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First Bed

First Bed

This bed is basic, unadorned, and simple. Its an ideal first bed project because its very simplicity also makes it perfect as an introduction to making any other bed. We examine all of the basic elements of making a typical wooden bed in this chapter. We use some variation of these methods on all of the beds in this book-except for the Platfirm Bed, which has a different structure entirely-so this project also functions as an overall reference.

This “first) bed has a simple headboard, but not real footboard-jut legs and a footboard rail. The bed sets up and disassembles easily using bolts with washers and nuts. The side rails support a series of wooden slats, which creat the platform to hold the mattress. The whole thing is easy to store or move around, since the parts are reasonably small and relatively light.

This bed is also a first bed in another way-its a good first bed for a child because its a little lower than usual. But it certainly doesn’t have to be this way. You could add 2 in. To the legs to bring the rails up to 10 in. Off the floor, making it a more typical adult bed. I give the basic dimensions for the other standard sizes as well, since all of the techniques and approches described here apply to an size bed; just the dimensions need to be recalculated.

Simple first bed for a child or adult

The first bed is quite simple and introduces the basic structure of a wooden bed. The headboard and footboard rails join to the posts with mortise-and-tenon joints. The headboard floats in a very wide mortise, pinned only in the center with a screw. The side rails attach to the headboard and footboard posts with bed bolts, which run right through the middle of the mortise-and-tenon, joining the headboard or footboard rail to the post. It makes an excellent bed for a child, but can be made to any size.


The first bed breaks down into four basic components: the headboard, the footboard, the side rails, and the mattress support. Its best to work on the headboard and footboard at the same time since the work is so similar and you will save set-up time on each of the necessary steps. The side rails come next, since they complete the bed frame. Finally, work on the slats.

Headboard and Footboard

Making and mortising the posts:

1.mill the stock for the four posts to 1 3/4 in. Squaure, then cut them to the lengths indicated in the drawings.

2. Lay out and cut the headboard and footboard rail mortises on the inner faces of the posts. A 3-in.-long, 1/2-in,-wide, and 1 1/2-in.-deep mortise centered on the width of the post works well for all bed sizes. On a child’s bed, locate the bottoms of the mortises 9 in.up from the bottom of the posts. On an adult-size bed, the mortises should start 11 in. Up from the post bottoms. I use a router and a mortising jig to do this work.

3.Mark our and cut an additional mortise on each of the headboard posts for the headboard itself. This is a long, shallow mortise-9in. Long, 1/2 in. Wide, and 17/32 in. Deep.

Milling the rails:

1.Mill the headboard and footboard rails to size, bt not to length. You should also mill the side rails now, since they are the smae thickness and width( but then set them aside until you’re done with the headboard and footboard).

2.Verify that the thickness of the posts is actually 1 3/4 in. And that the thickness of the side rails is actually 1 1/16 in. Before cutting the rail to the indicated length. If you’ve got parts that are different either by design or by happenstance, you need to claculate the correct rail lengths.

Tenoning the rails:

1.Mark out the location of the tenon so that its centered on the rail from side to side and from top to bottom. Mark the length of the tenon as well. For both of these tasks, I prefer t use a marking gauge, but you can also measure and mark with either a pencial or a knife.

2.. Cut away the waste. The tool I use most often to do this job is my plunge router and a special tenoning jig. The jig works witha plunge router and guide bushing that follows a guide strip to cut the tenon. The location of the tenon an be controlled by where you position the tenoning template on top of the horizontal platform of the workpiece support.

3.Clamp the workpiece to the workpiece support with an edge against the fence and the top flush with the bottom of the tenoning template.

4.Locate the template above the workpiece where you want to cut the tenon, and clamp or screw it in place.

5.Put the router on the jig, and set the glunge meechanism to the right depth. Turn on the router and plunge to the full depth of cut

6.Cut the tenon waste with many light passes. To cut the other face of the tenon, move over to the opening on the other side of the guide strip.

7.Chisel or cut the waste from the sides of the tenons and round them over with a rasp to match the rounded ends of the mortise.

8.After you cut the tenons, check the fit of each individually, I use a special rabbet planeto fit the cheeks, but a raspor sandpaper on a block works also. Be careful not to round over or taper the cheeks. You should have a snug fit that you can put together by hand.

9.Mark the tenon and the corresponding mortise with the same letter or number as soon as you’re done fitting them. This will not only remind you where the joint goes, but it also serves as a reminder that you have already fit the joint.

Making the headboard

If you can find a single 18 1/2.-wide plank for the headboard, use it. On a table, this would normally lead to warping, but here the long mortises in the post keep the plank staight. If you do have to glue up the headboard, choose your wood carefully for agood match. Remeber, the headboard is usually the visual focus of the bed.

1.Glue up the plank for the headboard, let it dry, then make it flat and smooth. Make sure the bottom edge is straight.

2.Figure the length by carefully measuring the shoulder-to-shoulder length of the headboard rail, and add 1 in. for the two 1/2-in. Tenons. Use the rail itself as the ruler to mark off the length.

3.Crosscut the board to length, referencing both cuts off the same edge. You may want to “ sneak up” on the proper length, firt cutting a little long, then taking a little bit off at a time until the headboard is precisely the right length and exactly square.

4.The headboard should have a nice, gentle curve along the top edge. Mark it by springing a thin piece of wood into a curve using a clamp until you are satisfied with the shape and trace the line with a pencil. Don’t cut to the line just yet.

5.Tenon the ends of the headboard. This is a not normal tenon-its very wide and very shot. The simplest way to do it is to rout both sides of each end with a 1/2-in. Rabbeting bit. Set the depth of cut on te router so you’ll leave just over 1/2 in.-this should mean cutting just under 9/32in.-deep on both sides of the 1 1/16-in.-thick headboard. Back up the headboard where the router exits the cut.

6.Cut the curve on top pf the headboard. You can use a bandsaw or a jigsaw, then plane or sand smooth.

7.Mark the headboard tenons 1 1/2 in. From both the bottom and top edges, and cut away the waste. This should leave a tenon that is about 1 in. Shorter than the mortise, leaving room for expansion. You don’t need to round over the ends of the tenons or square up the ends of the mortises

8.Fit the tenons to the mortises, and mark both halves of the joint so you’ll know what goes where later.

Drilling holes in the posts for the bed bolts

The knockdown joints for the side rails are a simple vrsion of traditional bed bolts. There are three holes to drill in the headboard and footboard posts for each joint- a central bolt hole and two holes for alignment pins made from dowels. The pins align the rail properly and keep it from twisting or shifting.

1.Lay out the location for the bolt hole in each post. They should be exactly centered on the post and 10 1/2 in. Up from the bottom for a child’s bed or 12 1/2in. Up from the bottom for a standard twin bed.

2.Lay out the 5/16-in. Holes for the alignment pins 1 in. Above and 1 in. Below the bolt holes, as measured on centers.

3.To drill the three holes in the posts, i make and use a special jig. He three holes have to align exactly on both the posts and the rails. So consistency is essential. Once you’ve drilled the 3/8-in. Bolt hole in a post, you can use this jig to align the 5/16-in. Holes above and below.

4.The last hole to drill is the counterbored 3/4-in.-diameter hole on the outside of the post. If you don’t have a 3/4-in. Counterboring bit with a 3/8-in.pilot, you should cut this holw before the three on the other side. Mark and drill the 3/4-in. Hole about 3/8 in. Deep from the outside. Then drill through the center of the hole with a 3/8-in.bit. Then make and use the drilling guide to drill the 5/16-in. Holes from the inside as described above.

Assembling the headboard and footboard

1.Before assembly, carefully plane, scrape, and sand ( i whatever combination you prefer) all parts smooth. You might also want to add a small chamfer on all of the edges- about 1/16-in. Seems about right. I put a bigger chamfer on the tops of the posts-more like 1/8 in.- because i think it looks better. On the post bottoms, the chamfer helps keep wood from splitting or chipping off when the bed s moved around.

2.Glue up the headboard first. Spread glue in ont of the rail mortises and then very lightly on the corresponding rail tenon. Too much glue on the tenon will lead to squeeze-out. Insert the rail tenon as far as you can by hand, then insert the headboard tenon into the long mortise in the post: however, don’t apply any glue to the headboard-post joint. Apply glue to the rail mortise and tenon on the other side.

3. Clamp the assembly together slowly, with one clamp on the front of the assembly and one on the back to equalize the clamping pressure. You may have to adjust the position of the headboard so it’s parallel to the rail in order to clamp it up tight.

4.When the headboard is assembled, pin the center in place with#6 by 2 1/2-in.screw. This also helps keep the shoulder of the headboard tight against the post. Drill the pilot holes so they come through the legs centered on the ends of the headboard. Countersink the holes about 1/4 in. Deep so you can plug them after assembly.

Side Rails

Milling and cutting the rails to length

Mill the side rails now if you haven’t already and cut them to length. With a bed made specifically for achild, its best to leave very little room around the mattress and/or boxspring so the child can’t slide down into a gap or shift things around when using the bed as a trampoline-75 1/4 in. Long is fine on this bed. But for an adult bed with just the mattress on a platform of slats, its better to make the rail between 1/2 in. And 1 in. Longer than the mattress. This leaves room for tucking in the bedding and for taller people to hang their toes off the end.

Drill holes for the bed bolts

1.Drill the bolt holes for the rail-to-post joins. Because its not easy to drill perfectly straignt holes into the end of a 75-in.-long board, i suggest using a self-centering doweling jig. Drill as deeply as possible with the jig, then deepen the hole guiding the drill by hand.

2.Drill the dowel pin locating holes 1 in. Deep, using the same jig you made to drill the holes in the posts. If you didn’t make that jig, he self-centering doweling jig will also work.

3.Glue the 5/16-in. By 1 1/4-in. Dowels in the pin holes in the ends of rails

Routing the nut recesses

1.To cut the recesses for the bed bolt nut on the inside face of each rail, make up a template that will both locate the recess on the rail and create the D shape, and clamp it to the inside face.

2. With a 3/8 in. Straight bit and a5/8-in. Guige bushing in a plunge router, plunge-cut to a depth no closer than 1/8 in. From the opposite side of the rail, taking very shallow passes. Stop and blow out the sawdust as often as necessary to prevent sawdust from building up in the recess.

3.Chamfer or ease the edges of the recess.

Making and installing the cleats

1.Mill up stock for the two cleats( use scrap from making the side rails if you have it)

2. In one of the 1-in.-wide sides of each cleat, lay out the locations for 5/16-in. Dowel pins. Space them every 5 in., starting 2 9/16 in. From each end( or farther if the cleats are longer).

3.Drill the 5/16-in.-diameter holes centered on the thickness of the cleat, and make them about 3/4 in. Deep.

4.Drill a series of countersunk pilot holes for screws in each cleat, every 6 in. Or so and in a zigzag pattern about 3/8 in. From each edge- the cleats will be more secure this way. Spread a little glue into each of the dowel holes, and pound in 5/16-in.-by 1 1/4-in.-long dowels.

5.Wait until after you apply a finish to the side rails before attaching the cleats. This makes the finishing much easier.

Final Assembly

Making the slats

1.Mill enough wood for 15 slats that are 3/4 in. Thick, and rip to 4 in. Wide.

2.Ease all four edges of each slat by routing with a 1/4-in. Roundover bit (although anything that breaks the sharp edges is fine).

3..cut the slats a little bit over finished length for now. To get the exact length, you have to actually set up the bed.

4.Once you’ve cut each of the slats to length, you can cut the dowel notches in the ends. I do this with a jig. However, this jig only works if you’re making a small bed or have a fairly high ceiling. If you don’t there is no reason you can’t cut the notches on the bandsaw and clean them up with a chisel. To check the fit of the slats, you’ll have to assemble the bed.

Assembling the parts

1.Attach the cleats once you’ve finished and waxed the bed. Line them up flush with the bottom of the side rails, and screw in place.

2.To attach the side to the headboard and footboard, lean the headboard upright against a wall or something secure, and place the side rails roughly in position. Place a 5/16-in.by 5 1/2. Hex-head bolt with a washer and a second washer and nut at each corner.

3.Insert the dowels on one end of a side rail into the corresponding holes in the headboard post. Insert the bolt and washer from the outside of the headboard, until the end of the bolt is just coming into the nut recess. Now place the other washer on the end of the bolt, and thread on the nut. It helps to rotate the bolt from the outside of the bed when you’re doing this.

4..use a 1/2-in. Nut driver to tighten up the bolt and a 1/2-in. Open-end wrench to keep the nut from turning. Tighten securely, but don’t tighten so hard that you’re crushing the wood.

5.Attach the footboard to the other end of the rail the same way you attached the headboard( don’t try to put the bed together by attaching the second rail before you attach the footboard unless you have help.)

6.Attach the other side rail to the headboard and footboard. Put both of the bolts( with their washer) into the bolt holes in the posts before you pick up the rail. Pushing both bolts into the rail will guarantee that the locating dowels won’t accidentally pop out while you work on getting the washers and nuts on. Check to seet that all of the bolts are tight.

7.Drop the slats over the dowel pins on the cleats, hoping they fit, and adjusting them if they don’t. Then drop the mattress into place.

Shaker-style Bed

The shaker lived their lives apart from the “ world” what they called life outside their religious communities. They did alot of things differently from the “ world”, including sleep. Because the Shaker were celibate, they had little need for double beds and used them only to save space. Two men, women, or children would sleep together in these.

Many Shaker-designed single beds did not brak down. The side rail;s were tenoned into the legs just like the headboard and footboards.

Almost all of the beds had casters on the legs. This made it easy to move the bed out of the way when sweeping the floors. The beds were also relatively high off the ground to keep out of the cold drafts near the floor.

This bed is nor a copy of a particular Shaker bed. Instead, I have borrowed elements from a number of Shaker beds I have seen. Some of my construction details remain faithful to traditional Shaker construction. But I have made concessions to moden living and to contemporary woodworking techniques.

I chose to make this a full-size bed, which is more useful than the 28-in.-to 34-in.-wide and 70-in.-to 72-in.-long originals. I also omitted the casters. I hesitate to say that these changes make the bed better, but they certainly make it more familiar and comfortable for us today.

Building the bed step-by-step

ALTHOUGH this bed looks very different from the First Bed, the overall approach to building it is the same. To start, you work on the headboard and footboard together. Then move on to the side rails and finally the mattress support. The turned legs are not essential to the construction, but they are to the design. You can make the bed with straight or tapered legs, but it won’t look as nice.


Making the headboard and footboard

Milling the headboard and footboard planks

1.Mill up the pieces for the headboard and footboard planks.

2.If you’re not working with a single board plank, glue the pieces into slightly oversize planks.

3.Cut the planks to size, making sure the edges are parallel and he ends square.


Cutting the tenons

This bed doesn’t have a separate headboard and footboard rail to provide structural strength, so the planks themselves need stuctureal tenons. However, 8-in.-to 14-in.-wide mortise-and-tenon joints would break apart due to seasonal wood movement. The traditional solution is to make a divied tenon.

1.Cut the headboard and footboard plank tenon shoulders with the tenoning jig described in “ A Tenoning Jig” on P. 24 and a 4-in.-long straight bit. To use the jig with the wide headboard, remove the vertical fence from the workpiece support. You’ll have to cut the tenons a portion at a time.

2.Lay out the section of tenon that will stay full length and the short 1/4-in. Haunches.

Cut away the waste on the bandsaw and then pare away all of the haunch tenon on the very top and bottom to leave shoulders.