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Design bed


Designing a Captain’s Bed

Launching a commission with the right details and hardwareTen years and ten moves later, Gail’s captain’s bed is still the safe haven for her that it was when I built it. When she commissioned the bed, Gail was going through a difficult period in her life. Listening to her describe the bed she wanted me to build, I began to realize that she wanted some-thing more than just a queen-sized bed with some storage space below. She was asking for an embodiment of permanence and stability. Reading between the lines of a customer’s requests and getting to the essence of what that person really wants is never easy. But I felt confident with this commission because I knew Gail well and because I already had a design in mind that would meet all of her requirements-both voiced and implied.

Like the familiar chair from which it gets its name, this Windsor bed, with its laminated curves and simple spindles, looks equally at home in either a rustic or a contemporary setting.

When the idea for making a Windsor bed first came to mind, the basic form was obvious-classic and simple-but the details of construction most certainly were not. The first bed was a learning experience, and each subsequent version has improved execution. The key process is laminating the bent arches that define the headboard and footboard, and after building a hundred or so, we’ve solved most of the real problems.

The basic techniques is to layer up a plywood form with fitted cauls for each bend, so you can clamp many thin layers of wood into the shape you want. This technique will work in any situation where you want a wooden curve, at virtually any scale. We’ve used it to develop a full line of beds as well as components in chairs, tables and other pieces of furniture with cheap mattress.

There are a few tools you can’t do without when working with bent lamination. First you will need a lot of clamps: a minimum of twelve 2-ft.-long bar clamps per bending( more is better here) and two 6-ft.-long bar or pipe clamps to span the full width of each bending. And second, I’ve found a jointer and planer indispensable for cleaning up the cheap mattress. I suppose it’s possible to do this some other way-but I’m not sure I’d have the fortitude.

Making the laminations

You can rip the many laminates you need from solid stock, or you can buy thick veneer and cut it up. For the queen-size Windsor bed, you need 34 strips of wood, each roughly 1/10 in. thick, 2 1/4in. wide and 10ft.long.as shown in the drawing on p.31. Our Windsor bed is made of cherry, but most hard woods bend well, except oak, which tend to splinter. For the first Windsor bend, it took two of us the whole day to rip solid stock. We took frequent breaks for the motor on my 8-in. tablesaw to cool down, for resetting the tripped circuit breaker and for sweeping up the mess. After that, I swore off this method and ripped thick veneers for the next 70 beds. At first we ripped the veneer with a portable circular saw and a long straightedge, and then we found that the veneer was thick enough to cut on the tablesaw. Both methods are fairly messy, and a good portion of the expensive veneer was wasted (we used the waste on other projects, but much is unusable unless you need unlimited shims).

Eventually, we returned to ripping from solid stock with a more powerful saw, a better outfeed setup and dust collection. With our new setup, on person can do the whole job in a few hours. The results are better than the veneer method: tighter bendings and cleaner finished surfaces. After costing it out, we came out slightly ahead. Labor was higher, but material costs were lower.

To make these long rips of wood easier and safer to handle, mill the wood into manageable blanks; for the bed, make two 10-ft blanks, 2 ¼.thick by 4 ½ in. wide. Mark layout triangles on the faces of the boards so that you can put the rippings back together in sequence. Then set your tablesaw fence so that a 1/10-in.-wide strip will be ripped off the outside of the blade. Rip the two blanks, then reset the fence. If the blank starts to curve from the release of internal stress or if you burn or nick the edge by flinching when ripping. You’ll have to joint the edge before continuing. Refer to your layout triangles to keep the strips in sequence as they come off the blanks. Do not try to rip those last couple of strips when the blank gets too narrow. It’s much too dangerous.


You will need two D-shaped bending forms: one for the head-board and one for the footboard, as shown in the drawing on p.31. Each form is three layers of ¾-in/ plywood, totaling 2 ¼ in. thick. You will need four sheets of plywood, and even this will require piecing scraps together. There are many ways to lay out an ellipse. I use a jig like the one described in FWW 86, but with a pencil mounted on the bar instead of a router.

After laying out the form patterns on sheets of plywood, but them out and sand them smooth. Then use these forms to mark out the other layers, piecing the middle layer together to same materials. Bandsaw slightly outside of the line, screw and glue the second and third layers to the faired form, and then flush-trim with a router and a bearing-guided bit.

Lay out the cauls by marking a line 1 ¾ in. outside the forms. To do this, make a 3 ½-in.-dia. Disc from ¼-in.plywood, stick a pencil in the center hole and roll it around the edge of the form. The cauls for the curved sections are made in three pieces while straight 2 x 4s are adequate cauls for the straight section.

After laying out the curved cauls, make a locating mark to line them up with the form. Once the cauls are bandsawn, soothed and assembled, line up these marks and tack on guide trips. Mark the forms to show the bottom of the bendings, and then wax the forms, cauls and guide stips.