Building Bunk Beds in Burma

Not long ago, my brother led a small team of Americans as they completed a major woodworking project for an orphanage in Myanmar (formerly Burma), in Southeast Asia.  The orphanage, which houses approximately 120 children, had no proper beds for the children–only mats on wooden floors.

The plan was simple: source enough suitable lumber and construct 60 bunk beds using simple power tools, primarily a chop saw and cordless drills.  Even here in the USA, where building materials and electricity are plentiful, it would be a grueling project.  But in Southeast Asia, there are some additional challenges.

Pickup truck

The “pickup truck” got the lumber to the worksite, albeit slowly.  They were also able to rent a generator to run the chop saw and charge the battery packs for the cordless drills.


The bucket is the generator’s cooling system: fill it with water, and the water drips out through a small hole in the bottom onto the generator, preventing it from overheating.

Drilling Bunk bed wood.





The available wood was not softwood, but a local hardwood called “piniadon.”  (That’s our best guess as to its English spelling.)  It has beautiful color, and it smooths nicely, but it’s very hard on drill bits.  The chop saw was also kept very busy.

Chop saw at lunch

Except during lunch.

Each frame was topped with plywood and then trimmed flush with a router.

Trim router

It may seem miraculous to Westerners, but nobody lost any digits during this project.

Here’s the outside of the orphanage, with bunk bed components leaning against the walls:


Orphanage with bunk bed pieces

After a week of very hard work, 120 children had new beds.  Now they don’t have to sleep on the floor where the insects crawl around at night.

Bunk beds built

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3 Responses to Building Bunk Beds in Burma

  1. Nice story. Having grown up in several orphanages, I’m sure the kids appreciated the bunk beds.

  2. Update: after showing pictures of wood samples to some people, I think that the wood is called “pyinkado,” or Burmese rosewood. It’s most often used for flooring, but clearly it is beautiful in furniture, too.

  3. neil says:

    Here in Thailand they just refer to this as Mai Daeng. Wood Red. It is tough stuff. I have made a lot of projects out of it. As they said, tough on drills, and even with a pilot hole it is tough to nail. I drill a pilot hole and then use a self tapping screw. But it does look good when finished.

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