Woodworking Projects: DIY Bed Frame From Timbers
King Blackledge is a man of many talents. Hailing from the heart of Michigan’s backwoods, King is a retired bricklayer who spends his days doing. If he isn’t growing food, carving wooden morel mushrooms, trapping snapping turtles, or making homemade wine from his backyard fruit orchard, he’s likely inside his woodshop making masterpieces out of the most abundant natural resource he has available to him. During the winter months, he tinkers the days away inside the shop, magnificently marrying form and function with striking beauty and heavy-duty, life-long lasting quality.
For the first time ever, King has made his one-of-a-kind bed design available to readers of Grit. But he’s not offering to build one for you. If you want one of these king-sized beds designed by King, you’re going to have to go out to the cedar swamp to get it. But, the work of art you achieve might just be worth all the trouble.
Selecting your supplies
The materials used to build this bed should be sourced from a cedar swamp or swale nearby. Look for logs with character while choosing your head posts. If you’ve always wanted some hooks on your headboard to hang a robe or what have you, choose a head post with a few extra branches. The same holds true for your headboard arches and spokes. As long as you can make it all fit together, there are no limitations to the character you can impart into your new bed. Pick spokes and arches with knots and wayward limbs. You can even choose trees that are dead or dying for beautiful dark tones and added charm. Choose balsam firs that are as straight as a gun barrel, or perhaps Osage orange lumber that’s abundant and a signature of your region and farm.
• 2 cedar head posts – 72 inches tall
• 2 cedar foot posts – 40 inches tall
• 5 cedar headboard spokes – 46-50 inches tall
• 4 cedar footboard spokes – 30-36 inches tall
• 1 cedar headboard arch – 80 inches long
• 1 cedar footboard arch – 80 inches long
• 1 cedar headboard bottom brace – 80 inches long
• 1 cedar footboard bottom brace – 80 inches long
• 4 balsam fir side rails – 84 inches long, 4-5 inches in diameter
• 4 balsam fir bed rails to carry mattress – 80 inches long, 4-5 inches in diameter
• 6 cedar side rail truss supports – 10-12 inches long, 5 inches in diameter
• 2-1⁄2-inch wood screws – 1 50-count box
• Drill and drill bits for wood screws
• 1-1⁄2-inch tenon cutter
• 1-1⁄2-inch forstner bit
• 6-by-48-inch table belt sander
• 3-by-21-inch handheld belt sander
• Draw knife
• Table saw
• Side grinder with wire wheel attachment
• Tape measure
• Rubber mallet
Preparing your logs
Each log that you choose needs stripped and sanded smooth. A good old draw knife works well for stripping both cedars and balsam firs – the types of lumber I used, but which is completely up to you. Freshly cut cedars can usually be peeled with nothing but a couple of strong hands. But the trees that have been dead or down for some time won’t part with their bark so easily. This is where the draw knife and grinder with wire wheel will come in handy. Use the wire wheel to get down into the tight nooks and crannies of the spokes and branches on your head and foot posts.
The handheld belt sander and the table belt sander will help greatly to smooth things out. This is also a great time to level out the bottom of your head and foot posts too. Sand the bottoms down to a smooth, even surface that sits firmly and flatly on the floor.
Understanding tenons and measurements
This entire bed comes together by inserting 1-1⁄2-inch-outer-diameter-(OD)-by-2-inch-long tenons into 1-1⁄2-inch-inner-diameter-(ID)-by-2-inch-deep holes. A king-sized mattress measures 76 inches wide by 80 inches long. The bed frame only needs to be big enough to slide a box spring and mattress into snugly. Therefore, you must add 4 inches to every log that runs the length and the width of the bed, including your bed rails, side rails, headboard and footboard arches, and headboard and footboard braces. The extra 4 inches will allow the tenons to slide into the 2-inch-deep holes on both ends.
For example, your side rails are cut to 84 inches long. You’ll cut 2-inch-long tenons into each end. One tenon will slide 2 inches into the head post, one will slide 2 inches into the foot post, leaving 80 inches of exposed side rail. That’s perfectly fit for a king.
Building the headboard
Start by laying your hefty head posts down on the shop floor. You should be looking at what will be the inside of the headboard. On the face of each head post, measure 8 inches from the floor and make a mark. Make another mark at 16 inches from the floor on both head posts, perfectly in line with the bottom hole. Using your 1-1⁄2-inch forstner bit, drill 2-inch-deep holes at all four marks. The bottom hole should be 8 inches from the floor on center; the top hole should be 16 inches from the floor on center.
These two holes that are now on the face of each head post will host the side rail tenons. So, to establish the proper width of the bed, make sure your posts are laying so there’s 80 inches between the centers of the holes on the left and right head posts.
On the inner edge of each head post, measure 20 inches from the bottom of the head post (or the floor, if the post is standing up), and make a mark. Drill a 1-1⁄2-inch hole at this mark on each head post for the headboard bottom brace tenons to slip into. Now measure 8 inches down from the top of both head posts and make a mark on the inner edges. Drill another 1-1⁄2-inch hole on each head post for the headboard arch tenons to slide into. Again, each hole should be 2 inches deep. Set your headboard arch near the top and your headboard brace near the bottom to make sure everything will line up once the tenons are cut.
Before cutting tenons into the headboard arch and brace, you may have to use either the table belt sander or the handheld belt sander to taper the logs down to fit the 1-1⁄2-inch tenon cutter onto the end. The table belt sander is preferred. Just gently roll the end of the log on the belt while the sander is running, holding upward on the opposite end until the necessary taper is achieved.
To cut the tenons, place the headboard arch in a sturdy clamp or vice. Using a 1-1⁄2-inch tenon cutter on a powerful drill, cut a 2-inch-long tenon on both ends of the headboard arch. Repeat the tenon cutting process on the headboard bottom brace. Slide the tenons of the headboard arch and brace into the newly cut holes on each head post. Use the rubber mallet to gently help the tenons seat firmly in the holes.
It’s time now to start laying out your headboard spokes. This is where most measurements go out the window. You just have to lay them in place and see what fits and what you like the most. When you’ve arranged the spokes to your liking, mark them where they need cut, and cut tenons on the end of each spoke. Some spokes will need three tenons if they come in contact with the brace and arch in three places. Mark where the holes need to be on the head posts, bottom brace and arch, and drill using your forstner bit. It’s going to take a bit of persuasion for all of the spokes to fit into the holes. Use your rubber mallet carefully to make it all come together. When the headboard is assembled, run a 2-1⁄2-inch wood screw into the bottom brace, arch and head posts, and through each tenon to secure the headboard.
Building the footboard
The process of building the footboard is nearly identical to building the headboard. The only difference is the height, which changes the location of the footboard arch and footboard bottom brace. The holes on the footboard that will hold the side rails use the same measurements from the floor as the headboard to keep the side rails level. But the holes for the bottom brace are only 6 inches off the ground, and the holes for the arch go 6 inches from the top of the foot post. The same tenons are used and the same method of lining up your spokes will work wonderfully for your footboard. The tenons are once again held in place by 2-1⁄2-inch wood screws.
Building the side rails
The side rails are the trusses that tie everything together and carry a bulk of the weight. Each side rail of my timber bed frame is built with two 84-inch balsam firs and three 10- to 12-inch-long cedar truss supports. To build a side rail, cut 2-inch tenons on the ends of both balsam firs, and 2-inch tenons on the ends of all three cedar truss supports. Lay the rails and truss supports out and evenly space the truss supports between the two balsam firs. There should be 21 inches between each truss support, with the first and last truss support falling 21 inches from either end of the balsam firs.
The important measurement to remember here is the distance between the centers of both tenons on either end of the firs. They need to slide into the two holes you’ve already drilled on the face of your headboard and footboard, which are 8 inches apart on center. Therefore, you may need to trim the tenons on the truss supports down a bit to ensure that the tenons on the end of the balsam fir side rails remain on 8-inch centers.
Mark and drill three holes on each side rail. Slide the truss support tenons into the holes on the side rail. Measure the ends of the side rail tenons again to ensure that they’ll fit into the holes on the headboard and footboard before securing the truss support tenons with 2-1⁄2-inch wood screws. Repeat this process on the second side rail.
There are four balsam fir bed rails that will carry the mattress. They’re each 80 inches long, and they span the width between the two completed side rails. They should be spaced evenly along the bottom balsam firs used in the side rails and connected to the trusses with the same hole-and-tenon system used to assemble the rest of this bed. After locking into place, it may be necessary to sand down the top face of the bed rails to level them out so your box spring can sit firmly and flatly on the rails.
You’re now ready to assemble your bed and make sure it all fits together. Even if everything is measured perfectly, you’ll need to use the rubber mallet for some extra persuasion. That’s the nature of working with nature’s materials. The side rails slide into the headboard and footboard on both ends, and the bed rails slide into the side rails to complete assembly. When you’re sure it all fits together nicely, take it apart and generously apply a stain or polyurethane of your choice if you wish. When the bed is reassembled at its new forever home, run 2-1⁄2-inch wood screws through the head posts and foot posts, into the tenons of the side rails.
Top off the bed with a box spring and mattress. Rise with the sun. Cut the wood, mend the fences, hoe the rows. You’ve just earned yourself a night of sleep that’s fit for a king, from King Blackledge.
Brandon Hodgins lives in northern Michigan with his wife, Becky, and 4-year-old-daughter, Bella – with a brand-new family member on the way. Together they grow and preserve much of their own vegetables and livestock, fueled by the great nights of sleep earned by their one-of-a-kind backwoods king-sized bed.
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