• Dream on

    • Image credit: Dennis Lock
    • Image credit: Dennis Lock
    • Image credit: Dennis Lock
    • Image credit: Dennis Lock
    Date:31 August 2008 Tags:,

    Build your own headboard.

    You have bought a new base, a new mattress and linen, including matching duvet cover and pillowslips, but something is missing. Of course: a headboard. Time to go into the workshop and put some of our ideas into practice. We think this design looks good in a light-coloured wood; Yugoslavian beech was our choice. Other possibilities are: maple, blonde mahogany, oak, and clear Oregon pine. The bed that features in the construction photographs is made of meranti. We plan to paint this headboard white.

    Start by preparing all the necessary components. If you can obtain 50 mm thick stock, use this for the legs. We laminated two pieces of 25 mm stock together to get the desired thickness. After the glue had dried, we trimmed the laminated legs to 70 x 44 mm. The cross rails and filler were cut about 100 mm longer than the finished size given above (the reason for this will become clear later in the article).

    The slats are morticed into the top and bottom rails. Cutting 14 (or more) mortices with a plunge router is not a problem. Squaring up 28 rounded ends with a chisel is another story. Let’s find a simpler and quicker way. Cut a 40 x 16 mm rebate in a back edge of the top rail and a 20 x 16 mm rebate in a back edge of the bottom rail (1). Starting in the middle (lengthwise) of the filler piece, mark out the position of the slats (2). A pair of dividers is a useful aid in repetitive marking. Clearly mark the slat positions: we are going to cut dados the size of the slats (50 x 10 mm).

    Hog away most of the waste on a radial arm saw or table saw (3). The remaining millimetre or so will be trimmed with a router guided by a simple template and guide bush (4). The template is made from two pieces of MDF (125 x 125 x 6 mm), two pieces of wood (305 x 22 x 22 mm) and four 16 mm chipboard screws. The gap (G) between the two pieces of MDF is the critical measurement, and is calculated with the following formula:

    Gap = Width of slat + diameter of guide bush – bit diameter. In our case, this worked out to be (50 + 17 – 12,7) = 54,3 mm. Set the router depth of cut to the slat thickness (10 mm) and make a trial cut in a piece of scrap. Check the template by turning the trial piece over and clamping it to a flat surface. Does one of the slats fit into the “mortice”? Fine-tune the template if necessary. Trim the dados, one by one, in the filler piece (5). Note the two shoulders that are used as line-up points for the template. When all of the dados have been trimmed, rip the filler piece to give two pieces, one 41 mm wide and one 21 mm wide (6). Mark a mating pair of dados so that the same orientation can be maintained. Flip the two filler pieces through 180° and glue them into the dado in the corresponding rail. Take it easy with the glue: you don’t want glue squeezing into the “mortices” being formed. When the glue is dry, trim the filler piece to match the rail (in fact, take a fraction off the rail as well) by passing through the thicknesser – once to clean up the face and once to clean up the edge.

    The legs and rails can now be trimmed to their final lengths and the mortices and tenons that are used to connect them marked out. See figure 1 for the position of the mortices on the legs. The dimension of 520 mm is the height from the floor to the top of the mattress. If your base and mattress set is a different height, adjust this measurement and the overall length of the legs accordingly. The mortices are 65 mm long and 31 mm deep. Cut them with a plunge router and an 8 or 10 mm bit. Cut corresponding 30 mm-long tenons at the end of the rails. The four edges of the legs were eased with a 6 mm round-over bit and the bottoms chamfered. The results of this work are shown in (7).

    The upper rail has a curve on its lower edge. This was marked by clamping three small blocks to the rail and springing a 1 metre steel rule between the blocks (8). The centre block lifts the rule by 30 mm – the “height” of the curve. Cut the curve with a bandsaw or jigsaw. Sand the curve on a bobbin sander or with a half-round bastard-cut file. Make a simple sanding block (9) that has the same radius as the curve for the final sanding. This will soon get rid of any irregularities left by the bobbin sander or file.

    Dry-fit the legs and rails and check the length of the slats (10). If you stuck to the measurements given, this should be 520 mm. Trim the slats to 519 mm and chamfer all four edges. A 1 mm chamfer is sufficient. Now comes the job few of us like: the sanding. Thank goodness for random-orbital sanders. However, you still need some hand sanding to finish off. Fit the slats into the bottom rail and then fi t the top rail (11). Dry-fit the legs and rails again (12) and check that everything pulls up square and tight under clamping pressure. When you are satisfied, disassemble and start with the glue. There is no need to glue the slats. If you took care with the router jig (4), they will fit firmly. Apply the glue on the inside faces of the mortices. An ice-cream stick does a good job of spreading the glue. There is no need to put glue on the tenon shoulders: it squeezes out and makes a mess without adding anything to the strength of the joint.

    While the glue on the main assembly is drying, we can turn our attention to the capping or crown. This is a built-up moulding made from two pieces of wood. Start with the upper piece and trim it to 50 mm longer than width of the main assembly. Rout a 6 mm roundover on six of the eight edges (more correctly, the arrises) – don’t do the back two. Start with the four short cross-grain cuts and use a backing block to avoid tear out. Next, rout one front edge of the lower piece with a cove or ogee bit. Note that this piece must be about 150 mm longer than the top piece. Cut a piece of this moulding 12 mm shorter than the upper moulding and mitre the two ends. Fit this piece to the upper moulding as shown in (13). Cut two triangular pieces from the offcut (that is why we started at 150 mm longer) and fit them as shown in (13). Which moulding (14) do you prefer: the cove or the ogee?

    The capping is attached to the main assembly with glue and biscuits. If you do not have a biscuit cutter, use dowels as a substitute. Position the capping so that it overlaps the front and side of the legs by the same amount (15) and measure the offset necessary for the biscuit slots or dowel holes. Ours worked out to be 12 mm; a piece of 12 mm MDF was used to lift the biscuit cutter when cutting the capping. Glue the capping to the top rail (making sure it is properly centred). The completed headboard is shown in (16) – all that is left to do is some touch-up sanding followed by the desired finish.

    b>What size bed?

    The size of the headboard you are going to make depends on two things: the width of the mattress and the height of the mattress plus base. We have done the calculations for you, allowing you to use our design for a single bed, a king-size bed and the in-between sizes. The following table is based on 50 mm-wide slats and 70 mm-wide legs.

    Bed size:


    Three quarter




    Matress width(mm):






    Number of slats:






    Gap between slats(mm):






    Headboard width(mm):

    1 018
    1 170
    1 470



    Two sizes feature in this article: the main photograph is of a queen-sized headboard; the construction photos are of a headboard for a single bed.

    What you will need

    Materials list

    > Legs: 4 pieces 1 200 x 75 x 22 mm (oversize to allow for trimming after lamination)
    > Cross rails: 2 pieces 938 (1 090, 1 390, 1 544, 1 855) x 75 x 22 mm (includes 60 mm for tenons)
    > Filler: 1 piece 938 (1 090, 1 390, 1 544, 1 855) x 65 x 17 mm
    > Cap: 1 piece 1 068 (1 220, 1 520, 1 674, 1 985) x 75 x 22 mm
    > Cap: 1 piece 1 220 (1 370, 1 670, 1 820,
    2 130) x 69 x 18 mm
    > Slats: 7 (8, 11, 12, 14) pieces 520 x 50 x 10 mm
    > #20 biscuits or 10 mm dowels
    > Screws: 30 x 4 mm countersink screws
    > Cold (PVA) glue
    > Finish of choice

    Note: Initial size and quantity is for single bed. Values in brackets are for three quarter, double, queen and king-size beds respectively.

    Tools required
    > Table saw or radial arm saw
    > Planer/thicknesser
    > Bandsaw or jigsaw
    > Router plus various bits
    > Random orbital sander
    > Biscuit cutter (optional)

    Send your questions and comments to Denis Lock at www.woodwork@rsp.co.za
    *Visit www.popularmechanics.co.za and click on the Home link for a plan for a jig to use when morticing the legs.

    Latest Issue :

    July/August 2020