Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Built a Bed!

Remember way back to Erin’s Labor Day recap and there was a fleeting reference to me making some kind of weird toddler bed? Well, that bed’s done and has been slept in. Mission accomplished. 

Months back, Erin and I began thinking of what Alice’s next bed should be and what it needs to do. Everything we add to our small house must heroically serve us to justify its existence. We weighed the options in various store-bought toddler beds, which can be purchased and setup immediately, or thinking up a design that might give us more functionality in the space. Alice and the new kiddo will be sharing a room so adding kid-safe storage is a huge need in our house. 

We came up with this plan:

The cubby bed. Lots of cubic foot cubbies with a bed on top. Basically its a grid of 1x12s which overlap at their joints, and then a top and bottom sheets of wood. The inner construction draws inspiration from this type of thing:

One of the benefits to making it ourselves was to be able to choose the exact materials. So many pieces of furniture are solid MDF, made up of glues and chemicals, and paints of unknowns contents. I, of course am speaking from a position of not knowing the extent to which any of those things are bad, I just know any of these chemicals have to be worse to inhale than not having them, and the smaller the user is, surely the more potent whatever badness is happening will be. The materials we chose for this bed: regular ol’ pine boards, pocket screws, and zero VOC weeks of off-gassing time before its first use. 

Time to get the lumber. In order to best utilize the boards I was buying, I setup the entire plan in Adobe InDesign and made digital boards I could play with the layout and cut list to get the most for my board. 
Below on the left is the overhead view of the bed with its various components in magenta. On the right is the way I determined what was possible to cut from how many boards. The yellow lines are the full board lengths that are on the shelf at the store. The purple lines are what I need to have once its all cut, so it was just matching things up and counting the number of yellow boards at the end. 

Below is the same type of thing but for the top and bottom sheets of wood. These were to be made of 1x12s laid flat and fastened together, like a tabletop.

Cut list in hand, we headed off to Lowes. The hardware stores I use will cut lumber either for free or very cheaply. Lowes is free. 

Lowes train.
I began over Labor Day weekend at my parents’ house in order to get the inner boards cut right using my dad’s radial arm saw.

Some math, lots of drawings, and careful sawing led to this in-progress shot:

Quite a relief that it actually worked!
The following Saturday I laid out all of the boards that were to be the top and bottom planks and pocket screwed them to make one big sheet of pine. If you’re interested, the pocket screw tool is a Kreg Jig, frequently featured on John Petersik’s Young House Love projects. I now see why he loves it so much—it’s a novice carpenter’s godsend. There are several ways to join wood together this way, and even some options of pre-glued pine tabletops that I could’ve bought, but we came back to the unknown chemical problem again, so we went with mechanical hardware.

Four 1x12s will become one.

Once the top and bottom were done, I had to attach them to the huge beer box grid in an attractive way.  I learned those little specialty boxes of hardware at the store have some pretty neat little bits of fasteners and screws in them. I went for what they call elevator screws. They work a lot like Ikea hardware. Nice bronzed allen screwheads on top that fasten into threaded bits in the receiving piece of wood. This part turned into the most agonizingly precise step of the whole project. My modest skills combined with wood that wasn’t perfectly straight gave me some troubles in spots, but I eventually got it all together. Oh yeah, it was over 100° F out there that day, so there’s definitely sweat stained into this wood.

Ready for its lid.
Almost done.

The last thing missing in the above pic is the bracing in the corners. Sitting on those corners might have been okay, but just to be safe, I cut support blocks to further reinforce it. Side note: my dad is a notorious over-engineerer. Everything he makes is way stronger than it needs to be. I’ve also never seen anything he’s made break. He taught me what I know, so yes, this bed is seriously over-engineered for a thirty-pound kid, but Erin wanted it to be strong enough to support both of us while we hung out in there and read goodnight stories.

Reinforcing side blocks installed in corners.
I would’ve painted the bed at this point but it was well over 100° again and paint likes sub-80° temps so as to not dry on the roller, so I parked it in the back of the garage for cooler days.

We jumped on a couple of other fun projects in the downtime.

1. A new garage door. I have to say, this was definitely the smoothest, and most worth-it professional construction installs I’ve seen. It took them two hours to install. TWO!

A luxury I did’t know how much I was missing.

2. A shelf to go behind our big L-shaped couch, which pre-shelf, offered zero useable horizontal drink-holding space. When you sit in the corner, you’re waaay out of reach of the coffee table. Plus, we had exactly one place to put exactly one lamp in the whole room. Yes, embarrassingly, we’ve lived here four years and now just put more lamps in our living room. A couple of fun facts about this shelf: there are two power strips built in under little doors that flip up, it’s held up by enormous L-brackets and lag screws (see over-engineering dads above)...I think I could probably stand on it, and finally, the ends of the shelf have horizontal pieces that go down to the floor to give it all the illusion of a real console behind the couch, and prevents kitties/babies from finding their way behind the couch.

Fast forward to October painting weather. Three thin coats of zero VOC paint, with lots of drying time in between coats, and it’s time for the install. The thing must weigh well over a hundred pounds assembled and it’s huge, so I did the install in the room on top of a mover’s furniture pad to keep the white paint off the dark floors. 

Oh yeah, labeling pieces was critical when I took it apart for painting. Because it’s handmade and less than Norm Abram precision, each piece had to be labeled and reinstalled in exactly the same spot. I used the surfaces that wouldn’t be seen ever to make my inventory marks. 

There was a moment when I thought the pieces weren’t going to fit back together because of the added paint thickness, but some help from a hammer and a block of wood got it done. Now to put all of the elevator screws back in. The first time I did this, I went around the bed in a circle drilling the holes and tightening the screws. That made the last few almost impossible to get in right since each previous screw makes the bed more and more rigid, and because the wood and screw holes aren’t perfect, the last few were nearly impossible.

This time I did the four corners and then did opposing sides, kind of like tightening lug nuts or a drum head in a star sequence. That worked much better.

The beer box is back together, making sure to not entomb Marci.

Top view.

Don’t lose this guy either. 
The bed sits on five big wooden ball feet. These are off-the-shelf pieces that resemble the feet on the other furniture in the room. They have a threaded screw on one side that allows them to screw directly into the furniture. I painted one by holding it by the tiny half-inch long screw and brushing it when Erin suggested I temporarily attach them all to scraps of wood. My hand thanks her. 

Screw on the feet, flip it all over, clean up, and we have a bed!

All finished and ready for sleeping, which did happen that very first night! This was a difficult project, and it took forever, but seeing her in it at night makes it worth all of the weekends and sweat. For anyone interested, I’m more than happy to share my cubby bed or couch shelf designs.

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