BUILD THESE PINE BUNKS
MAKING BUNKS IS THE PERFECT PROJECT FOR BEGINNER WOODWORKERS. MEN’S SHED NORTH SHORE HELPED WITH THE BUILD
When planning content for The Shed, we strive to feature projects that have real usefulness and are fun to do. At a planning meeting, we discussed making a set of wooden bunks — kids love bunks and a wellmade set will last many years and can be handed down through the family. The ‘my dad made those’ scenario made us feel good. But there was the question of who would build them — a good skill set is required, a decent range of tools, and a bit of space, plus, what to do with the bunks once built?
Who, where, and how?
We had visited the Men’s Shed North Shore in Auckland and been impressed with the members there and their extensive set-up. We approached Larry Klassen and his team and put the idea to them. Great concept, they said, especially happy to be involved as The Shed had decided to give the completed bunks to a needy family, as recommended by the North Shore Women’s Centre, the bulk of whose work is focused on domestic violence. Our Shed team sourced some wonderful sponsors to assist with the worthy project. Placemakers supplied all the materials, Sleepyhead the mattresses, and Resene the polyurethane varnish finish. Two team members at the Menzshed took charge of the build — Bernard Gardner and Winston Garnett.
Building your own bunks is a lot more simple than it looks, making them a great project even for first-time woodworkers. Unlike some things you could make, these will probably get used every day and every time you see them you will get
We decided to give the completed bunks to a needy family as recommended by the North Shore Women’s Centre
the satisfaction of knowing you made a practical difference to someone’s life.
The bunk plans for this project were designed by a builder for home building, so he has kept the fiddly bits to an absolute minimum. They avoid some of the tricks professionals can use with more sophisticated tooling.
Choose your materials
The bunks made for this project are built with high-grade knot-free timber. To save money, you could choose a lower spec timber, and you could probably make some top bunk fence rails, suitably dressed, out of pallet timber. You could also make the whole thing out of plywood, although rounding or radiusing some of the edges might be tricky as the exposed end-grain layers in the timber might splinter. You’d need to do more sanding, and perhaps some filling, and varnishing would not be an option.
Don’t be tempted to build it from MDF, says Bernard. That might suit commercial designs but they use larger panels and thicker dimensions to overcome MDF’s weaknesses. You’d need different plans to build bunks from MDF.
Making your bunks
You can cut different pieces to length as you go, but Winston and Bernard preferred to cut all the stock to length and bundle it up to make sure that they had the correct number of pieces for assembly. This is easier to do with a drop saw on a table as you can set a stop at the right length.
As it happens, they noticed that once all the timber was cut, they had enough timber in total, but only if they added a couple of short lengths together. Back to Placemakers …
Head- and footboards
The headboards and footboards for both beds are the same and can be assembled into four units. You will need to mark and cut the corners from the top rails so that they will meet the top of each leg neatly.
Note that the legs are rectangular not square, so make sure you drill the holes for the bed end fence rails into the wider side of the legs. Also make sure that these holes will align the rails with the inside
Every time you see them you will get the satisfaction of knowing you made a practical difference to someone’s life
face of the legs. If not, the space for the mattress would not be regular, and they would interfere with the side rails. Mark and drill the holes for the dowels in the legs and corresponding holes into the ends of the rails. Remember to cut holes into the ends of the legs where the top and bottom bunks will join. Tap the dowels into the legs, apply PVA glue to the end of the rails, and tap the legs into position. It will be easier if you can lay them on a flat surface against a firm edge. Hold them together with sash clamps while the glue sets.
The fancy sides and ends
Next, cut the pieces for the sides and ends. This is one of the fancy bits — cutting the curve and the low section into the side rails. The team used a plunge saw, which allows you to start a cut in the middle of a piece of wood. Then use a bandsaw to cut the swoop from the outside to the through-cut.
The home builder will have to use a jigsaw before they can set a circular-saw blade nice and square on the right line. You could just leave this step out but it’s one of the few features that make this look
They noticed that once all the timber was cut, they had enough timber in total, but only if they added a couple of short lengths together
like proper furniture, rather than a stack of pallets. It’s also practical, helping the user avoid contact with a hard edge when getting in and out, and making it easier to make the bed. For the same reason you should use a router or shave and sand a soft edge along its entire length.
Next, glue and screw the small square lengths of timber that will support the bed base onto the bottom edge of the side rails. Remember, these rails are fastened to the outside of the bed legs, so you have to leave a gap where these support strips will butt up against the legs at each end.
Assemble the bases
This is a simple job, simply gluing and screwing battens onto the underside of the 6mm MDF base at equally spaced intervals. You could then drill holes through the hardboard to provide some ventilation to the mattress if you prefer. The weight is carried by the battens.
Assembling the side rail units
Mark the positioning carefully to ensure that you’ll get a nice square result. Mount screws from the inside to keep the bunks looking tidy from the outside, and choose the screw length carefully to avoid them poking through. Pre-drilling the holes will avoid any tendency for the wood to split. Mark the right depth or use a collar on the drill bit to avoid punching through to the outside. Use one screw to join the verticals to the rail and check the alignment again before drilling and using a second screw.
Where the side rails join the legs you can use long screws, but there’s another
solution that makes it easier to take the bed apart. Look out for ‘insert nuts’ — these allow you to bolt something together without having to drill through and place unsightly nuts on the other side. They have a thread on the inside for a bolt and a thread on the outside to screw into the leg. Then you can fasten the fence rails to the legs with appropriate-size bolts. This means you can assemble and disassemble the beds just by undoing the bolts.
Build the ladder
Simply mark and drill holes into the side rails without going through, glue, and assemble. If you don’t have long clamps, you can make a Spanish windlass by wrapping ropes around the whole thing, inserting sticks into the loop, and twisting it to apply pressure. Leave the stick resting against something to hold it in place. Put bits of sacrificial timber in the way of the ropes’ contact points to avoid making dents.
Note that while young feet probably won’t notice, flat steps are more comfortable. If you choose this option, the ladder rails should be deeper. The ladder can be screwed or bolted to the ‘cheeks’, which interrupt and support the fence rails where the ladder lands.
Alternatively, if you want to be able to remove the ladder easily, you could screw U-shaped galvanized metal brackets at the top of it to hook over the side of the bed.
If fixing the ladder, measure and cut stand-off pieces, which will steady it against the bottom bunk, and glue these to the ladder. Line them up with the bottom of the bunk, then you can add narrow metal straps on the bottom of the pieces going under the bunk rail. Screwing through the holes at each end — one into the stand-off piece and one into the bottom side of the rail — will hold them in place.
Assemble the beds
First, you will need to mark and cut bolt holes through the side rails into the legs at each corner. You can use conventional hex-headed bolts for temporary fixing, but a neater solution is dome-headed coach bolts finished with dome-headed nuts on the inside faces of the legs. This means that the beds can be disassembled for delivery or to move them to another location — or for the final step in the build process …
If you have used nice new or recycled timber, some good Resene semi-gloss polyurethane will show off the quality, but a painted finish is more modern. Consultation with the householder at the bunks’ destination would probably be the smart move at this point. We wanted to show off the quality timber and grain so we didn’t cover it up, and some Resene semi-gloss polyurethane did the trick for us nicely.
Our finished bunks complete with top of the line Sealy mattresses, ready for their new home
The assembled bed ends and ladder. Winston is fixing a long square ledge and the bed base rests on one of the side rails
All the parts were cut first and then bundled to check that the team had enough of everything
Taking the square corner off the top edge of the side rails with a router
Right: Drilling the holes for the coach bolts that will fasten the rails to the ends of the bed
Above: A close look at gluing and screwing the bed-base support onto the side rail. Select screw length carefully — you don’t want them popping out the other side
Below: The top corner of the top bunk, showing the interrupted fence attached to the ‘cheek’ piece, which locates the ladder
Left: A small plane makes a neat job of making the sharp corners more user-friendly
Below: The legs are drilled right through and dome-headed nuts provide a neat finish on the inside face
Below: Temporary bolts hold the side rail to the headboard in a trial fit. These were replaced with chromed dome-headed coach bolts
Bernard drills holes in the ends of the bed legs for the dowels that locate the beds on top of each other
Below: The top bunk nears completion
The assembled side rail, viewed from the inside
Below: Marking up the spacer that gives the ladder a small degree of tilt
Above: Chopping the nice knot-free timber to length with the drop saw. These are the stubs of the fence rails by the ladder on the top bunk
Above: This plunge saw makes a neat job of the cutaway in the side rails, as it can rotate down into the workpiece while fully supportedLeft: The cutaway curves were made using a bandsawRight: Once all four rails were cut the edges were rounded on a router
Drill the holes for the steps, taking care not to go right through. Add glue and pull the whole thing together to set with sash clamps using some offcuts to protect the surface
Using spacers to check the distance before gluing and screwing the bed-base slats
Tapping the bolts through for a test assembly
Left: Remember to check mattress size before building
Below: It’s easy to see where you’ve been with the first coat of varnish. The second, not so much
Above: Chromed coach bolts and domed nuts give a more professional finish to the only fixings you see on the beds