Built-In Bed #1: Pleasing the Customer

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Blog entry by Scott R. Turner posted 11-07-2010 11:57 PM 5501 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Built-In Bed series Part 2: SUDO: Make Me a Sandwich »

I always enjoy reading project blogs here on LJ, so I’ve decided to attempt one myself. Hopefully some folks will find it enjoyable!

I’ve built a few beds over the past years, the most recent being this one that my son uses:

It’s solid maple and has been beat up a little over the years and acquired glow-in-the-dark stars, all of which adds to its character, and I don’t mind in the least. I like that the bed has been host to both my children and that they’ve felt free to customize it. The finials on the bedposts remove, and there are special finials for Halloween and Christmas and so on.

Truth be told I probably owe my wife a bed next, but I’ve skipped over her to do one for my daughter, mostly because she’s in high school now and I can foresee the day when she won’t be around the house anymore. She’s always been the sort of person who likes to curl up in a nook with a book, to be enclosed and cozy. So it seemed natural to make a built-in bed for her.

There are a number of remarkable built-in beds out on the Web. I particularly enjoyed perusing the galleries at these links:

Although my daughter and I both found a number of built-ins that we liked, we ended up settling on one my wife found in a magazine:

To my eye, this is a simple but wonderful design. The lines are clean and the proportions well-balanced. It also has some interesting design elements—particularly the 2 inch thick sides and shelves. To my eye, it’s a little “over-tall” but as it happens our ceilings are lower (8’) so that proportion will naturally be more balanced. However, I can’t simply build something that I like—I have to please my customers, after all. So after some consultations with my client, we ended up with a somewhat modified design that added real drawers to the bookshelves and a valance with curtains. Here’s the Sketchup drawing we ended with:

I elaborated that Sketchup model a little bit (although I never took it to a fully detailed plan) and then blew it up into component parts to get a handle on the scope of the project and to make it easier to feed it into the Cut-List plugin. It took me a bit of work to fully understand the Cut-List plugin, but I exchanged a few emails with Steve, who was very helpful and patient. Excellent customer service!

Probably the most interesting problem at this stage is how to make the 2 inch thick sides. Anything solid that thick at that size is going to be immensely heavy, but at the same time the sides need to be substantial enough to anchor the built-in and allow the mounting of lamps and shelves. I contemplated a number of different approaches, and settled on making a sandwich of two layers of 1/2 plywood with a layer of 1/2 spacers in-between. That yields 1 1/2” and should be (somewhat) less heavy. We’ll see. I’m curious whether anyone else has faced a similar problem and what solution they settled on… Please leave a comment!

The wood is all acquired from the local Big Box Lumber Store, although I had to special order the birch-sided 1/2” plywood. (I was able to order C3 grade and save a little money, since the whole thing will be painted.) That all came in today and has been transferred to the workshop—in this case, our garage:

My normal “workshop” is about a 10’x10’ space in the basement and would not accommodate a project this size. For the same reason I lack a table saw and some other useful tools. You may be able to make out a circular saw cutting jig on the top of the wood pile. It’s resting on a hard foam panel. Together that’s my setup for cutting the plywood—the foam panel goes underneath the plywood to be cut, supporting it and providing some tearout protection. The foam panel idea is something I picked up off the Interwebs, and it’s a really great tip—much, much better than trying to cut on horses or 2×4s. I also invested in a new 40 tooth blade for the circular saw, so I’m hoping my edges won’t be too ragged. (I picked up an 80 tooth blade for the miter saw as well.)

The plan for the rest of the weekend is to assemble one of the large panels.

6 comments so far

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 5175 days

#1 posted 11-08-2010 06:58 PM

Good start! I’ve heard about using foamcore to back a cut like that, but have never tried it myself. I’m looking forward to seeing your progress.

-- Robb

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4415 days

#2 posted 11-08-2010 07:12 PM


Sleeping quarters fit for royalty :-)

-- -- Neil

View a1Jim's profile


118253 posts in 4818 days

#3 posted 11-08-2010 07:14 PM

View brunob's profile


2277 posts in 5411 days

#4 posted 11-08-2010 07:25 PM

Great start. Thanks for the tip on the foam panel. Never seen that.

-- Bruce from Central New, if you'll pardon me, I have some sawdust to make.

View sras's profile


6345 posts in 4370 days

#5 posted 11-10-2010 04:02 PM

Your modified design is a significant improvement! I am looking forward to following your story. I have used masking tape to limit rough edges on plywood – works pretty well.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

276 posts in 4430 days

#6 posted 11-10-2010 04:20 PM

So far I haven’t had any problems with tearout on the plywood panels. The first couple of cuts I did do blue tape front and back but it didn’t seem necessary so I’ve stopped. I am using a brand-new 40 tooth blade in my circular saw, so that probably helps. I considered getting a 120 tooth plywood blade, but it seemed like overkill, and I was concerned how effective it would be on 1/2” plywood.

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