As I woodworker I have met different customers. Some of them admired what I do for living, telling me how lucky I am for doing what I love doing. Others, obviously interested in trying out woodworking are keen to know more, ask me questions like “is doing woodwork as a hobby expensive?”,“Does woodworking take a lot of time?”,“is woodworking easy?”, telling me that they always dreamed of doing their own woodworking projects, to build something of their own but never tried or dropped shortly after trying.
In fact that was the reason why they came to me in first place. But I also had one customer who according to his own words, always felt that he had the creativity in him, waiting for it to be shown to the world, something more innovative than the thing he was doing but didn’t know what that was. There was always something that stopped him from taking that step and from his perspective I see that it was nothing more than the fear of change.
Anyway, he got married, soon after kids came and he had no time for self-discovery. Time past until the day a baby bed in which his second child slept was too small to accommodate him so he and his wife started looking for a bunk bed or loft bed. But what was supposed to be a simple search turned out to be very complicated mission as they were having great difficulties choosing a bunk bed and it was all because of him.
No matter how perfect the model was, there was always something that he found wrong, no matter how much his spouse liked it, there was some detail that was preventing him from saying yes. So finally, after discarding her proposal for buying the most expensive example of a bunk bad she said “if you could do better than this, then build a bunk bed yourself” and it turned out that those words were so powerful to make him try.
Finding Bunk Bed Plans
The first challenge to building a bunk bed yourself is how to do it and what materials to use. So, my customer sketched some blueprints but he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing. He tried to find the answer to all those questions on the internet and in that maze of information, he as a beginner, was literally lost (over-information I tend to call it), hence why he came to me in the end.
He wanted a simple bunk bed, nothing too much or that took up too much space in the room, just a simple bunk bed. There is many different types of bunk beds that you can build and in saying this, they can get quite fancy with inbuilt cupboards, stairs and wall units included. See the image to the right as an example. This is a full on bunk bed project that would take much longer than the simple bunk bed my customer wanted.
When he arrived at my workshop, we went through some simple details of different bunk beds and also some loft beds and discussed what he wanted exactly. He wanted to see my bunk bed plans and my resources that I used, I showed him my woodworking plans which included so many bunk bed plans which he could choose whatever bunk bed he desired (you can get the DIY Woodworking Plans otherwise you can read a write up I did about them here, Woodworking Plans for Beginners to Experts) and he felt he had everything he needed to begin; the videos, step by step instructions, blueprints, dimensions, tools list and even if he didn’t give the bunk bed a go, there was plenty of other simple woodworking projects to get a start on (in the woodworking package – there is sixteen thousand plans) – I know, too much to do in a lifetime, but something to suit everybody’s needs/tastes.
Anyway, in between meeting me and going back home to discuss things with his wife, a few weeks passed and in the weeks that passed, to my amazement, he started with a simple woodworking plan, building a simple shoe rack from the woodworking plans that I gave him. And after finishing building a shoe rack, he felt like he had just built Noah’s arch (I think we all believe we become Noah after completing our first woodworking project).
Still, he lacked confidence for building a bunk bed and also the proper tools. In fact the only tools he had were a measuring tape, pencil, sandpaper, hammer, hack saw and some clamps so before buying power tools he decided to come to me and order a bunk bed and ask me if I would be kind enough to let him help me.
I told him that every help is welcomed but since he is paying me to build the wanted design for him he really doesn’t need to do anything except to watch. His answer was that he missed to make cradle for his babies so he was resolved to make, or at least to take part, in the making of the bunk bed for his kids.
Building a Bunk Bed
Like with all my ‘How To Tutorials on Woodwork’ as part of my ‘Wally’s How To’ series of blog posts, building a bunk bed is a pretty popular piece of furniture I get asked to make by my customers.
As mentioned in my previous post (Building a Bird House), I will not be going step by step on how to build a bunk bed (or any other piece of furniture, for that matter). I believe the best resource is in the woodworking package (read more about the woodworking plans I use) and the best advice I can give you is through my experience and pointers here and there, some tips, tricks and what to think about and look out for when building your own furniture.
Following the steps is easy, buying the tools and the woodworking plans is easy but constructing it and knowing the ins and out’s is where I will help guide you through.
So we began by the cutting the pine boards with a jigsaw. I cut a few frames and used a router to shape them before he took over and although he never before held a jigsaw in his hand he was fast learner and didn’t stop until finishing the last one of them, of course under my watchful supervision.
Before cutting the frames to size we rough sanded some of them, completing them only after cutting them all and I shaped them with a router. Anything different than a smooth finish was out of question so after watching me sanding the boards with a 40 and 80 grit, especially concentrating on knots he tried a 120 grit with me taking over again and the last, 220 grit.
I told him that we can use plywood or boards for supporting the mattress but it really depends on what type of mattress he will buy. He wanted to know more so I lectured him about pocket coil mattresses, dense foam mattresses and weight support, explaining that both of these mattresses do not distribute weight which means that they both need to be evenly supported on a flat surface.
Combining the boards and mattress will lead to sagging because the boards will support only a small segment of the mattress. Although a beginner woodworker, he surprised me when he mentioned the possible use of a box spring which may seem like a reasonable idea but there are several cons why I wouldn’t use box springs on bunk beds.
First, it can elevate the mattress above or near the safety rails. Also, because it was room with 8 foot ceiling, the box spring would only reduce the space in the top bunk making it to be less comfortable for the child when sitting. Box spring will also reduce the space for the child in the bottom. In the end you also have to consider costs with whichever one you choose, keeping in mind that plywood costs less than box spring.
Having all this in mind he decided to go with plywood which we cut to the size of the mattress. It was good quality plywood, not OBS or some other cheap piece with chemicals on it. As we proceeded with the elements, I explained why there is difference between head and footboards in the bottom and top bunk.
For the assembly we used Philips wood screws. I pre-drilled some holes and then let him do it the rest. His help was necessary when setting up the foot and head boards and two of the long cross-pieces between them as he was holding one end up while I drilled holes.
Somebody, especially a novice may find this exhausting but it worth it and he didn’t complain. I completely handed over to him the staining and sealing and enjoyed watching how he used them, sort of like he was painting the Mona Lisa.
The framing and drilling was my call, but I showed him some tips for drilling straight and avoiding splintering by pulling the drill a little when half way through. The assembly was done at his house, in the kid’s room.
In the end we secured the safety rail to the upper bunk and attached the ladder to the frame by screwing together the joints.
It was all done, he built a bunk bed!
His spouse was delighted and he was simply, happy (and relieved).
Starting out at woodworking for him was like going through uncharted zone but I am sure that he will finally find his passion, soon enough.
More from my Wally’s How To Series, learn how to make these pieces of furniture or buy the ultimate woodworkers resource in Ted’s Woodworking Plans (don’t forget, limited time only you get $20 off the sale price) to get started:
- How to Build a Bird House (or get bird house plans)
- How to Build a Work Bench (or get work bench plans)