But the real test with any piece of furniture is how it works. I’m pleased to report that our kids love this bed. For bedtime reading we bought a clip-on light that attaches to the backboard. We turn out the living-room lights and sit in the corner of the kids’ bed using a pile of stuffed animals as back support. After book time the light goes off and they put their heads in opposite directions, towards the headboards, minimising any sleep-bumping of heads.
And then my wife and I have a few peaceful moments to ourselves, our furniture store meltdown a distant memory. I watch our kids sleep, sometimes thinking about the next thing I’ll build for them. We’re already at work on a treehouse. And there will be other projects, I’m sure. Although I’m not sure whether I do these things more for them or for me.