Sunday, May 2, 2010

You made your bed ... lie in it.

For a long time I have thought I would make a new bed frame. The first one I made of construction lumber and plywood over 35 years ago. It served us well through a foam mattress and then a futon. When the futon became two valleys the frame was discarded with the mattress. Since then it has been box springs raised off the floor with a generic steel frame, no foot or head board to speak of.

Now, as we look once again to improve our sleeping surface, I thought I would finally get to this project. But as I started I couldn't get excited about any particular design. I discarded the one I thought I would do that was based on the trim and built in cabinets in the room. I looked around for inspiration, Greene and Greene, Shaker, bent lamination with spindles, craftsman style.  There is some beautiful work out there but nothing clicked. I suppose it's because half the fun for me is thinking something up.

I knew I had some big 8/4 cherry boards in my stash that would be nice to showcase in some way. Hey, here's an idea. How 'bout just a big board floating in space, no bedposts or anything. Minimalist headboard. Nothing more, nothing less. That'd be cool wooden it? Now I'm getting excited.

There are some good reasons for bedposts. You can hang your hat on 'em. You can put notches in them if you keep score. (OK, that's not a good reason). And they give structural integrity to the foot and head boards. Wood has great strength across the grain and tremendous bearing weight on its ends. It's what trees are good at: stand up tall and bend and sway but do not break. But wood splits along the grain, or lengthwise, more easily, as we witness in trees struck by lightning or damaged by ice storms. Bedposts support the weight of the bed and it's occupants on 4 small points and provide cross grain strength to what might otherwise be a flimsy headboard.

So eliminating them from my headboard presents a design problem. Or maybe not. It may have been strong enough with these heavy boards without all this fuss but the diagram below shows what I thought were potential places of weakness and how I dealt with it.

Stress A is simply where there is the greatest leverage. I thought two near comatose bodies sucking up java leaning back against 30" of unsupported boards would exert a lot of force at this point. I re-enforced this by edge drilling a 5/8" hole through all three boards and inserting 2 steel rods.

(Click image to enlarge.)
The top board is supported by 3 short 5/8" rods. (Sorry, no magic. But it looks like it's floating doesn't it?) I thought the back side of the holes(Stress B), less than a half inch of material, might bust out. To strengthen this I first ripped a 1/4" thick strip from the top board and set it aside. I inlaid 1/8" steel plates at each hole and then glued the strip back in place to hide them. This also covered the holes for the long rods.

Our new sleeping surface is this memory foam stuff that has gotten a lot of hype. I recently heard some very negative reports regarding these mattresses. We had slept on it several times and liked it. I surveyed friends who have had them for years and finally decided to give it a try. Some say that because they are so expensive owners convince themselves that they're comfortable whether it's true or not. Well that's certainly what I plan to do.

One last thing, the long rails of this bed.  I marked a board I thought would be good for two matched bed rails  probably 10 years ago, passing over using it in who knows how many other projects. And now here it is doing what it was destined to do. My peers and I, we are getting a longer view. It's OK if it doesn't happen right away, that doesn't mean it won't happen. It might happen later.

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