Lake house bunk bed for my daughter

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Project by cjh posted 10-21-2010 12:48 AM 8866 views 14 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This project started with the need for a bunk bed and an idea my daughter had to have a themed room at our cottage in Michigan. She decided on a beach theme and while we could have bought just any bunk bed, the room presented some challenges that really made any other bunk bed less than ideal. (Not to mention that I was really looking forward to building something special for her)

The first challenge was that the celling is relatively low. Additionally, there is a soffit that wraps around 2 sides of the room which makes it even lower in some areas. A traditional sized bunk bed would have made the top bunk very tight and waste a lot of space under the bottom bunk. The second challenge is that the room is also very small (9’x10’). (It’s a cottage after all) I needed the beds to not be directly above each other to maximize the space. Lastly, there really weren’t any beds that my daughter liked or thought fit her “beach” theme. Well………. there was one …….it had a tiki theme with lots of large bamboo. She liked it, but it was around $10K …….. that wasn’t going to happen. I also didn’t think I could get my hands on lots of large bamboo and was concerned about working with it, if I could.

My inspiration was originally focused on the lifeguard houses you see on beaches. I liked the thick timbers with crisscross supports and pier like appearance. I showed her some pictures and she though it matched what she was thinking of. I also created 1/12 model of the bed to visualize my plans dimensions and give her a better idea of what it would look like. Additionally, I created a sketch up drawing of the room to have a 3D reference of the space (since the room was 3.5 hours way from my shop). I did a rough design of the bed in sketch up to see relative dimension as they related to the room and then I was off and running.

Side note: I had originally planned on doing crisscross supports at each end of the bed like the pictures I was basing my design on, but when I got to that point in the construction, I decided that since the supports were just for esthetics, they would make getting under and around the bed more restrictive. In this tight little room, the more open the bed was the better. In this case, I opted for function over form.

The bed is made entirely of construction grade dimensional lumber. I went with a mixture of 2×8, 4×4 and 2×12 to get some contract between white pine and douglas fir on different elements of the bed. The joinery is all half lap joints that provide all of the mechanical support of the bed. I used wood screws to secure the joints (So the bed can be completely disassembled into single pieces and I didn’t see the need in using bed bolts). The platform for the mattresses is tongue and groove slats so it also can be made small for transport.

For the finish, I chose to use Tung oil for its simplicity and I cut it 1:1 with citrus solvent. The citrus solvent really worked fanatic. There was no toxicity or VOC’s ( it just smelled like oranges). In the past I have tried tung oil straight, however it is way too thick and tends to gum up. I did one coat with a brush and then wiped on the second and third coats allowing 24 hours to dry in between. My daughter had originally mentioned that she wanted the bed painted white, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it (not a fan of painted furniture). I’m not sure if she was being polite, but after I showed her a sample for the tung oil finish, she said she liked it better.

The eventual plan is to hang some grass skirts from the ceiling the drape over the upper bunk window/bedrail to create more of a thatched roof, however it will be up to my daughter and my wife to work out those details.

There is only a couple things I would do different on this project if I were to do it again. The first is that I dadoed the ladder into the runner on the bottom bunk and made the angle at the top fix exactly with the top bunk. This was fine in my shop (that has a level floor). However after assembly in my daughter’s room, I quickly found out that the floor was uneven enough to make bottom dado throw off the angle of top connection just a touch so the joint isn’t completely flush. With some field modification I got it decent, but it wasn’t what it was in the shop (a touch disappointing). The last thing I would do different would be change my method for cutting out the half lap joints on the big timbers. During the course of this project I was very fortunate to have a neighbor offer to sell me his vintage Dewalt 1030 radial arm saw and I eagerly snatched it up. It was in perfect condition (The neighbor is a woodworker too and took very good care of his tools). So I used a Dado blade on the RAS to cut the joints. This worked very well but because they were deep cuts I really had to keep the dado relatively thin and make lots of passes. If I went too thick, the saw’s power made the cuts difficult to do in a controlled manner. I was so excited to get the saw that I think I didn’t really analyze if it was the best approach. It wasn’t a biggie, but in hindsight I should have bulked out the material with the bandsaw and used the RAS for the precision cut. It wouldn’t have change the quality but it would have made it go faster. It’s actually very amazing how accurate the saw was after I tuned it up using Mr. Sawdust’s Book.

It was a fun project. I tried to keep track of the cost but lost sight after the initial lumber purchase. I would estimate that all-in-all I probably spent $300 in material, $100 in supplies and sunk about 80 hours (over the course of a year) into this project.

12 comments so far

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3035 days

#1 posted 10-21-2010 12:55 AM

Terrific set up. Bet your daughter loves it!

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View CiscoKid's profile


343 posts in 3070 days

#2 posted 10-21-2010 01:26 AM

I would have loved that as a kid.

-- Al, Culpeper VA

View OttoH's profile


891 posts in 3206 days

#3 posted 10-21-2010 03:28 AM

It looks like you have put an awful lot of thought, time, hard work, and love into that bed. It turned out great! She looks very happy with it and I am sure it will be treasured for many years to come.

-- I am responsible for how I respond to everything in my life - - Deadwood SD

View tncraftsman's profile


93 posts in 3336 days

#4 posted 10-21-2010 04:31 AM



View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3370 days

#5 posted 10-21-2010 04:57 AM

In a few years, she’s going to start to say pissy things about her parents, every now and then.

Show her these pictures.

You’re a good dad :-)

-- -- Neil

View Ken90712's profile


17594 posts in 3385 days

#6 posted 10-21-2010 11:54 AM

What a cool bed for your little girl! She must really love it!

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View RexMcKinnon's profile


2593 posts in 3392 days

#7 posted 10-21-2010 04:03 PM

Lucky girl. She’s never going to want to leave the cottage.

-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View HarryTuttle's profile


7 posts in 2992 days

#8 posted 10-22-2010 02:55 AM

very cool Dad!

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

597 posts in 3514 days

#9 posted 12-20-2010 10:24 PM

I love the bed and plan on using it as a “model” for some beds I’m building for our lake house in northern Indiana!

One question – are those rails 2X12’s or are they 2X10’s?

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View cjh's profile


9 posts in 3789 days

#10 posted 12-21-2010 01:29 AM

I started with a mixture of 2×8 and 2×10’s but milled them down a fair amount to get the boards as flat and straight as possible. I would have to measure them the next time I’m up to get the final dimension but I believe the rails were something like 6”x~3.5” (true dimension) after the glue up and final milling. I’ll be up there in a few weeks if you would like some actual dimensions. (I might also have a scrap I can measure at home that might be more accurate than my memory if you would like to know sooner)

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

597 posts in 3514 days

#11 posted 12-21-2010 07:19 PM

cjh: Thanks for your reply!

In your writeup, you mention that you used 2 X 12’s. I’m trying to find where in the build you used them.

I have already started my first corner post (two 4X4’s sandwiched between two 2X8’s), and I certainly planed each of them down quite a bit before the glue up just to be sure I had true surfaces. I also wanted to eliminate the round-overs along the edges of each of the boards.

Anyway, it looks in your pictures as though, if your posts are 8X8 (minus milling), your rails are 2X10-ish (again, minus milling).

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View cjh's profile


9 posts in 3789 days

#12 posted 12-27-2010 05:05 PM

Yeah, now that I think about it I did use 2×12 for the rails (the main reason was so I could have the contrast of douglas fir against the white pine of the posts) I just was at the house and measured. The finished size of the post are 5×5 and the rails are 5 3/4×2 1/2.

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