Sometimes I ask myself why I spent 2 months’ worth of evenings building these bunk beds for my two children. I could have quite easily popped down to the local bed shop and picked up a flat pack for a couple of hundred quid. The problem with these is that unless you spend a lot of money, you end up with a wobbly bed which over time tends to work itself to bits with the kids jumping on it all the time. Off the shelf, beds are also reasonably uninteresting for the children and in past experience, poorly made before you even get to assemble them. I thought it would be nice if I could make something slightly different so I sat down and started to design a bed to put flat pack beds to shame!
I wanted to make a bed that would be as safe as possible for the children (ages 6 and 2 at the time) could play on but not fall out of. Conventional beds tend to have ladders to climb up on and this worried me. It would be very easy to fall off one of these and knowing my two children, the slighted fight would result in the 2-year-old being pushed down the ladder or having her fingers accidentally trodden on. I also wanted to break up the play area in the bedroom to two separate areas so they would both have their own space to play.
Another consideration was making sure that neither of them could fall out of the top bunk. This always used to worry me when they were in bunks before. Their previous bed used wooden slats underneath the mattresses which had a tendency to be kicked off from the bed below so I wanted a base for the mattress that would be bomb-proof!
All the wood should be sanded smooth and all the edges should be routed to avoid any injuries should a child be pushed into a post. The gaps between any slats should be smaller than a childs head to prevent the obvious happening should one of my little horrors decide to try and hang themselves.
Until I built these beds, I had very limited woodworking skills. I think my biggest project to date had been to make a carcass for some cupboards (still not completed) for when I was living in my last house. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from DIY is that you should never scrimp on the materials and always try to over-engineer anything wherever possible. I knew how wide and long a mattress was so this was an ideal starting point.
I ordered the following items:
- Coach bolts
- Paint Brushes
- Drill Bits
- Electric Sander (cheap powerdevil)
- Sanding Sheets
Now I had to find a source of timber to build the beds. Due to the size of the bed (almost 9-feet uprights) and the quantity of wood (over 80 meters), I had to find a local supplier who could deliver. I had a scout through the Yellow Pages and rang a couple of large Builders merchants. Considering I wanted to spend a reasonable amount of money with them, they didn’t seem that interested and Saturday delivery certainly seemed a no-no. Finally, I rang a company called RTF in Rushden (Northants) who were extremely helpful and while I was speaking to them, I suddenly had a very bright idea!
I asked if they could also route all the edges of the timber (save me buying a router, bits, etc) which they readily agreed to do for a very reasonable charge. I told them I’d fax through the details of what I wanted and could I pay by Visa and have a Saturday delivery. No problem I was told so Saturday morning, I sat an waited for the delivery to arrive.
Saturday morning came and lo and behold, the wood turned up nice and early, the driver of the loader helped me in with all the timber and even better, all the wood was cut to the exact length I’d ordered – all 55 cuts of it. This was a major bonus and something I really hadn’t bargained for. I then came to inspect the wood expecting the worst having had past ‘warped’ experiences from some of the large DIY stores but all the wood was perfectly straight and could only be described as ‘beautiful’.
Building the bed
Now the only problem with the wood is that I ordered 4×4 and 6×1 inches etc but RTF supplied metric values (ie. 100mm x 100mm). A quick check of the plans later, there didn’t appear to be any major problems with this so armed with my trusty 15-year-old drill, I got to work drilling and chiseling. It took 2 weekends to get the bed looking like a bed and the only major problems were getting it all glued and screwed and square with only one person – it weighed a ton!!! I made the frame for the bed first with the 4 uprights and the mattress support rails (6 x 1 in) morticed and glued in. It was a bit of a nightmare getting all the tenons in at the same time due to the sheer size of the frame (9 foot tall) and when I lifted the whole lot up, I nearly split my sides. I then measured corner to corner to square up the bed and left the glue to set overnight.
Then I fitted all the side rails for the top and marked them in the order they went on to make sure the holes lined up when I came to fit them back after varnishing. I also made the raised platform and drilled the holes for the horizontal slats. The stairs up to the top bunk/play area was an absolute nightmare and were mostly done by eye and common sense. Now for the worst part – the sanding.
I didn’t realize how much surface area there was to sand !!! It took me almost a month of sanding to get a perfectly smooth finish (evenings and weekends). It made it easier than I could take most of the bed to bits to do this and I’d already sanded the frame that was glued and didn’t come apart. Fortunately, my neigbours were noiser than I was at night so I couldn’t really complain about the noise from the sanding. Having completely sanded smooth every bit of wood in sight, I vacuumed the room 3 or 4 times so no dust would settle on the newly varnished wood.
Varnishing the bunk bed
Varnishing took a couple of hours and I retired from the fumes to let the bed dry. I’d only varnished the main bed – the play area would have to be done after the bunks had been fitted into the alcove in the bedroom. The major problem – I’d not taken into account the extra width of the skirting boards!!! When I came to fit the beds in the alcove, they wedged solid. One attack of the skirting board with a crowbar later and they fitted perfectly 😉
Once the beds were in the alcove, I fitted the play area. I’d deliberately left this till last so I could account for any variances in the walls, squareness of room, etc.
This bit went surprisingly well and most of the work was done by eye and spirit level. I then fitted the 3/4 inch MDF bases to the beds and play area using 1x2in batons – screwed and glued. Being little concerned with the weight of the MDF on the top bunk as if this fell onto the person on the bed below, it would do a lot of damage. I needn’t have worried though; the top bunk will quite happily take the weight of two full-grown adults jumping around (don’t ask!!! 🙂
After the play area was varnished, I glued a piece of scrap carpet with some carpet glue onto the MDF and stepped back and admired my handy work. Then I went down to the pub and got very happy.