We’re so excited to share how the shared room for our daughters progressed in just one week! As soon as we hit publish on last week’s ORC (One Room Challenge) post, we headed straight to Lowe’s to pick up supplies and get started on the largest project in the room–the built-in bunkbeds. Just yesterday, we attached the crown molding–so it’s been a busy week!
There’s still wood-filling, sanding and painting to be done, not to mention the adjacent reading nook, but we thought we’d share exactly how we made these bunk beds for around $700 in this weeks’ ORC post.
Step 1: Measurements & Plans
Planning is, of course, always the first phase of any project, and it’s especially involved with anything “built-in.” The measurements have to be exact, down to 1/16th of an inch. Even trickier still is when you’re dealing with walls, because very rarely are the walls of a room perfectly squared.
When drawing out plans, we like to start with the “fixed size” items. Since we’re working with bunkbeds, for us that meant the mattresses – they’re really the only part that has a fixed size. We’re using XL Twin mattresses, which are a few inches longer than a standard (we have an inkling our girls will be tall), making them 39X79. With a bed, it’s always a good idea to add a little wiggle room for the mattress, so we added 1 inch to each dimension, making the mattress area 40×80.
From there we decided how wide we wanted each section to be when finished. We wanted to leave as much room as possible for the reading nook, which meant making a staircase as small as we were comfortable with. We landed on 18″ wide, which feels like a good size for the girls, but still workable by us if we ever needed to make our way up top. Subtracting the 4″ posts I designed on either end of the beds and the length of the mattresses, that left us with 42 inches for the reading nook–which we were happy about.
We’ve had so many comments since starting from readers who wanted to do bunkbeds but couldn’t because of their ceiling height. Our whole house, including this room, has standard 8 foot ceilings (92 3/4 inches, to be exact), so bunkbeds are possible! We took the height and divided it in half, so that once the mattresses are in place, each bunk will have the same amount of space.
This post is only about the bunkbed section, but we’ll also be adding the reading nook on in the coming days.
Step 2: Calculate Materials
Calculating materials starts with knowing what type of lumber you’ll use where. We used premium 2×4 studs for the framing, 3/4in premium maple plywood for facing, and a few other types of lumber for various, specific purposes (8ft 2x10s for the stair supports, for example). Things to keep in mind:
• When you’re drawing up your final blueprint with all of your measurements, remember to take into account the facing material. We wanted our posts 4 inches wide, but that would include a layer of 3/4″ plywood (which is actually closer to 11/16). The plywood would be on both sides of the walls at the foot and head of the bed, meaning we would need studs that were 2 5/8 inches wide, as opposed to the 3 1/2 inches you get out of a 2×4. We decided we’d still go with the 2×4 studs because you can get a better lumber product (less prone to warping) and run it through the table saw to get the exact width we wanted.
• Studs should not be more than 16 inches apart. If you’re afraid they will be, err on the side of caution and add more. You’ll feel much better about a structure that is too strong, as opposed to one that is too weak.
• For the plywood facing, there will always be seams, but the fewer the better. The end product will be better if you plan on having enough full sheets to be able to use whole pieces for large sections that need to be covered, instead of piecing them together and using wood filler on the seams.
• It’s not a bad idea to get more product than you think you’ll need, and return what is unused. So long as your lumber is in like-new condition, you should have no trouble returning it, though you may want to check with your lumber yard. We get all of our stuff through our local Lowe’s and they’re always great about it.
Here is what our material list looked like:
And of course framing nails, screws, finish nails, brad nails, and wire nuts.
Step 3: Framing the Bunkbeds
Building the frame starts with the wall at the foot of the bed. Since we wanted our posts 4 inches squared, we created two 91 1/4″ long posts up to the ceiling that were exactly 2 5/8 inches squared. That way, the plywood facing would bring it up to an even 4. Chris did this by running a couple 2x4s through the table saw at 2 5/8, then running one of them through again, standing on its end, to make it 1 3/16″ thick. He then nailed the two together to create a 2 5/8 squared post (twice to create two posts).
Why did the posts need to be 91 1/4 long? Because the ceiling is 92 3/4, and whenever you are doing framing you have a 2×4 both at the top and bottom of the frame, each being 1 1/2 inch thick. BUT, since these posts were going all the way to the ceiling without a top frame (they will be secured later), we only needed to make room for the bottom frame (92 3/4 – 1 1/2 = 91 1/4). If you listened to this week’s podcast, you know how I always walk in on Chris whispering these kinds of numbers and measurements to himself–it cracks me up!
This left wall has our opening for climbing into the top bunk from the stairs. We planned for the top of the stairs to be 57″ after a 1″ stair tread. So the top of the frame in the center needed to be 56 5/16 inches so the stairs and footboard opening would be aligned (56 5/16 + plywood facing = 57).
Lucky for us, the wall at the foot of the bed perfectly aligned with a stud in the wall and we secured it there to hold it in place. If you aren’t so lucky, you may want to put the foot wall in place then move on to the step of adding the stairs (see below) so the foot wall can be connected to something stable, then move on to the head wall.
The head wall is simple framing – 4 studs, evenly spaced throughout 40 inches with a top and bottom piece. This is, of course, after passing all studs through the table saw to make them 2 5/8 wide so the finished wall will be our desired 4 inches.
Once again, when placing the head and foot wall in place, figure for an additional 1 3/8 inches (for a layer of plywood facing on each wall). This means, if you want the finished mattress area to be 80 inches tall, you’ll put the head and footboard frames 81 3/8 inches apart.
For the mattress supports, cut 8 2x4s (no need to send these ones through the table saw – they’ll be stronger if you keep them at their standard thickness) to that exact length (81 3/8). Use a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig to drill pocket holes into the ends of each board so that there will be at least 2 screws connecting each end of each 2×4 to the head and foot walls.
Secure the 2x4s for the bottom bunk to the walls so their tops are exactly 5 inches from the ground. I also added a 2×4 under these 4 boards as an extra support. Measure halfway from the ground to the ceiling and mark the head and foot walls at that point. Secure the 2x4s for the top bunk so that the bottoms of those boards are 11/16 of an inch higher than that mark (again, plywood will be added so it lines up exactly with that mark). A level is your friend here. Level each board, as you add it, with itself, and the other boards next to it.
Step 4: Framing the Stairs
About those stairs. Stairs can be tricky and they’re fairly involved to get them right. Chris’s dad taught him how to do them, but here is a thorough tutorial that describes the process.
Before attaching the stair supports, cut and attach the piece of plywood that will be between the stairs and foot wall (or left-hand wall in our case), so the stair supports can be attached directly to the plywood, and also into the studs in the adjacent wall.
Step 5: The Electrical
Running electrical wire is not something we feel comfortable giving a tutorial on. Legally speaking, there’s a lot that could go wrong and if you don’t know how to do it, it’s best to hire a professional. Chris has done a lot of electrical work so he handles it himself, but even when you do it yourself it’s important to get your inspections done to keep your family safe.
The short version, Chris capped off an outlet in the bottom bunk area and rerouted its power to two switches in the head wall of the bunk beds. All the wires are hidden within the frame of the structure. Getting the wires run before adding the rest of the plywood facing is extremely important (and probably pretty obvious, but we have to point it out). I mentioned in last Friday’s post that we were still not sure if we were going to put switches in the bunkbeds to give the girls the power or what! But, we decided to do so. And add a dimmer switch! If we thought it through for 10 more minutes, we probably would have thought to put the switch near the bunkbed openings instead of the back wall, so if they fell asleep, we could easily turn them off ourselves, but what’s done is done.
Step 6: Plywood Facing & Crown
The last step is adding the rest of the plywood facing to enclose the wiring and cover the framing. I’m a big fan of mitered corners, as it makes everything feel tight and seamless, but there are so many edges, corners and angles on these beds that it would have driven Chris crazy trying to get those miters correct. He actually cut the first few edges mitered and then I stopped him because it was taking so long. “Cut them all squared and we’ll go back and fill any seams with wood filler” I said, and we’ll give it a good sanding, too.
The order in which you add the facing makes a difference, so take your time and think it through. A great place to start is on the underside of the top bunk – add that entire sheet and nail it in place using a finish nailer and 2in finish nails. (If you can picture this, I was actually holding the sheet of plywood in place on my back while Chris nailed it in place.) Then add plywood to the foot and head sections of the bottom bunk. This further grounds and supports the top bunk to prevent it from sagging or dislodging at the screw points.
From there, this is the order Chris suggests, but feel free to do what makes sense for you:
• floor-to-ceiling section on the right side of the head wall
• head and foot of the top bunk (the foot is the small riser from the under frame to the opening leading to the stairs)
Once the head and foot pieces are done, you can cut the holes for the old work junction boxes for the light switches and have those hooked up.
• left and right sides of the foot wall posts that go to the ceiling
• 8in high fronts for the mattress areas
• 9in tall pieces between top bunk front and security rail
• security railing (we doubled up two layers of plywood for the railing to make it stronger)
• the rest of the bunkbed facing as you see fit
• stair risers
• stair treads
Once all of that is in place, you’re ready to add the sheets of plywood sheathing that go in the mattress areas. We used Douglas fir plywood sheathing here because it doesn’t need to be fancy. Cabinet-grade plywood is a bit overkill, since it will never be seen.
Finally and lastly, the top trim and crown that really seals the deal.
As I mentioned before, the next step is using wood filler for all of the seams, sanding them smooth. Then caulk, paint, and build out the reading nook.
I know that was a lot of technical words to read, especially if you aren’t planning on building a bunk bed, but if you are–I sure hope it helps! And if you aren’t, I hope you’re just as excited to see this room inch along. I’m off to see what the rest of the bloggers (listed below) in the One Room Challenge accomplished in the last week!