The last bed frame I built, I learned a valuable lesson: always measure and re-measure the mattress before settling on exact frame dimensions. Although there are “standard” mattress dimensions, individual specimens can vary by as much as an inch bigger or smaller. So before the bunk beds got too far along, my wife and I went mattress shopping.
After some research, we bought mattresses that were made right here in the Mobile area. Lee Street Mattress is a small, two-man shop in Chickasaw, Alabama. We ordered our mattresses first thing in the morning, and they were made and delivered that same afternoon. My oldest two daughters even got to visit the shop and watch their mattresses being sewn!
I settled on lacquer for a finish. The finish is easy to apply, easy to repair, and dries quickly. One downside is the very strong odor of the lacquer while wet, which makes lacquer application a strictly outdoor job.
Thus, I contrived an outdoor finishing area consisting a canopy and a couple of tarps.
The canopy keeps most of the sun off. The tarps keep more sun off, and they keep the air fairly still, which helps prevent grit from blowing onto wet finishes. If I were being more picky about the finish, I would lay a tarp or drop cloth on the ground as well. I suppose one could even construct an outdoor spray booth using more tarps.
I opted for plywood to support the mattresses. I hate sheet goods, but sometimes they’re the best option. Mostly, I find them difficult to work with hand tools, but I make do.
My wife and I hauled all the pieces (15 in all) into the girls’ bedroom and began assembling them. This was an adventure because, while each of the joints had been individually test-fitted, the whole structure had not been fitted together all at once before.
A few of the joints had been cut too tight and needed extra coaxing with a mallet. One or two required trimming with a chisel. Everything went smoothly, however, until we got the structure set in its intended place. The top bunk was much too close to the ceiling fan for anybody’s comfort. We were forced to spin the bed around and set it along a different wall. Thus, what I had prepared as a “show” side is now against the wall, and the “back” side (where I had placed some aesthetically flawed pieces) is fully visible. Oh well.
The biggest problem was with the extra rail on the top, which was now on the wall side of the bed. That rail had to be moved to the opposite side of the bed. Not wanting to disassemble the whole structure in order to cut two more joints, I stood on a ladder and used a brace & bit and a chisel to cut the two joints.
So now there are two gaping, dovetail-shaped holes in the wall side of the bed. That will just have to be a family secret.
Despite the problems, the bunk beds are now complete. They are solid, and after the girls got over their initial giddiness about seeing their bunk beds finally completed, they all slept in their respective bunks all night.
Now all that remains is to build a permanent ladder.