My favorite designs have come to me unexpectedly, in a flash
of an idea, far away from the drafting table. The ensuing challenge
to develop that vision into a finished product requires
a lot of time spent refining what may seem like small details.
I begin with a sketch, nothing fancy or beautiful. The back
of an envelope or napkin will do. Drawing this way frees me
from the constraints of trying to perfect the piece; all I'm
after is getting the inspiration down on paper.
If the piece is a commission, the next step is listening
to the customer. That often influences the dimensions of a
project. For this bed, the customer wanted a queen-sized
frame that could accommodate a futon mattress or a standard
box-spring and mattress set. As a result, I had to
make the bed rails wide enough to accommodate an
A dimensioned drawing comes next. Although an accurate drawing
can help me visualize a piece, this two-dimensional tool has
limitations. That's why I build a full-scale model of any tricky
parts to work out design and construction needs and to perfect
The model allows me to evaluate how the details relate to the rest
of the design. For example, I used a model to determine the
proportions of the posts and rails. I experimented with the reveal
at various widths. A 7/8-in. reveal looked chunky, and a
5/8-in. reveal looked skinny. But when I tried a ¾-in.
reveal, it looked right. I also used the model to determine the
size of the granadillo reveal as it related to the panel and
posts and rails. Using the model, I was able to refine subtle
details and their proportions. There's nothing scientific here,
no golden rules. It's a matter of trial and error and trusting
Cut the Joinery, Then Begin Shaping
The bedposts are thick at the top and get skinnier near the floor.
As the thickness changes, the widths of the two faces also change.
But one thing stays constant: the width of the outside edge or reveal.
All of the joints that involve the bedposts are machined while the stock
is still square. These joints include the tenons for the upper
and lower rails of the headboard/footboard, the mortises in the bedposts,
the tenons on the long rails (see
on p. 78 to learn how to make the hidden
post-to-lower-rail joints) and the grooves for the panels.
Next, lay out each post's six-sided profile on the end grain (see the
above). Then connect the lines from end to end along
the outside of the post--use a black, thin-line pen, which is easier
to see than a pencil line.
The posts have three straight, flat sides (inside edge and the two
adjoining sides), two curvy sides (on each side of the outside
edge) where the plane twists and a curved, tapered side (the outside
edge with the ¾-in. reveal). Whenever possible, I make templates
to lay out and cut curved parts (see
on p. 77). I use the templates to trace layout marks,
and then, after bandsawing parts to rough dimensions,
I attach the templates to the stock and use them
with a pattern-cutting bit.
Mark the outside facet of each post using a template
and bandsaw the waste (see the
above). Fair the
curve by attaching the same template and trimming the post
with a pattern-cutting bit, as shown in the right photo above
(screw the template to the waste portions of the post). Remove
the template and draw the last set of layout lines on the outside face.
Use a router with a 45° bearing-guided bit to remove as much
stock as possible from the corners of the post. Next, use an angle
grinder with a 4-grit sanding disc to rough in the shape (see the
on p. 75) on the two facets of each post that curve and twist.
Use long, fluid motions with this tool and don't stop in midcut.
Otherwise, you end up with flat spots that break up the curve.
With a light touch, you can grind smoothly and get very close to
the layout lines. It takes some practice to get a feel for shaping
with a grinder, and I fine-tuned my skills using scrap stock.
Clean up the post— A No. 50 Nicholson pattern-maker's
rasp is used to fine-tune the shape. A rasp is small enough that
you can follow the twist on each post.
To find high and low spots left by the grinder, draw diagonal pencil
lines across the faces of each post. The rasp works best cutting
in short, diagonal strokes. When the deep scratches left by the
24-grit disc are gone and the curves of the posts look fair, move
on to a hand-scraper, paying close attention to the layout lines.
Hold the post up to a light to see how it's coming along. When you
run into domed sections, remove material using long, fluid motions.
Clean up further using a small sanding block. I prefer to use a small
piece of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with cork glued onto the face.
It's small enough (approximately 1 in. by 1 ½ in.) to maneuver
along the changing curves of the post. A large sanding block tends
to straighten the curves instead of following them.
Start with 180-grit sandpaper and follow up with 220 grit. If you find
rasp marks on the surface, go back to the scraper, which works
faster than sandpaper. Finally, use a small piece of folded 220-grit
paper and hand-sand the surface with the grain. Hand-sanding is
important because your fingers will sense any high or low
spots. Lastly, break all of the edges with a rigid sanding block
and 220-grit paper, just enough to make the edges inviting
to touch yet still crisp to the eye.
Cut the top of each post on the chopsaw, then sand it smooth with a
rigid (no cork) sanding block, which will bring out the figure
of the end grain.
Headboard and Footboard Also Have Six-Sided Parts
The upper and lower rails for the headboard and footboard are curved
and have six sides to match the posts (see the drawings
on p. 76
[drawing 4] ).
The procedure for building the headboard and footboard
is similar to the posts. First, cut the joints while the stock
is still square. (The only exceptions are the center stiles. Take
their measurements off the frames of the headboard and footboard
after dry-fitting them. Cut the mortises for the center stiles by hand.)
Then mark the six-side profiles on the shoulders of all of the tenons.
As you did with the posts, make a template to help lay out and cut the
curves of the headboard and footboard rails. Mark the curves using
the template, then roughcut the parts on the bandsaw. Finish up by
attaching the template to the stock and use a pattern-cutting bit and
router. Before shaping the facets of the rails, cut
the slots for the accent strips and panels using a router with a
The same methods and tools used on the posts are used to mark,
cut and shape the rails. The center divider is cut like the rails;
the tenons are cut first on the tablesaw. Then the tapered angles
are cut; the bevels are shaped with a grinder.
A granadillo border separates frame from panel—
The panels in this bed are made of Swiss pear wood, and the frame,
posts and rails are made of cherry. Although in time the cherry
will darken more than the pear wood, the contrast in color between
them, after milling, is subtle. To separate the two woods visually,
the frame is
with strips of granadillo, a deep,
rich, purple-brown wood. The strips of granadillo surround each panel.
A strip of granadillo is also inlaid along the bottom edge of
the bed's rails.
Mill the granadillo strips wide and long. (Rip all of the granadillo
straight; the strips will bend to conform to the curve of the rails.)
Then clamp up the rails and stiles and take your measurements for the
granadillo. Cut the strips to size, then glue them in place using
lots of spring clamps. Where the strips intersect, use a butt joint.
Take measurements for the panels while the headboard and footboard
are clamped together. Then transfer these measurements onto
¼-in.-thick particleboard or plywood and cut these out on
the bandsaw. Because of the number of curves, there's usually a
bit of tweaking to get everything right. Once you have a good fit,
use the ¼-in.-thick panels as templates for the real thing.
The pear-wood panels are resawn and slip-matched. Leave about 1/8
in. of extra space for every 12 in. of panel to allow for expansion
and contraction of the wood. When gluing up the frame, put a dab
of glue in the center of each rail's groove to keep the panel centered.
This bed frame is compatible with a futon or a box-spring and mattress
set. To allow for that, cut two dadoes--one high, one low--on each
long rail. For the futon, two removable inner rails are
screwed to the upper grooves. (You'll also need slats to support
the futon.) For use with a traditional mattress set, the inner rails
are attached to the lower groove, and the box spring rests on the inner
Finish with Hand-Rubbed Oil
I used a low-gloss tung oil to finish the bed, applying three coats
over three days. When applying the first coat, the wood will be
thirsty and absorb a lot of finish. Apply a liberal amount of oil
to one section at a time, such as one panel. Rub off the excess
after a couple of minutes and move on to another section. After a
day, go over the entire piece with a green 3M scrub pad, lightly
rubbing off raised grain and built-up oil.
On the second day, apply a thin coat of oil, again working in small
sections, and wipe with a clean cloth after a few minutes. For
a splotch-free finish, remove the excess before it begins to dry
and get gummy. On the third day, apply a final coat, the same way
as the second, but use even less oil. When using oil, less is better.