The Never Ending Bedroom Furniture Project #5: Thru Mortise and Tenons?

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Blog entry by Muzhik posted 12-18-2007 05:29 PM 8958 reads 2 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: The Wood Butchering Begins Part 5 of The Never Ending Bedroom Furniture Project series no next part

Now that I’ve completed the bed, I can go back and complete this blog. Instead of going step-by-step over how to make mortise and tenon jointery and things of that nature, I’m only going to cover the parts of this bed that are unique or that I found challenging to build.

One big problem with our old bed is that it was rickety. The side rails were joined to the headboard and footboard with simple knock-down hardware, and I’m convinced this was the main reason for the bed being flimsy. I set out from the beginning to make this new bed solid as a rock. The rails in the headboard and footboard are joined to the posts with thru mortise and tenon jointery.

Ideally, thru mortise and tenons would be the way to go with the side rails as well. Obviously though, they can’t be glued joints. I could have gone with tusked tenons or folding wedges, but I think those would have looked out of place on this design. Also in order to make such a joint, the tenon has to extend pretty far, so they would have surely resulted in many a-bruised shins and cursing in the middle of the night. At the very least, I wouldn’t be able to put the headboard close to the wall.

In exploring other means to join side rails to head and foot boards, I came across bed bolts. This seemed to me like a strong solution. The only thing I didn’t like about bed bolts, though, was that you have to cover them, usually with decorative brass caps or plugs.

Ultimately, what I came up with was a system that is typically (for me) overbuilt. I used a pair of bolts and cross dowels at every post to join the rails to the head and foot boards. I then covered the hardware with false thru tenons to give the appearance of thru mortise and tenon jointery.

I mortised both sides of each post and put a 2” long stub tenon on each end of the side rails. The outside mortises are centered on the width of the post and 1 ½” wide, 6 ½” high and 1” deep. The mortises that accept the rail tenons are offset slightly to the outsides of the posts. I cut the mortises with a plunge router using jigs that referenced the bottom of each post. I squared off the corners of the mortises with a chisel.

The posts themselves are 4 3/8” square. This leaves a full 1 3/8” of wood between the mortises. The rails are 1 7/8” thick and are dado-ed to 1” deep by 1” wide to accept the rails that the box spring edges rest on. Those rails themselves are 1” x 2” x 80” and have dovetails cut into them for the cross supports (more about this in another blog entry). I put two 1” long x 5/8” dia. cross dowels in each end of each side rail, one through the box spring support rail and one equidistant from the top of the side rail (see the drawing). The cross dowels have 3/8” threads cut through them. I ran 6” long 3/8” bolts through steel plates and slid them through the mortises in the posts into the cross dowels in the rails. Getting the holes drilled accurately for all of this hardware was a bit of a chore.

Once all of the jointery was cut and assembled, it was time to make it pretty. Originally, I tried to make my false thru tenons so that end grain would show. This made sense to me, since if they were actual thru tenons, you would see end grain. Unfortunately, since end grain absorbs and releases moisture more aggressively than long grain, my thru tenons moved around quite a bit. I originally cut them and got them to a decent fit with my hand planes only to find that they didn’t fit the next day. I would trim them again with my hand planes and then stain them, finish them, etc. only to find a week later that they were cupping again and wouldn’t fit their mortises. Finally, I gave up and made my false thru tenons with their end grain at the top and bottom. I just cut them out of the most figured scrap wood I could find so they would still appear like they could be end grain. I made them a fairly loose fit so that if they moved a bit, I could still get them out when it comes time to take the bed apart again. I drilled counterbores in the back of the false thru tenons to clear the bolt heads and epoxied magnet sheets to them so they would hold themselves to the steel plates.

3 comments so far

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 4456 days

#1 posted 12-19-2007 08:40 PM

This really is a great solution, I hate when you can rack or wiggle a piece and like you say you will have no problems when it is time to knock down this bed for your move. But those magnetic thru tenons are a great accent, for any project. hey, whats that box for you can see in the second picture, now i’m gonna have to go back thru your projects, you haven’t been holding out have ya?

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Muzhik's profile


173 posts in 4746 days

#2 posted 12-19-2007 10:09 PM

Actually, Harold, that box is just what my forstner bits came in. It’s a cheap chinese box for some cheap chinese bits. I bought the whole set from Grizzly for some rediculously low price and I’m slowly replacing the ones I use the most as I burn them up.

View meandmtf's profile


4 posts in 3692 days

#3 posted 12-16-2009 09:47 PM

I am new to woodworking and while browsing the web I came across your beautiful bed. What an inspiration to build one like it. It prompted me to join . Hope one day to be able to create something so beautiful. I am just now building a workshop in the back of my garage and starting to collect tools to equip it. The cold winter has slowed progress lately but I’ll keep plugging away with my goal now to be able to make such a nice piece of furniture as you have. Thanks for sharing your talents.

-- Men do not decide their future. They decide their habits and their habits decide their future

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