The Shed - - Front Page - By Ian Parkes Pho­tog­ra­phy: Adam Croy and Roger Curl

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.

Bed-base sup­ports

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

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