Bed platform

This is a pretty big project, my main project of 2010, which took me six months of weekends to complete. I captured many of the steps, as well as the tools I used, in order to share my approach.

Bed platform in place

Poplar and oak bed platform

I chose poplar for the main part of the platform because it has the most give of the commonly available hardwoods, so adds just a touch of springiness in the span under the mattress. It also has very warm and beautiful color variations, with hues ranging from tan to green to dark brown. I chose oak for the edges, legs and headboard because it's a very hard wood with a color and bold grain pattern that I love, and it also matches the rest of the furniture in the bedroom.

Step 1 – After carefully selecting, sanding, and cutting to length more than 200 feet of poplar ranging from 4″ to 12″ in width, the first step was to drill glue dowel holes in all the slats and along the side rails. Here I'm preparing one of the side rails.

Starting the bed platform project

I used the Dowelmax doweling jig⩘ —which is really impressing me for its precision, quality, and versatility—coupled with the Makita BHP454 18V LXT ½″ Hammer Driver-Drill with an HSS brad point bit. The li-ion batteries blow me away: they just go and go and go.

Step 2 – The second step was to glue the slats to the rails. I used three dowels per end (more on the wider slats at the head and foot of the platform), and glued up four slats at a time, because that's how many of the big Bessey clamps I had at that time (actually eight clamps joined together with extenders to make four that were long enough).

Once all the slats were glued to the first rail and the glue had dried well, I glued on the other rail. I used Titebond III for this, to ensure the glue would remain open long enough. This was a really challenging step. I used my four long and quite heavy Bessey clamps, plus another four pipe clamps, moving them from place to place to ensure each slat was well seated, working as fast as I could. By the time I was finished, I was drenched in sweat!

As you can see in the photo, this step involved a variety of clamps. In additions to the Bessey K Body clamps, I also used a bunch of Jorgensen bar clamps, Pony pipe clamps, and Irwin Quick-Grips. After years of buying a few more clamps each year, it's nice to finally have enough to do a project like this.

Gluing up the slats

Step 3 – The third step was to finish the top of the bed platform by routing and sanding all the slats so they're rounded, and ensuring that the slats match up perfectly with the rails. Even though all of this will be beneath the mattress, I want it to be beautiful, and to never scratch anyone's fingers.

I used the Bosch 1613EVS router with a Whiteside ¼″ roundover bit for this, then sanded using the Bosch 1274DVS belt sander, followed by the Bosch 1297DK ¼-sheet sander to finish everything. I have to say, I went many years without a belt sander in my shop, but after this step I simply can't imagine how I worked without one.

You can also see in the following photo that I added a frame to my planer stand so that I can use it as an extension of my bench top. I'm using a Record roller stand to hold up the other corner.

This was a particularly satisfying step. Although it would take me several more months of weekends to finish this project, I began to get a sense of how nicely it would turn out.

Ronding the slats

Step 4 – The fourth step was to to glue up the runners. For the previous bed platform I made, I used three 2 × 4 runners, but for this one I decided to use only two runners, so as to enable the slats to be slightly more flexible in the center of the bed. I didn't think two 2 × 4s would be enough, so I ended up deciding to make the runners out of three 1 × 4s glued together.

This was another step that required a lot of clamps. I used all of my Bessey 12″ and 24″ K Body clamps (4 each), plus all my UniKlamps (6 each of 6, 12, and 18 inch). One of the advantages of the Bessey clamps is that they distribute clamping pressure across the full face of the jaws, for example, I used the 6″ UniKlamps to ensure that the three 1 × 4s were aligned properly. Another advantage is that they exert a tremendous amount of clamping pressure (especially the K Body clamps), ensuring that the 3-ply runners were glued up really well. After the glue had several days to dry, I ran the runners through the Makita 2012NB planer to even up the glued edges and ensure the width is exactly 2¼″ (the legs will need to fit over them).

Gluing up the runners

Step 5 – The fifth step was to glue the runners using dowels to the 1 × 8s that form the side pieces of the second layer, and then to glue those joined pieces to the first layer, joined with more dowels to 1 × 4s that form the end pieces of the second layer. The second layer sticks out a ¼″ all around. The third layer will be set back a ¼″ again, and then the oak edge pieces, with a routed groove down the center, will fit over the protruding lip as a cap.

The Dowelmax performed very well on this step, including when I adapted it (as designed) to drill holes into the face of the runners. The Kapex 120 also performed very well, slicing easily through the glued up runners, and giving me the precision I needed to cut off a very thin slice when I had cut one runner a hair too long. This tool is a joy to use!

Gluing on the runners and second layer

Step 6 – This was a very satisfying weekend. The sixth step was to complete the sandwich by adding the third layer of 1 × 4s all around. I routed the inside edges so that there will be no sharp edges when reaching beneath the bed platform. Everything is coming together as nicely as I could've hoped for, and I'm ready to put on the oak edging, hopefully next weekend (if I have enough energy after a full week of work). One challenge will be to maneuver the platform around … it's getting quite heavy!

Additional tools used this weekend: Bosch 1613EVS router with a 3/8″ Freud Quadra-cut rounding over bit (smooth!), 12″ Jorgensen handscrews (to reach in and ensure that the little bridge pieces between the edge rail and the runner were tightly glued down), and a bunch of Bessey K Body clamps, which are impressing me more each time I use them. This time I also used some newly acquired Vario K Body Revo clamps to create extended clamps by connecting 60″ bars to 50″ regular Revo clamps. Nice versatility! For the first time in all the years I've been woodworking, I feel totally in control when I'm clamping. Once again, I used Titebond III, as long open time was important.

Gluing on the third layer

Step 7 – Weekends are so short, and so many things compete for my time: a visit to the farmers market, reading the tech blogs, catching up on correspondence with friends, testing apps, trying to catch up on sleep, and suddenly there are only a few hours left to work in the shop! I had optimistically hoped to finish the platform this weekend, the oak legs and edging; in fact, I was only able to finish the rear legs and get most of the gluing up done on the front legs. Ah well.

The legs, the seventh step, are made from five layers of 1 × 4s glued together with Titebond I (since I wanted shorter open time), fitted around and attached to the runners with 3/8″ bolts (they have to be removed to fit the platform through the doorway off a narrow hallway), with a span of 1 × 4 between the two legs, glued to the legs with dowels. This is going to be one solid bed platform! The legs are mounted far enough beneath the platform that they can't be accidentally kicked with bare toes, so no surprise stubbed toes in the middle of the night.

The star tool this weekend was the table-mounted Bosch 1619EVS 3.25 HP Plunge Router, which made it much easier to round all the edges of the legs. Once again, the Bessey K Body clamps were amazing. I mounted them in KP Blocks, which provided nice stability to hold everything in place as I glued on each additional piece of the five layers. I didn't think I was going to appreciate these clamps as much as I am. The clamping pressure they can exert is insane, and being able to exert that pressure across the entire jaw makes it possible to use one clamp instead of two in many applications.

Adding the rear legs

Step 8 – The last couple of weekends evaporated due to maintenance work … seems like there's always something around the house that wants attention: re-caulking the tub, washing windows, refinishing a couple of the oak windowsills, and painting the new attic access (we put in a new, centrally located one out of feeling an excess of caution after the fire in the garage attic last autumn, just in case the fire department ever needs to get up there).

Finally got to spend several hours in my shop this afternoon, and used it for the eighth step: gluing the oak edging onto the bed platform. I made it with just a small lip, 3/8″; hopefully, that's enough to keep the mattress from sliding around, while not being too much to make it inconvenient to tuck in sheets. [Update: after using the bed platform for a couple weeks, I can confirm that 3/8″ is a good size for the lip.]

Gluing on the oak edging

I used a combination of Titebond III in the routed grooves of the oak edging and Titebond II everywhere else. Turned out pretty well, a nice snug fit all around. I'm feeling pretty good as this is the last big step for the platform itself. Next time I get a few hours to putter, I'll rout the corners and do some final touch-up sanding. Then there's just the headboard left to make. The finish line is in sight!

Closeup of the oak edging

Milestone day! Finished the main bed platform. Routed the corners and did a final sanding. Had to take one more photo of the side that will be underneath, because it won't be seen again, and I'm proud of how beautifully it turned out.

Closeup of the oak edging

The edges and corners are all rounded: imagine getting up in the middle of the night and accidentally hitting your shin against a corner of the bed platform … and it doesn't hurt that much because there isn't a sharp edge anywhere!

Closeup of the oak edging

Afterwards, I did the first sanding of all the boards that will make up the headboard. As I sanded, I reflected on how much I love wood. The unique grain of a piece of wood is, for me, one of the most beautiful things in life. I love looking at it, touching it, being around it. Each piece is unique, reflecting some of the chaos of life, expressing what it means to live on this planet, to be part of this experience. The main piece comes from a tree that had been marked, perhaps lightening hit it, a fire scorched it, or some disease attacked it, leaving some dark stains running through the grain, providing a strikingly vivid contrast to the otherwise muted reddish tans.

Step 9 – Memorial Day weekend. I always underestimate how long things will take … I figured with a three-day weekend, I'd whip out the headboard and get at least the first coat of finish on. In reality, after working a half day Saturday and two long days Sunday and Monday, I only just completed the headboard and its frame, and I really had to push myself Monday evening to do that much.

The planks of the headboard are two pieces of a single 1 × 12, each piece cut and folded over on the ends for 2½″ and with 1 × 3s added on the top and bottom, to form a matched pair of hollow 2 × 12s. The three-legged headboard frame will rest on the floor and attach to the rear rail of the bed platform, as well as beneath. The planks will attach to the cross pieces of the frame. The headboard will be angled back slightly (the supporting struts are cut at an angle).

The headboard planks and frame

Here's a closeup of the beautiful grain pattern resulting from the folded over ends. As is typical for me, everything is rounded so that even if you reach behind the headboard or underneath the bed, there will be no sharp edges anywhere. That's why it took so long: all the routing and sanding necessary to produce the smooth, rounded edges everywhere.

Closeup of the end of one of the headboard planks

And that's it, the woodworking part of making the bed platform is finished! It has taken much longer than I thought it would; I thought I would be sleeping on this bed platform at least a month ago, and I still have probably another month of weekends applying a couple coats of finish and letting it dry before I actually do. I'll add another photo of the assembled bed platform once it's all done.

Today as I was working on the frame for the headboard, suddenly the air filled with a strong smell of pine trees burning. I experienced a few minutes of panic as I jumped online to find out what was going on, but no immediate danger to us, thankfully. A fire had started about 15 miles southeast of us (that might seem like a long way off until you consider that we're in the same forest, and the largest previous fire in Colorado, the 2002 Hayman fire, burnt 215 square miles). The very dry conditions and strong gusting winds quickly whipped the fire out of control and 200 acres were burning (it grew to 3,000 acres by late afternoon). A huge smoke plume engulfed the area, the thickest I've ever seen in all the years we've lived here. Hundreds of people were evacuated, several people lost their homes, many more aren't sure.

As I returned to work on the headboard frame, I experienced some very strong emotions. If the fire had broken out nearer to us, our home could very well be gone. One of the people who lost his home talked about the 35 years of memories he had lost, including a handmade canoe he and his father had built together when he was a kid, one of his fondest memories. I can only imagine how intense that sense of loss must feel.

For a few minutes I pondered working so hard on something that could be gone in a flash like that. Then I realized that everything will be gone sooner or later—either it will be gone from us or we will be gone from all of it. It makes no sense to live in fear of loss, which is anyway inevitable. I picked up my sander and continued working again.

A couple days later: Sadly, this fire, known as the Fourmile Fire, became much worse, spreading to more than 6,000 acres, causing the evacuation of more than 3,500 people for several days, and burning 169 homes, the worst home toll in Colorado history. Yesterday was the scariest day as winds picked up in the evening until they were gusting as high as 65 MPH. Fortunately, the fire lines held overnight, things are finally beginning to look more promising, and the estimate is that the fire might be fully contained within 3 - 5 more days. The firefighters are amazing. The affected area is full of very steep, rugged canyons, not to mention other amenities like rattlesnakes and poison ivy. That they still get in there and get the job done is truly astonishing. Though the fire burned many homes, the firefighters saved many more. I feel so grateful for their dedication!

A couple more days later: Just as the firefighters were getting a handle on the Fourmile Fire, and we were beginning to relax, I noticed one of the big Sikorsky/Erickson firefighting helicopters fly over toward the north. I figured it might be headed home (crews and assets came from all over to help fight the fire). Then another one went over. Then one of the big tankers. Then I took a closer look at the horizon through the trees and spotted smoke billowing. Another fire had broken out, this one in the opposite direction, to the north, and a bit closer. It quickly exploded to become another major fire, spreading to 750 acres and consuming another two homes. Here's the scary sight of what it looked like from our deck that afternoon:

Flatiron Reservoir fire

Step 10 – Final step: two weekends of applying the finish, satin Varathane Professional Polyurethane, a quick-drying oil finish. The first weekend seemed to go on and on (applying finish is not my favorite step). Listened to a book as I worked to help pass the time. By the end of the weekend, everything was finished except for the top side of the platform itself.

This weekend, I first sat the platform down on the floor (it's heavy, so I've been trying not to move it very often), mounted it on the now dry legs, and then tested mounting the headboard frame and headboards. I realized that the headboard frame doesn't need the leg extensions to the floor—the combination of mounting it to both the back edge (with six 3″ #10 screws) and bottom side (with six 2″ #10 screws) makes it very solid—so I cut the extensions off.

The headboard frame, showing how it attaches to the platform

Then I applied the last two coats of finish to the top side of the bed platform (as well as to the freshly cut bits of the headboard frame). Looks quite good. Now I'll let things dry for a week, enough time for it to harden and for the smell to dissipate. What a wonderful feeling, to be finished with a project that has taken six months of weekends … a real A-ha! moment.

And here it is! It's designed for a 9″ queen-size natural latex foam mattress (no box spring), with lots of ventilation and enough room at the head of the platform for some pillows to slip in between the mattress and headboard to give a comfortable surface to prop up against. I really like the satin finish, which produces just a bit of sheen and feels very nice to the touch. Can't wait to start using it!

The finished and assembled bed platform

One last equipment note: After the fire in the attic of our garage last fall, one thing I did as part of the recovery work was to add a strong ceiling-mounted ventilation fan, a Panasonic FV-13VKS2 WhisperGreen⩘  that can run at a maximum speed of 130 CFM. This is a larger version of a fan we installed in our bathroom several years ago and have been very happy with. It makes a big difference when applying a finish. I opened the two windows and put an oscillating table fan in front of one to pull in fresh air and push it over the drying pieces. At the other end of the area, the ceiling fan pulls the air out, creating a nice circulation and keeping the air much fresher.

Finally, here's the bed all decked out with the mattress and one of Garima's quilts, as well as a special pillow quilt she just made for the headboard, which wraps three standard pillows standing on end and side by side inside an actual quilt with batting. Makes for a wonderful surface to prop up against when reading!

A welcoming bed

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