A Lousy Bed Post (haha!) With Almost No Pictures

I ended up making my bed high enough to double as a table, and to store a rolling shelf with clothes and books underneath. Building the bed was probably one of the most fun parts of building the trailer. I smashed my thumbs a lot making the mortise and tenon joints, because I’m a woodworking masochist. The only way I was going to be able to fit all the other crap in my trailer with the bed was to fit my bed across the width of the trailer, meaning I would barely have room to lie down (I’m 5’4″ tall, the trailer is 5’9″ wide inside.) I decided it would be more comfortable to make the bed extra wide so I could sleep diagonally. Honestly I probably could have built a basic bed frame by slapping some 2 x 4’s from Home Depot together with screws, but my weirdo woodworking compulsions weren’t going to let me off that easy. I decided I would make the bed  with 4 corner posts, the long sides joined by boards that fit into a mortise and tenon joint in the corner post. The short ends of the bed would be joined by diagonal braces lapped over the posts and over each other to form an “x” on each end. The frame would be braced in place with brackets attached to the wood floor. I would sleep on top of a 2″ foam mattress pad supported by a sheet of 1/2″ plywood nailed over slats that ran between the two sides of them bed.

The pieces of 2 x 3 maple I used for the corner posts were another find from my grandmother’s garage. I cut them each to 30″, about the standard height of a table. I planned to be able to use the bed as a table if I removed the bedding. I also measured 4″ down from the top of each, and placed a mark directly in the center of the pieces; this is where I started the mortises for the mortise and tenon joints. A tenon is supposed to be no less than 1/3 of the thickness of the stock it’s cut from, so I drilled holes centered on the marks I made with a 1″ spade bit-the perfect start for 1″ square mortises. I also marked off the 1 x 3s I was using for the side rails to make 1″ tenons on each end, each as long as the thickness of the corner posts. The tenon is a square peg, and the mortise is basically a square hole that the tenon slots neatly and snugly into-at least that’s the intention. (Don’t let anyone tell you woodworking can’t be sexy.) If done right, it’s one of the most stable and secure joints you can make, but it’s also challenging, and this was my first time making them.

After drilling the holes for the mortises, I used a straight edge to mark out where the edges of the square hole should be, but actually chiseling out the square holes was far easier said than done. Eventually I got extremely frustrated with my slow and splintery progress and switched to using a sabre saw, which worked only marginally better. The thin blade really didn’t like cutting through the hard maple, so I could only trim off little bits at a time. Eventually, it was easier to just chisel away and file down the tenons until they became small enough to fit through the mortises (with a little help from a few hammer taps on the bed post.) Before the final fitting of the mortises and tenons, I made the ends of the bed. I decided on diagonal bracing for the ends because I vaguely remembered hearing somewhere that diagonals offered extra strength and stability. Due to my shaky grasp of measurements and geometry (hey, it’s been a long time since I was dozing off in year 10 math) I had to lay out the end pieces in a pretty funky way. First I placed 2 posts on the ground 4 feet apart, mortises facing inward, using a straight edge and a square to make sure they were even. Then I measured 1″ down from each mortise and drew a line. I lined a board up with the top of the board just under the line and the bottom of the board just reaching the bottom corner of the opposite bedpost. I traced where the board overlapped the post with a pencil, then did the same for the opposite diagonal. I then cut half-lap joints in the posts, cutting along the diagonals I had traced and then making many small closely spaced kerfs between the pencil lines. I knocked out the scraps of wood between them and cleaned up the surface with a small chisel and hammer. The lap joints were cut to the same depth as the diagonal boards were thick, so once the boards were nailed in, the lap joints held them snugly in place and flush with the surface of the posts. I also had to lap the two diagonals over each other; I did a different kind of half-lap joint for this, cutting through half the thickness of each board. I eyeballed it more than I should have; if you could see my bed, you could see that on one end, the diagonals don’t overlap seamlessly.

The process of fitting the tenons on the side rails into the mortises on the posts was a huge pain in the ass, but also the most rewarding when I finally finished it. Like I said, if the halves of your mortise and tenon joint are experiencing second thoughts about joining together, encourage them by placing a block of scrap wood over the back of the mortise side, holding on the side behind the tenon, and tapping on the scrap block with a hammer until the tenon fits comfortably in the mortise. (p.s. you can also cut mortises with a router if you have one and aren’t a masochist like me.) If you’re like me and cutting out the mortise is a struggle, you can shave down the tenon bit by bit until it fits, using a rasp, file and sandpaper. Don’t make it too much less than 1/3 the width of the material or it won’t have sufficient strength. Finally, I got my bed frame assembled to check the fit of the pieces. Thankfully it was reasonably level. I mean, a marble would probably roll off it, but it’s not something I would notice when I come home from work at 10 PM and park my tired carcass on top of it.Then I had to disassemble it and haul the pieces upstairs to reassemble it in my trailer. As planned, I attached it to the wood floor with 4 large shelf brackets, 1 in each corner, which were subtle but offered good structural support. I nailed 6 slats across the bed between the side rails. For the slats, I just used random boards that were between 3/4″ and 1″ thick and cut them to 4′ long  so they spanned the distance between side rails. I figured with 6 slats, each slat would only have to support ~22 pounds of my weight, even less once the plywood distributed the weight further. Next came the plywood layer, which I caved in and bought at Home Depot rather than hoping for a dumpster/garage find. I bought a sheet of 1/2″ plywood that had to be cut in half to fit in the Civic. Unfortunately when I got home, I discovered that either my bed or the cut in the plywood (my pride will say it’s the plywood) was slightly off square, requiring another 20 minutes of shifting, measuring, cutting and fussing. After screwing down the plywood layer, I climbed on top of the bed and reflected. There had been someone in my past who had built himself a bed I greatly admired, so building my own definitely felt like a Serious Lifetime Accomplishment(tm). I know that’s kind of stupid, and I also knew from the way the bed wobbled that there was no was it would stand up to the kind of activities that took place on his bed. To make it look nicer, I decided to cover up where the side rail met the cross piece slats on the inside side of the bed. I used a piece of 1/2″ thick x 3″ wide maple that had been part of the same stash as the bed posts. I cut a couple swoops in the edge of it with the saber saw, then drilled out a decorative pattern of holes in it (you can see it here in my tiny house tour!) After coating it and the side rail with a couple coats of tung oil, it didn’t look half bad. Especially with bedding on it. I’ve been sleeping in it for almost a month, and it’s a pretty comfortable accommodation for a short person like me; a firmer surface is better for your back while sleeping. My only complaint is that I goofed up locating the window by where my feet go; every time I stretch on a warm morning, I risk putting my feet through the screen. 20160517_124156

(Good morning!)


P.S. if you’re a more experienced woodworker and you have any more suggestions on what I could have done to make the bed a little more stable, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.


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