For the past several months my wife and I have been trying to decide on a good bed design for our eldest son, Vinny. I could have made a racecar or a boat but who knows how long my son would like that sort of bed so I was looking for something a little more “timeless.” Insomnia, or just plain eagerness, yielded a few late nights of searching the ether for ideas. I happened across a site called tatamiroom.com and found the style of platform bed I wanted to build (here is the link to the page I used as a guide, and I have plans available here <—Click for a downloadable PDF plan). Unfortunately, searches on woodworking forums and YouTube for plans or detailed builds were fruitless, thus my journey began with the simple photo from tatamiroom.com. I knew there was going to be no bed hardware for this build so all the joints needed to be interlocking. This meant all dimensions were to be taken individually to fit each part. No big deal, just a little more time investment in getting the joints just right.
I needed some starting guidance so I surfed over to thewoodwhispererguild.com and reviewed Marc’s Dogon Platform Bed video series to see where he started with his project. The footboard was the genesis and then the headboard, followed by the rails. This was the extent of my “plans” for this build. Everything else came from the dimensions of the mattress and how high off the floor I wanted the bed to be.
I had several board feet of alder in thicknesses from 5/4 to 8/4 and widths up to 11″ on my rack so naturally this was my wood of choice, since it is what I had on hand.
I laid out all my foot, headboard, and rail parts taking care to avoid all knots and defects as possible. Then I used a jig saw to rough cut the foot parts to prepare for milling. I started by cutting to rough width at the band saw, then jointed one face, planed the opposite face to final thickness (true flatness was not necessary for all parts), jointed one edge, and finally ripped to a final width of 1-5/8″. I then set up a stop block on my crosscut sled for a repeatable cut for a final length of 8″ for twelve of the 1-5/8″ square pieces and 5-1/4″ for the other four 1-5/8″ square pieces. These sixteen pieces make up the bulk of the feet. Then I milled a piece of alder to 1-5/8″ wide, 7/8″ thick, and then cut eight 4″ long pieces at the table saw using the stop block and crosscut sled. Lastly, I need four pieces that were 7/8″ thick, 4-1/8″ wide and 4-3/4″ long for the piece to hold the feet together.
Below is a view of how the feet go together. I glued up the feet in two stages. First, the grain was matched for the most pleasing view of the faces and the end grain. Notice how the growth rings almost look like the foot is made from a solid piece of wood. Next, thick square pieces were glued to the small “spacer” blocks ensuring that the “inside” faces were flat. When the glue was dry I lightly sanded the inside faces to clean any squeeze out and then the two pieces were joined with the wider “spacer” block. The wider spacer has a 3/4″ square by 3/4″ tall “key” in the middle. This was made to lock the foot and side rails into the feet so they would not pull away when setting the bed up. I could have made the height of that key much shorter in retrospect.
Cutting the Rail Joints
When measuring the width and length of the bed rails, I made a mattress template out of 1/8″ hardboard. Then I added some room, about 5/8″ on either side and end, for ease of making the bed and added the required length to accommodate the size of the feet. Then I measured in 1-3/16″ from each end, to allow for final trimming, and made my joinery cuts at the table saw (see the photo below). This was done for each joint individually. Also, note that each rail end was milled to be a tight fit in it’s foot position and then block planed to about 1/32″ thinner. This allows for easy test assembly but allows for finish build up to make it a nice slip fit when completed.
Notice how the top of the rail is proud of the foot and is bottomed out.
Here is a view of the feet and rails all set up. Also, the headboard stiles are in place.
Here you see the stile of the headboard inserted over the side rail and into the foot.
The Raised Panel
The next order of business was to build the headboard. My original plan was to make a solid alder panel with some square hole details (similar to what is seen on tatamiroom.com). I then realized I had an unused piece of bubinga that had been sitting in my shop for 2 years. I measured and it turned out to be long enough and have a good width for a nice raised panel.
Next I had to decide on a profile. I purchased a raised panel bit from MLCS Woodworking only to find I was not satisfied with the particular outcome of the test board. I placed the bit in my bit cabinet and moved on to practicing making a raised panel on the table saw.
I set the blade height to 3/8″ and put on my auxiliary fence (plan from Fine Woodworking Magazine issue #231 by Bob Van Dyke) and set the feather board to the distance for thickness of the bubinga panel. Keeping in mind that the new fence throws off the measurement tape on the fence rail, I used a steel rule to set the fence 1/4″ to the right of the blade. Then the first kerf cut was made all around the board referencing the back of the panel on the fence.
After the relief kerf was cut I then removed the auxiliary fence and feather board, set the blade angle to 45 degrees and positioned the fence and blade height such that the bevel would be cut and not engage the 1/4″ tongue that was made in the previous step. This was done on each side several times adjusting the fence as needed to remove material.
Now the headboard was glued up and ready for some detail work. After some thought, I realize I should have pre-finished the bubinga with the oil I used on the rest of the bed just in case contraction and expansion revealed a bare streak on the edges.
Now that the entire perimeter of the bed was made, the mattress supports could be attached. I set the rails and headboard in position, measured, and cut the mattress supports. They referenced off the short posts of each foot and were 3/4″ thick and 1″ wide. Glue and screws attached the supports and tapered face grain plugs (using this from leevalley.com) were cut to cover up the screws.
I was toying with the idea of adding a curve to the headboard rail and stiles but I had a thought. If I were to cut a long subtle curve in the parts, then the whole thing may look odd because of the rectangular raised panel. The curves and straight lines would conflict. So I decided to employ a trick I learned from my buddy Marc Spagnuolo, The Wood Whisperer. That was to use light to bend the wood. I started by marking out where the curve would have been and then using a spokeshave I cut a long tapering bevel such that the widest point was in the middle of the rail and stiles. I was thoroughly pleased with the result. Incidentally, the Hock Spokeshave was a prize from the “Shop Stool Build-Off” in an earlier post.
The Details (15 hours of work)
Once the foot and side rails were ready for the trim piece to be glued on I needed to add the curve on the bottom. I made a template that had just a slight peaking at 3/8″ to 1/2″ on the foot and side rails, respectively. I removed the waste at the band saw close to the line and template routed flush to the line. I then clamped the piece to the table and gave it the same treatment as the headboard rail and stiles.
Now it was time to work on the trim pieces to tie the feet into the rails. I milled four pieces to 7//8″ thick and 1-5/8″ wide then measured each length individually relative to its location. Glue and clamps attached these pieces to the rails. When the glue was dry, I scrapped it clean and planed it all flush with my Bailey 606 foreplane.
The last thing I added to the bed were two pieces of alder that would keep the headboard from leaning back and possibly splitting either the feet or the headboard itself. They rest against the wall and act like stops. These were cut about 2-1/8″ wide and tapered to the same width as the trim pieces at the bottom and glued and screwed to the back of the headboard stiles. They were attached in the same fashion as the mattress supports then sanded by hand to 220 grit.
To blend all the lines together I chamfered all the edges that met at the feet. This was done with file and block plane.
I also made a taper on all 4 sides of each foot set 1/2″ in from the bottom to give a little more clearance when walking around the bed. This was done at the band saw and cleaned up with a block plane. The ends of the rails were not sanded but were planed with a newly sharpened block plane. I found this to be the easiest way to smooth out all the end grain on this project including the tops of the feet.
One thing I did not capture an image of was the mattress cross supports and the cross support spacers that were glued into place on the side rails, however, they may be visible in the photos during assembly. The cross supports were made from poplar and milled to 5/8″ thick and cut to length. All edges were chamfered at the router table and got one coat of spray lacquer and sanded lightly with 220 grit.
I fully intended to just do a spray lacquer finish on the bed but after doing a few test pieces I decided to first apply Cherry Danish Oil first (paying close attention to the headboard panel to get into the grooves), then Tung Oil, followed by a week of curing, and finally the lacquer was sprayed on. I used Sherwin Williams Hi-Build Semi Gloss Lacquer and the initial coat was full strength, followed by a light sanding with 320 grit and vacuumed the dust off. This was done twice. The final coat was mostly lacquer thinner with a little bit of lacquer, about 80/20 thinner to lacquer. This last coat smoothed out the finish nicely.
This is straight forward so I will just caption the montage of photos.
This was quite the build for me taking most of the summer in 110 degree heat with an even hotter shop. I don’t know who is more excited about the build though, myself or my son.
I hope you found this to br an interesting and inspiring post. Thanks for watching.
Tatami Style Bunk Bed coming mid 2017.