Murphy BedComments (0)
This article is from Issue 103 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Create a convertible bedroom with cool cabinetry, the right hardware kit, and clear instructions.
I suspect that a lot of empty nesters would like to convert a kid’s former room into a usable space for other pursuits while still having it available for visiting friends and family. The solution is a comfy, standard-sized Murphy bed that quickly flips out of the way when not needed. I wanted one myself.
After some research, I found a nice, well-made, reasonably priced Murphy bed hardware kit for the job. (See page 62.) What’s not so nice is the kit’s instruction booklet, with its metric dimensions, minimal illustrations, and a bed cabinet design that leaves a lot to be desired. After puzzling through the hardware installation, I designed much nicer cabinetry to accommodate it, and I have to say the unit looks and works great! The cleverly designed spring-loaded bed mechanism is adjustable for tension and lets you lower the bed with one hand while swinging the legs down for support. When raising the bed back into the cabinet, swing the leg stretcher up onto the mattress to help hold it in place while vertical.
I based the bed cabinet design on an 8"-thick, full-size mattress, which will suit most guest rooms. I flanked the cabinet with bookcases, tying all three units together visually with molding at the base and a square bead that runs along the top. Soffit boards atop the square bead reach to the ceiling to hide the metal mounting brackets and prevent a dust trap. A mantel reinforces the door while providing a pretty platform for decorative items. I built the project with clear, vertical-grain fir plywood trimmed out with solid vertical-grain fir to match my room’s trim. Build and style your version to suit your own décor.
Plywood panels, solid wood trim, and simple joinery
The bed- and side-cabinet assembly sits on a base and is topped with a square-bead frame and soffit. The bed frame attaches to the bed cabinet via axles on the balancers that protrude through the frame sides and connect to rotation plates within the cabinet sides. Slats riding on ledger strips on the bed frame provide the platform for a mattress. (The unit is designed to transfer body weight to the frame, not the door, which is chiefly cosmetic.) Plywood panels are edged with solid wood where plies would otherwise be visible, and all parts connect with biscuits and/or screws, with moldings nailed in place.
Order of Work
- Build bed frame and cabinet
- Make and attach door
- Build side cabinets
- Install cabinets
- Add moldings
The Question of Customization
The hardware kit and the 8 × 54 × 731⁄2" full-size mattress I used (see p. 62) are both excellent, reasonably priced products that work well for this design, and I recommend them highly. But can you customize this build to suit different sized mattresses? Sure, but it will change the location of the pivot point, so you’ll need to work that out in a drawing and/or mock-up.
Build the bed frame and cabinet
Referring to the drawings, make the top, bottom, and sides for the bed cabinet. Also make the headboard, footboard, sides, and double-thickness center beam for the bed frame. Apply solid wood edging where shown. Precisely lay out and drill the axle holes in the bed frame sides, then use each balancer to lay out its bolt holes, counterboring them on the outside faces for the cup washers. (Important: Make sure the top edge of the installed balancer will sit exactly 4-3/8" up from the bottom edge of its frame side to align with the tops of the ledger strips.) Similarly, lay out and drill the rotation plate blind holes in the bed cabinet sides, and then use the plates to lay out their bolt holes. After drilling the bolt holes, lay out and drill the pocket screw holes for attaching the door later. Then assemble the bed frame, make and attach the cleats at the bottom edge of the headboard, and mount the balancers. Next, assemble the bed cabinet. Screw the glued-and-biscuited joints together, except at the exposed front edges of the cabinet. Simply clamp there.
A Good Case for Prefinishing
This project presents a great opportunity to “prefinish” parts as you build. For example, I wiped varnish on the exposed sections of the bed cabinet sides before assembling the case. Same thing with the door before attaching it to the bed frame. Just make sure to avoid joint surfaces. This approach leads to better, more efficient finish work. It just requires some forethought to ensure that the entire build isn’t stalled while waiting for finish to dry.
Assemble the bed frame. Attach the doubled-up center beam to the headboard and footboard with biscuits, glue, and pocket screws. Then join the sides to the headboard and footboard with biscuits and glue, ensuring that everything is square under clamp pressure.
Rotation plates. The blind holes you drilled in the cabinet sides accept lugs on the rotation plates. These help the plates bear the weight of the bed frame and mattress and withstand the torque from the mechanism.
Build and attach the door
Build the door frame, connecting the stiles and rails with #10 biscuits. Use the dimensions given as a general reference, but make sure that your door width is 1/2" less than your actual cabinet opening width, which will create a nice gap of about 1/4" around the door. Rout a 1/2 × 3/8" rabbet in the back of each frame opening, climb-cutting to prevent tear-out. (See p. 64.) Now make the panels, rounding their corners to match the rabbet corners, and glue them in place as shown. Make the mantel, attaching the corbels with #20 biscuits. Apply finish to it and to the show face of the door. Then attach the mantel. Install the bed frame in its cabinet by lowering the balancer axles into their rotation plate housings. If necessary, adjust the axle bolts to bring the frame sides parallel to the cabinet sides. Then shim and attach the door to the bed frame as shown. Finally, install the slats.
Mount the mantel. The mantel is not just decorative; it’s crucial to the rigidity of the large door, and provides a pull-bar of sorts to open the bed. To install it, drive in long screws from the back side.
Attach the door. After installing the bed frame in the cabinet, shim and clamp the door in place as shown. Ensure that it’s plumb, with consistent gaps at the sides and top. Then attach it to the bed frame with pocket screws from the back side, driving them through the bed frame members and the cleat on the headboard.
Install the bed slats. Screw the ledger strips inside the frame, then screw the slats to them. The slats that rest on the balancers should be screwed to the center beam. Leave a couple of slats off for now to provide access to the tensioning handles on the balancers.
Kit for a Queen
When reviewing the product information on p.62, you may notice that I have paired a full-size mattress with a queen-size hardware kit. It’s because my custom build here is heavy, and the mechanism designed for a queen-size mattress has an additional 80 lbs. of lifting capacity over the version for full-size mattresses.
Build the side cabinets
Build the side cabinet boxes to the dimensions shown in the drawing, using biscuits and screws throughout, but omitting screws on the exposed side of the right-hand cabinet. The rear edges of the panels are rabbeted to accept 1/2"-thick plywood backs, and I drilled rows of 1/4"-diameter shelf pin holes in each side. Next, build the face frames, biscuit joining the rails to the stiles. Make the left-hand stile for the left-hand cabinet’s frame about 3/8" oversize in width to allow a scribe-fit to the wall during installation. Make the right-hand face-frame about 3/16" wider than its cabinet to allow flush-trimming to the cabinet sides. Then attach the face frames as shown.
Install the cabinets
The cabinets all sit on a single base to keep them level with each other. The base is screwed together from strips of plywood, with a projecting section added in front to accommodate the deeper bed cabinet. Referring to the footprint of your cabinets, make the base a little undersized overall. During installation, shift it forward to align its front edges with your cabinets. Place shims under the base to level it if necessary. If your cabinets come out at slightly different heights, glue thin wood shims to the base to level the tops to each other.
Install the bed cabinet. Without an upper stop strip in the cabinet, the door/bed frame assembly will rest tilted inward as shown. Get help tipping the cabinet in place onto the base, then screw it to the adjacent cabinet and attach its right-hand side to the base with pocket screws.
Apply ceiling trim. Cover the gap between the soffit and ceiling with thin trim strips, mitering their ends, and attaching them with small brads or headless pins.
About the Author
Asa Christiana is the former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, now working as a freelancer in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches, writes, edits, shoots photos, and designs projects for a range of skill levels. His 2018 book, Build Stuff with Wood (Taunton Press), is a guide for true beginners, packed with stylish projects anyone can build with a limited tool set. Find him on Instagram @buildstuffwithasa.
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