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Make bunk beds

In his book Woodworking for Everyone, Peter Alkema shares how to make bunk beds for children


By Peter Alkema 


These bunk beds will be a classic feature of your children’s bedroom and save a lot of floor space. They are perfect for boys to play castles, girls to play house or just useful to keep as a spare bed for sleepovers. Siblings love to share bunk beds, especially once they have sorted out who goes on top, although Mum and Dad may need to mediate.


Bunk beds are useful wherever space is restricted in a sleeping area – dorms, hostels, submarines, ships – and a house with five children is no exception! For our first set of twins we used the two beds separately without assembling them as bunk beds (see June 2014 issue, p42) and now they have moved on to full size beds. When the younger twins are older we will assemble the bunk beds in their room, which will save space and create a safe sleeping experience for them.

                   Part                                    Quantity                          Thickness       Width      Length

        Bunk corner post                        4                                         19mm         90mm      1437mm

         Bunk end rails                             8                                         19mm         90mm         787mm

K         Ladder side                                    2                                         19mm         90mm      1037mm

L         Ladder rung (wide)                      1                                         19mm       140mm        550mm

M        Ladder rung (narrow)                 2                                         19mm         90mm        550mm

N         Bunk guard rail                            1                                         19mm       140mm     1000mm

The parts above exclude the beds (A-G), which can be seen in the June 2014 issue. Ensure you double the quantity for two beds.

Design and construction

The most important design feature of bunk beds is safety and ensuring that the children who use them do so within strict guidelines. You can find clear regulations for making and using bunk beds on relevant consumer and home safety websites, and I would recommend consulting this information before attempting this project. Such requirements include size and positioning of guard rails, flush and smooth fastenings, sturdy and secure joints and maximum gap size between parts. The overall construction of these bunk beds consists of two child’s beds, two bunk ends and one ladder, all of which are assembled with nuts and bolts to allow for quick dismantling and storage. The fully assembled bunk beds are sturdy and strong without looking bulky and over-engineered. Children can easily clamber up and down the ladder or jump into the bottom bunk as needed.


What I would do differently next time


The design does not allow for any clearance between the inside surfaces of the bunk corner posts and the outside edges of the legs of the individual beds (see steps 7-9). After I had primed the bunk end assemblies, I tested the final assembly and, because the primer and paint had added 2-3mm on each of the joining surfaces, the assembly was not possible and would have broken if I tried to force it. I then had to remove the primer as well as 1.5mm from the inside surface of all four corner bunk posts. I used an electric planer and electric sander to do this, but next time I would plane down these surfaces before building the bunk end assemblies.


Make the bunk end assemblies

Step 1: Lay out the bunk corner posts (H x 2) on your work surface and use a long steel ruler to ensure they are positioned at the correct distance apart. Use a try square to position the bunk end rails (J x 4), as shown in the photograph.


Tip: Align the bunk corner posts with the edges of your work surface, which will aid in ensuring the bunk end rails are placed at right angles.


Step 2: Use a marking template to mark the positions of the cut screws in the bunk end rails (J x 4) and use a power drill to fasten them with cut screws at each joint, as shown in the photograph.


Step 3: After completing one bunk end assembly, repeat the above steps to build a second one. Fill any gaps, knots or other imperfections with wood filler and use a random orbital sander to achieve a smooth finish. Double-check measurements with a steel ruler and use a try square to check all right angles.


 Make the bunk ladder

Step 4: Lay out the ladder sides (K x 2) and three rungs (M x 2 and L x 1), as shown in the photograph.


Tip: Align one of the ladder sides to the edge of your work surface to make it easier to assemble accurate right angles with the rungs.


Step 5: Position and clamp with quick grip clamps, then fasten each successive ladder rung (M x 2 and L x 1) to the ladder sides (K x 2) with cut screws and a power drill, as shown in the photograph. Use a marking template, drill pilot holes and fasten the six joints with four cut screws each.


Step 6: Position the bunk guard rail (N) at the top of the right-hand ladder side (K) and fasten with two cut screws. Check the right angles with a try square and also check that all of the screw heads are below the wood surface. If not, grind them down if necessary.


Assemble the bunk beds

Step 7: Make two of the beds from the previous chapter (June 2014 issue), place one of the bunk end assemblies on the ground and then insert the end of one of the beds into position at right angles to the ground. (Please note: These steps show the beds as painted; this is because I had finished them previously and we used them for the children before I made them into bunk beds. If you make the bunk beds from scratch, the individual beds would have a natural wood surface during these steps.)


Step 8: Insert the second bed into the lower position on the bunk end assembly, at right angles to the ground, as shown in the photograph. Make sure that both beds face the same way and that the ends of the bottom bed’s legs align with the ends of the bunk corner posts (H).


Step 9: Place the other bunk end assembly on top of the other ends of the beds. You may need to stand on a small stepladder.


Tip: Do not force the bunk end into position, rather tap it in lightly with a rubber mallet. The fitting is tight and the bunk corner posts might break if forced into position.


Step 10: Measure and adjust the distance between the top and bottom of the beds until accurate, according to the design. Use a rubber mallet to adjust if necessary and ensure that you tap evenly on both sides until the desired position is achieved.


Step 11: Clamp the top ends of the assembly together and rotate the bunk bed through 90˚ to stand in a normal upright position. Clamp the other ends of the beds to the bunk end assembly with quick grip clamps, as shown in the photograph.


Step 12: Clamp the ladder in position according to the design, as shown in the photograph. 


Tip: When clamping the bunk ends to the beds, as well as the ladder to the beds, ensure you do not place the quick grip clamps in the positions where you need to drill holes for the final assembly bolts.


 Fasten the assembly with nuts and bolts

Step 13: Use a power drill with a 12mm wood drill bit to drill holes through the assembly to accommodate the 10mm bolts you will use.


Tip: Use a rubber mallet to ensure that the faces and edges align neatly as this will be the position of the final assembly once the bolts are used to secure all the components in place.


Step 14: Where the holes have been drilled, insert the nuts and bolts with washers on both ends and tighten with a spanner and socket wrench. Ensure the bolt is not too long – it should not protrude more than 5mm beyond the nut, otherwise it could be dangerous to the child using the bunk beds. Cut off any excess length with a hacksaw and grind down any sharp edges.


Tip: Release only one quick grip clamp at a time to insert and tighten the bolts in succession. Do this until all the bolted joints are completed. This will prevent the beds from slipping out of position during assembly.


Paint and final assembly

Step 15: Dismantle the bunk beds, prime all wood surfaces and paint two coats with a colour of your choice. Allow the paint to dry, reassemble in the required place and then add mattresses and linen. I was grateful to finally have a large workshop to make this project, which meant I could work inside, even though I still had to work at night!


Woodworking for Everyone

This child’s bed project is an extract from Woodworking for Everyone, by Peter Alkema and published by Struik Lifestyle. Find it at all major book outlets at the recommended retail price of R250.

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