Hi everyone! Mr. Project here. I don’t usually post here, in fact, I usually just work in the background or on the sidelines. You could say I’m something of the 6th man or mascot of the project girl. She’s the REAL awesome here. You can check out the other post I wrote about how to get started building kitchen cabinets.
Jen Allyson got invited to remake a room for the circuit design space star contest and she came up with the idea to re-do the boys room at our home (you can find a tour of the room here) And you can VOTE for the room (it only takes 2 seconds) here.
Jen knew that she wanted unique bunk beds in the room, she put together a basic sketch of her idea and then created a line drawing in adobe illustrator. I used that to create a 3D rendering of the design in Google Sketchup, so that I could make sure all my dimensions were correct and figure out the construction of the beds.
There were a few things we wanted to accomplish with the bunk beds including –
1. Create something unique and interesting looking
2. Create a reading space for the boys
3. Make everything “knock down” so we can take the beds with us if we ever decided to move, while at the same time . . .
4. Make it look build in, and custom.
Step 1 – Create your plans.
I’m sharing my sketch-up file for the beds. Disclaimer – the file is not a professional plan, you’ll need some woodworking know-how for the small details like chamfered or rounded edges on the bed rails, as well as to figure out where all the screws need to go to make sure it’s sturdy and well supported. As with any structural project, please make sure that the bunk beds are structurally sound before allowing people to climb, sit, or sleep on them. We recommend consulting a professional contractor during any woodworking projects.
Step 2 – Pick your wood
We fortunately have a woodshop here at the canyon view house (tour all our projects here), so I didn’t have to go far to figure out what I needed to get the bed built. Because we had a budget of 1000 USD and 500 in circuit supplies for the room, we decided to use some rustic alder that we had on hand for the room. Rustic alder is a cheap wood though, my local wood supplier sells it at around 1 dollar per unit. For these bunk beds, if we had purchased the wood, it would have come out around 150 USD.
I’ll explain the other reason I used alder a little later.
Step 3 – Get building the headboard
Once you have plans figured out and materials, get building! I started by building the headboards first. I used the dimensions I found online for a twin mattress. I tried to make sure there’d be enough wiggle room on the sides of the mattress when it fit in place so that it’s be a little easier to put in bedding. This comes in especially handy when making the top bunk bed with bedding.
Here’s a pic of dry fitting the headboard as a plain plywood box to the rails.
By making sure the headboard was a good fit and the right dimensions, I was able to make the frame. I tried to use as flexible a construction method as possible By using screws and other hardware that potentially could be broken down. The headboard started as a plywood box. I used baltic birch plywood that is a bit more stable and high quality than the stuff you find in your local hardware store. it’s a bit more pricey too, but fortunately, I had a few pieces lying around that worked perfectly for what I was trying to do with the headboard.
After building the box, I went to work on creating the look for the headboard. The project girl wanted a slatted look to go along with the theme of the lumberjack room, so I rip cut all the boards on my table saw to about 4 1/2 inches wide and also chamfered or beveled the edges. it’s a small detail, but it helps make the slats look more pronounced. I did this on my nifty router table so that I could repeat the cuts reliably.
After the wood was processed to the right width, beveled and cut to length with my miter saw, I started applying it to the plywood box. Using some glue and a pin nailer, I nailed the wood slats to the box, being careful to keep everything level and flush with each other so there were no gaps.
Using a miter saw I cut the corners at 45 degrees, allowing for a seamless transition to the sides.The top board needed a mitre on all 4 sides. This required use of my table saw with the blade at a 45 degree angle for the long sides. Again, if you’re thinking about doing this bed, take a look at the plans here, they’re not detailed but if you or someone else is handy, you can probably fill in the gaps. Feel free to email me too if you have any questions. I’m mrproject-at-theprojectgirl.com.
Looking good so far with the alter applied to the headboard plywood box
Step 4 – Build the frames and slats
The frames were a little more “on-the-fly” than the headboard. I had a general idea of how to make it work and the details are in the sketchup file here, but I did have to make a few modifications. Because I wanted to do this on the cheap and make it affordable by saving myself another trip to the hardware store, I decided to make my own corner braces from left over reclaimed oak wood I had lying around. I had some 4 inch pieces of oak, so I cut those into L bracket pieces and used those to re-inforce the corners of the bed. The project girl thinks I overdo things and build them so they’ll survive the zombie apocalypse. I totally think that’s okay.
Here she is looking at me like I’m crazy for overbuilding this thing –
For the frames I used alder on the outside and poplar for the inside. If I were doing it again, I think I would have gone with maple for a little more strength, but poplar did just fine. Poplar and alder are both softer woods so they’re a little easier to work with. I’ll get to the other reason I chose alder later in the post.
I also needed slats for the bed to support the mattress since I wasn’t going to be using your standard box spring. You could also use just a solid sheet of plywood, but I went with slats (a lot more work) because after reading, I found that some mattress manufacturers will actually void your warranty if the bed is on a solid flat surface instead of on slats or a box spring.
Doing it this way s a lot more work because I had to cut about 40 slats to the right width, length, sand and profile the edges so they weren’t sharp enough to rip up the bottom of my mattress. Another small detail not included in the plans. I also used 1/2 inch thick baltic birch for the slats. Plywood is has a lot of strength and stability so I chose this material for the slats for that reason. After a few tests confirmed that it was supporting my weight, I decided the slats and frame were good to go.
Step 5 – Treat the wood (on the cheap)
A gallon bottle of vinegar runs about 2 bucks at my local store and a bag of steel wool about 4 dollars. If you combine steel wool and vinegar, you can create a chemical stain for your wood. A chemical stain or bonier is a mixture that reacts with the tannins in wood to ebonies the wood or turn is blacker. To make it, just combine about a quart of white distilled vinegar with one wad of steel wool and let it sit. The amount of time you leave your mixture sitting is how strong or reactive the mixture will become. I wish I had a more technical explanation for you but a bit of trial and error with scrap wood can let you know how reactive the mixture is at any given time. For my beds I left the mixture sitting just overnight before removing the wad of steel wood.
The mix after sitting in place for a few weeks –
So back to why I chose alder… Alder reacts the best of any wood with vinegar chemical stain to achieve what we like to call a reclaimed weathered look. It’s awesome, because ever off the shelf stain I’ve tried doesn’t come close to giving me this look. Alder is the only thing that Ive used that gives a nice silvery grey tone with a hint of warmth after application.
So, once the bed was built and dry fit, I started applying the chemical stain. You can use a cheap bristle brush of foam brushes. No need to use a fancy applicator here. I haven’t tried this, but you could probably use an old rag as well. Use gloves if you hate the smell of vinegar on your hands. The results were great! After that staining process, I then began planning out the ladder.
Here’s a shot of the headboard with the stain being applied. The darker parts that look brown are where the wood is still reacting to the stain and it’s wet. you can even see a spot where the mix touched on the birch wood and is making it gray too.
Step 6 – Building the ladder
I left the ladder as the last thing I would build because I wasn’t exactly sure at this point where and how I was going to attach it to the frame and how long I needed to make the rails. With the structure of the top bunk built, I then measured and cut my pieces to the right lengths and heights.
The tops of the ladder rails also had to have some special joinery. I cut through mortise and tenon joints and used knockdown hardware bolts and threaded inserts(you can find these at your local hardware store). They’re the bolts you find on furniture with an allen head and a metric threat along the bolt. Once those were cut and finished, I was ready to start on the rungs.
Cutting mortise and tenon joinery –
I have a lot of tools, but a drill press isn’t one of them. I came THIS close to buying one for the project but decided against it to save money along the way.
We were going to use black pipe from home depot for the rungs but decided against it for a few reasons. i wasn’t able to drill a reliably straight hole that would fit the pipe and allow me to join it to the side rails for my ladder. With wood, I could also glue the rungs into the sides for strength and for zombie bomb proof strength, I could put a small black finish screw in the sides to make sure it would last. I felt better about this so I ran to my local home depot and picked up a few dowels for my ladders rungs. I used 1 1/4 inch dowels for the rungs.
Drilling the holes reliably and consistently would take some thinking. I made a jig out of 1/4 inch MDF I had lying around so that the rungs would be reasonably level and reliably spaced up the ladder. I had to account for the height of the side of the bed the spacing to the top of the rail and the spacing between the rungs. We wanted the bed about 48 inched off the floor but we settled on 45.5 inches because of how the bed was constructed and the thickness of the carpet.
After cutting the rungs, I then assembled the ladder and left the rail pieces full length. I wouldn’t be cutting these until I was in the space and could reliably measure and account for the right light.
Step 7 – Finishing the bunk bed
To finish the bunk bed I used Varathane water based polyurethane clear finish. It’s the best finish that I’ve used on wood for a few reasons. Finishing is one of the most frustrating things about woodworking. For example, if you use finish that dries too quickly, it can be stressful trying to finish a piece of wood in a very short period of time. Or, if you use a finish that takes too long to dry, you open yourself to making more mistakes by having dust or other impurities fall on the surface. Varathane is a brush on finish (the can says brush on only, but I’ve sprayed it with good results before) and it’s VERY forgiving, I think. It’s water based meaning you can clean it up very easily, and it dries quickly, but not too quickly.
Also, it’s a crystal clear finish meaning it won’t yellow or enhance the stain in a negative way.
Okay, so here’s the trick to using the stuff. Apply a thin coat to seal the wood first. Wood is porous like a sponge, so it’s going to absorb the finish pretty quickly. Don’t freak out here, just let it do its thing. Once it’s dried for about an hour, get some 22o grit sandpaper and lightly sand the newly finished wood. because it is water based, the finish will “pop” the grain on the surface of the wood, leaving you with a slight texture after all that hard work you put in sanding. So, lightly sand the wood to remove the effects of the pop. Don’t sand too much or you’ll start to sand through the stain. Just a light sand to knock down the grain is all you need.
You can see the can of the finish to the left in this photo.
Next, apply a medium coat. You’ll notice you need way less finish to cover a surface. This is because the spongy surface of the wood is now sealed so the finish won’t be soaking into the wood as much. You’ll thanks me for all these details later.
The third and final coat can be thicker. you could also sand again between coats if you want after about 2 hours of dry time. I’ve wet sanded this finish before, but only when I’m applying a spray. It’s really great. It hold up really well.
For the beds, I used Satin finish and went through about 1/2 gallon. I recommend just getting a gallon at Homedepot or Lowes. It runs about 45 bucks and it’ll last you for a few projects. We even used something similar to this on the floors in our house.
Step 8 – Assembly
I knew I could build this thing on my own but I also knew I couldn’t assemble it on my own, so lucky for me, I had a handy helper – the project girl – help my with the installation process. We also had a few mascots running around cheering us on the way and being mischievous as well.
To install the upper bunk, I measured the height off the floor plus whatever other measurements I needed on the ladder to make the height right and put marking on the wall where there were studs. The project girl’s sixth sense is stud finding. After all, how’d she find me? ba-dum-tssshhh. See what I did there? She helped me find the studs in the wall and I used a stud finder as well to make sure we were going to be drilling in the right place. Get a good stud finder. It’s a small investment but it’ll save you lots of stray holes in your walls if you’re guessing their location.
Because of the thickness of the rails, and my obsession with overbuilding things, I went with 4 inch long torx headed deck screws that are self drilling. They’re designed tokeep decking boards flush and down for years, so I thought they’d keep my upper bunk in place.
I also attached the headboard to the wall using a french cleat (you can find out more about how that works here)
To attach the headboard to the bed frame, I used small self-drilling screws with square heads to connect the pieces.
Next was attaching the simple ladder to the corner of the upper bunk. The project girl had a great idea of how to get it done, so with a level in place and her holding the upper bunk, I was able to screw the ladder in place from the opposite side of the bed rails. I didn’t want too many screws showing on the outside of the bed, so I tried to minimize this look where possible with black screws or no screws at all.
With the ladder in place, I could now, measure, cut and place the remaining pieces of the rails into place.
The lower bed was then installed, this time, all I had to do was make a base for the bed and screw the headboard into the slots I built into the bed’s base.
Here’s a look at the joints on the bed once it was all installed –
Step 9 – Deciding never to do this again (just kidding)
At the end of some projects I tell the project girl, “I’m NEVER doing that again”. It mostly means that I’m tired, but looking back at the work we completed, I feel really good. The bed alone was cool, but if you really want to see awesome, be sure to check out the full room tour for the lumberjack bedroom. Most everything in the room was custom made, and designed by the project girl for the room. Custom art, custom bedding, custom bed, custom pillows and even a hand made light fixture for the boys in their under bed reading space.
Check out the tour of the lumberjack room. if you like it, please vote for the project girl by visiting this link, and voting for her on the page!
If you have any questions, feel free to email me, mr project – mrproject-at-theprojectgirl.com
Here’s some photos of the final bunk beds-