A Bed That Grows with Your Kid

Adaptable design combines fun, safety, and storage

My chief complaint with many kid-aimed projects is that they are outgrown too quickly. Not wanting to spot another carefully crafted piece sitting in a basement or attic, I designed this project with serious staying power. Unlike the cheap, flimsy furniture that is lucky to make it to the next growth spurt, this bed is built to last. By pairing the solid frame with the appropriate shop-built accessories, this bed is able to grow with your kid from kindergarten through college.

Like previous Basic Build projects, the bed can be constructed from materials found at a home center. To ensure that it can withstand hard play and heavy sleepers, the ends are assembled using super-sturdy loose tenons. Similarly, the mattress frame is joined together with heavy-duty no-mortise bolting hardware.

The elevated platform offers a range of unique options. Initially, the height allows for a climbing ramp and slide to make bedtime fun. The blackboard doubles as a safety rail to prevent late-night tumbles. Years from now, your child will discover that the space below offers storage, a valuable commodity in tiny dorm rooms and first apartments.

2×6’s and no-mortise hardware make a rock-solid sleeper

This bed is a big project, but it’s neither difficult nor expensive to build. The two end panels are joined with loose tenons. The bolt-together hardware used to secure the rails to the end assemblies ensures that the bed will remain rock-solid.

Most of the material needed for this project is available at your local home center (see Shopping List, below). Dry construction-grade 2 × 6 fir will suffice for this painted project, but be choosy: select the cleanest, straightest stock.

Order of Work

  • Mill the stock for the ends and rails.
  • Make the mortising jig, then rout the legs and rails.
  • Assemble the ends.
  • Attach the hardware to the side rails and assemble the bed.
  • Cut the mattress platform to fit.
  • Paint and accessorize to suit.

Prep makes perfect

Milling is often skipped in instructional text, but it may be the most important step in any succesful project. Dressing the 2×6’s used to make the end and side rails offers an opportunity to practice this essential woodworking skill.

First, cut the parts about 8" longer than final length. Next, flatten one face of a board. To do this, first joint the board with its bowed face oriented downward, and the grain running downhill from the cutterhead, Then, straighten and square one edge, as shown. 

Before thicknessing, set the boards alongside your planer, orienting them so that the cutterhead will be slicing with the grain to prevent tearout. Set the planer to shave no more than about 1/16", and then feed the boards as shown. Once both faces are flat, start flipping the boards end-for-end and continue planing until reaching final thickness.

Joint a face and edge. Use a push pad to start the board on the infeed table. As soon as the leading end passes the cutterhead, focus your pressure on the outfeed table. As you near completion, hook the trailing end of the board with your pusher. To joint an edge, orient the jointed face against the fence. After passing the board over the cutterhead, use your front hand to press it against the fence as shown. Use your rear hand to maintain downward and forward pressure.

Plane train. With many planers, the cutter head shifts at the beginning and end of the cut, causing a dip, called “snipe.” An easy way to control this miscut is by staggering your boards and butting the workpieces end to end.

Make the headboard and footboard

Loose tenon joinery is a solid choice for a bed that’s likely to see as much play as sleep. The machined joint offers large face-grain surfaces for glue, and great mechanical strength. To make the joints, you’ll need a simple jig and a plunge router outfitted with a 1/2"-diameter upcut-spiral bit and a 1" O.D. bushing. 

Build the jig as shown, then rout the bed rails and legs. The jig’s sliding stop enables routing a pair of mortises with a 1/2" section between them. Next, make the loose tenons to fit, and assemble the end frames as shown on the facing page.

Mortising the legs. Align the joint’s centerline with the inner end of the sliding stop, and clamp the jig to the workpiece. For clean mortises, plunge-cut both ends to full depth, and then remove the waste between with a series of successively deeper cuts. After completing the first mortise, reposition the sliding stop, and rout its mate. 
Mortising the rails. Align the mortise and jig centerlines, clamp the jig to the rail, and rout as before. To avoid part misalignment, orient the clamping board against the same faces (inner or outer) of each leg and rail.
For stopped grooves, the edge guide has the edge. To create a centered groove to fit the undersized panels, use a 1⁄4" straight bit and rout from both faces. Take care that you don’t groove the section between the twin tenons.
Tackle through grooves at the router table. Use the test piece routed in the previous step to set the bit and fence. Rout the first pass, then flip the stock so that the opposite face contacts the fence, and make a second pass for a perfectly centered groove. 

Shop-made loose tenons: Make a snug-fitting strip, then cut to length

Round to fit. The 11⁄2"-wide tenon stock is already narrower than the mortise length, but bullnosing the edges enables better shifting for lateral joint alignment. A table router outfitted with a 1⁄4" roundover bit does the job.
Saw to length. Setting a standoff block against your rip fence creates a safe “fall-off” area for the freed tenons, preventing kickback.

Stick, slide, and squeeze.The oversized beadboard panels are glued back-to-back, and then cut to fit. To avoid headaches, assemble the ends in stages. Attach the rails to one leg first. When dry, slide in the two-ply panels, insert the loose tenons and remaining leg, then apply clamping pressure.

Add the rails and the mattress pad

Using no-mortise hardware to install the bed rails simplifies the assembly process, but it’s not completely fool-proof. If the position of either half of the bolt-together hardware isn’t spot-on, the holes won’t line up. To ensure proper placement, I made a test corner, then used the location of the screw holes to create a pair of drilling templates. 

The back rail serves as a back rest and safety rail, but because it provides only secondary reinforcement to the bed frame, I opted to attach it with simple slide-lock brackets. This type of hardware is easier to install in place. Set the upper rail in place between the ends, and then screw the assembled hardware to the rail and legs, as shown.

Plywood positioner. The rail template ensures that the rails fit tightly against the end assemblies. Draw centerlines on the stock and jig to center the bracket on the rails.
Automatic offset. Center the leg template on the mid rail, and then use an awl to mark the screw hole locations on the leg. Attaching a fence to the template ensures that all four brackets have the same offset.

Test assembly. Triangular braces clamped to the end panels are a silent stand-in for a shop helper, supporting the rails during assembly. After installing all three rails, cut the cleats and mattress platform to fit.

Slide-locking solution for the back rail. Attach the studded plate to the rail and the angled bracket to the leg. The cam-shaped holes cinch the two parts tightly together.

Make a ladder

A ladder helps short legs step up to the 30"-high mattress. I used sycamore, but any hardwood will suffice. To make the ladder, mill the stock, cut the legs to shape, and then lay out the rung dadoes. (Note that the legs are mirror images of each other; be careful not to make two rights or lefts.) To rout the dadoes, I made a jig that works with the same bit and bushing used to rout the frame mortises. To determine the location of the spacer and cleat, simply lean the finished ladder against the frame and install in place.

A double-edged jig for mirrored dadoes. Rout the right-leg dadoes with the jig fence against the front of the leg as shown. The left-leg dadoes were cut with the jig fence against the rear of the left leg, feeding the router in the opposite direction against the jig’s left edge. 

Finishing Touches

The secret to a good paint job is careful prep work. After filling knots and rounding over sharp corners, I sanded the parts through 180 grit, sprayed on a coat of primer, and then knocked down whiskers with 320-grit sandpaper. 

After spraying on the main color, I masked the edges of the center panels and finished up with a brush. For additional protection, I top-coated the painted components with General Finish HP Flat.

Design options

The bed can be a handsome addition to a child’s room, but the accessories that you add will be the things that make childhood memories. Here are three easy-to-build options to consider. 

Blackboard/Safety Rail

Use the mortising jig to join the top to the sides, then attach the blackboard-painted plywood panel. Screw the tray assembly to the front of the the bed rail, and the panel to the rear face of the rail. 

Rock Climbing Ramp

When kids outgrow this accessory, it can be attached to a wall for greater challenge. Make a drilling jig to match the rocks to ensure that they can be fit anyplace on the ramp.

Simple Slide

After grooving and notching the rails, attach them to the slide panel, then cut the cleat and braces to fit. Like the climbing ramp, the slide’s top cleat hooks onto the bed rail. 

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