Monday, November 23, 2015

Hybrid Bunkbed: Bed When You Need It, Space When You Don't

Little E loved helping with the screws

When my wife was pregnant with child #3 three years ago, I knew that space would be a precious commodity in our house. I guess that's why bunk beds were invented, so I decided to build one for my girls. They have loved their bunk beds, and so far they have remained in one piece, so I guess I did something right. As Little E has grown up, and as he was ready for a big boy bed, he wanted a bunk bed like his sisters. The problem is that he doesn't share a room with a sibling. Now we regularly have a need for another bed as people come to stay with us, but I started wondering if a bunk bed was really the solution. Actually, if I'm really honest, I thought, "Been there, done that." I was really looking for a challenge, and that challenge was this: could I build a bed that was a transformer - a bed when we need it, but out of the way when we didn't? Kind of like a hybrid bunk bed/murphy bed. And the answer was yes!

And the measuring.
The bed project took a little more than a month, although it was a really busy time at school, so I only worked on it in bits and pieces. The total cost was about $200, which included everything except for the mattresses.

I started with builder grade lumber, 2x4's and 2x6's. I planed them down to our desired thickness, and we built the frame using pocket screws. I used 2x6's for the long rails and for the legs. I used 2x4's for the inside rail supports (what the mattress sits on) and to run between the legs. The end of the bed has rungs that double as a ladder.
And the screws.

I decided that we wanted the bed to be short enough for goodnight kisses, so I kept the top bunk at 45 inches tall. The width of a twin mattress is 38 inches, so I made the bottom of the top bunk 40 inches to accommodate the folding up bottom bunk. I installed four rails across the top and bottom bunk, and cut plywood to lay across these rails. The long horizontal rails were attached to the legs using steel brackets and carriage bolts, all spray painted black to blend in better with the stain.

For the bottom bunk, I essentially built a box that would fit within the legs of the bed. I then installed hinges to help support the bed as it folds up. Finally, I installed a barrel lock onto the front of the bottom bunk, and I drilled a hole in the leg where the barrel meets up as the bottom bunk is folded up. This prevents the bottom bunk from falling down as little ones are play or reading in the space under the bed. 

The gang's all helping, and keeping safe. Osha approved.
Once all of the pieces were assembled, I sanded, and sanded, and sanded. The planer did a good job on everything, but of course there were areas that got dinged up when I was assembling the bed, and there were joints that were almost but not quite flush.

After everything was sufficiently sanded, I stained the wood using a red mahogany stain. After appropriate drying time, I varnished the wood using spar urethane partially diluted with mineral spirits. I have only done this for my past two woodworking projects, and I will never do anything else. I called in to one of my favorite radio programs, Rosie on the House. This is a father/son team that deals with home improvement, and the show I called in to was when they were talking about finishing furniture. The advice given was that mineral spirits help thin out the spar urethane, which causes a more even coat with no bubbles or brush strokes. In fact, I use a rag to rub in the finish, and this bed finished flawlessly.
Bed folded down when we need it.

After a new paint job in Little E's room, the bed was ready to be installed. I drove two screws through the legs and into studs in the wall to prevent any wobble. Finally, I installed dimmable lights on the underside of the top bunk. This provides reading light when reading underneath, or additional light when Little E is playing. It also provides a way for Little E to control the light, which was a steep learning curve for two weeks at bedtime. I think we finally have that under control, and now we merely have light for reading.

One of the greatest thing about this project was Little E's continual joy and enthusiasm about every step. He was so excited that he finally gets to be a big boy, and his engineering skills really came out as he helped me with each step. Even when he wasn't handing me screws or holding pieces together, he was playing with scraps of wood and making designs in the sawdust.

Who knows, maybe some day we will be like Rosie and Romey Romero.
Bed folded up for a reading/play nook.

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