Looking for advice on a bunk bed

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Forum topic by NateR posted 04-26-2010 05:53 AM 1910 views 1 time favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 3191 days

04-26-2010 05:53 AM

I’m planning a bunk bed for my two daughters and am looking for any advice you all are willing to share. Here’s a picture of the Sketchup model my wife and I put together in our spare time over the last few weeks:

Bunk Bed

Here’s how the beds will look when separated:

Bunk Beds Separated

The design is based on this bed at Pottery Barn. Here are a few questions I’m hoping to get some insight on:

1. Any comments on the overall design? I’m planning on through tenons to join the top and bottom rails to the legs on the headboards and footboards. The slats will all be joined to the rails with tenons. The side rails will have a stub tenon at each end and will be secured with barrel nut bed bolts. I’m planning on using sliding dovetails for the ladder rungs. The safety rails will straddle the side rails and will be screwed to the inside of the side rails. When the beds are detached the headboard and footboard from the top bunk become the footboards for the separate beds and the bottom bunk becomes the headboards. I decided to include safety rails on the bottom bunk because our youngest daughter is going to go straight from a crib to the bed when she’s about two years old so she’ll definitely need something to help keep her in place. The bed is going to be in the middle of the room (headboards will be against a wall) and I have some small steps that will go at the side opposite the ladder for her to use to climb up to the lower bunk.

2. What type of wood would you use? Right now I’m leaning towards alder – it seems decent looking and, more important, it’s cheap (though still a step up from pine or poplar). Any concerns about using alder? I’d love to use cherry but it’ll cost about $250 more.

3. Any ideas on how to connect the caps (the very top, horizontal pieces of the headboard and footboard)? I was considering a very short 1/8”–1/4” stub tenon at the top of each post to help align the caps and add a bit of mechanical strength. Then hopefully the glue along the length of the upper rails and in the mortise will be enough to hold each cap in place without any screws or other fasteners. Anyone have any better ideas?

Please feel free to share any other thoughts and don’t hold back on the comments or criticisms!

5 replies so far

View JimF's profile


144 posts in 3530 days

#1 posted 04-26-2010 10:11 PM

The design looks good. It’s a good-looking piece of furniture.

Not knowing about your material thickness, I suggest you carefully consider the sliding dovetails on the ladder steps. As I see it, it would require removing material from the step making a 3/4” board +/- 1/2” thick at the point where it gets a lot of stress. The daughters will grow and may get rowdy on the ladder. You might consider a dado in a thick rail for extra strength.

Also, the ladder is blocking access to the lower bunk on the one side. If it’s going against a wall, you may want to think about this also.

I built versions of bunk/loft beds for my kids to take to college from a plan a friend made. Everything was 2X and 4X material. Not nearly as good looking as yours, but very sturdy and held up well.

-- Insert clever tag line here

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 3784 days

#2 posted 04-27-2010 01:02 AM

I built one bunk set that is on the webpage I copied in this forum. Whenever I build another one I will be sure to use some of the hardest wood I can get which will likely be hard maple. I used poplar with this bunk set and it was way too soft. I have never used Alder but it is very light in my hand and would not see it as a great structure. A bunk bed is something you want to be able to count on when the children are jumping and having fun on and a little extra money for a very hard wood would be the way I would go. Hard Maple can also be stained to look very nice.

Just my thought.


-- .

View ddockstader's profile


158 posts in 3499 days

#3 posted 04-29-2010 02:50 AM

Looks to me like the person in the lower bunk is going to have a hard time getting out of bed, since the ladder and the side rails pretty well block any exit.

View woodchic's profile


841 posts in 3595 days

#4 posted 04-29-2010 03:33 AM

I agree with ddockstader. As far as the top bunk goes, make side rails on both sides…... If the bunk bed is going to be pushed up against the wall, the side that goes up against the wall , by all means put a side rail on the lower bed, to keep your child from being wedge between the bed and the wall. But for the other side of the lower bunkbed I would not put a rail there, there is no need for one, the bed is low enough that it should not hurt if one of the girls were to accidently fall out of it.


-- Robin Renee'

View NateR's profile


2 posts in 3191 days

#5 posted 04-30-2010 06:27 AM

Thanks everyone for the comments! It’s been very helpful.


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