building a loft bed
October 18, 2007 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm finally doing something to make my bedroom liveable (and, hopefully, bring some sanity to my scattered life!): lofting my bed! Keeping guitars and bikes underneath! Cheap, affordable, and I can build it myself! One problem: I've got no carpentry experience...

That right, I'm building a loft frame for my bed. I plan to modify the design here - extending the vertical pieces on what will be the non-wall side, and adding a railing (cause I don't want to fall off!), as well as adding additional horizontal pieces to support my bed, removing the supports for the bottom bed (I've got no use for a bottom bed), and building shelves (or maybe just pegs...) for some clothes on one side. I'll also add some L-brackets, assuming they'll add some strength to some of those right angles (particularly on the vertical pieces)

The only problem is, I have no carpentry experience. I can find a lumber yard or a Home Depot without a problem, but I don't know what kind of wood to buy or how much I can expect to spend.

I'm also hoping that it won't be too difficult to make this stable.

So: any basic pointers for a novice carpenter? Any suggestions for affordable but pleasant wood? Any rough estimates on how much money I can expect to spend? Any enthusiastic encouragement? Thanks!
posted by entropone to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't love that design, to be honest. One thing you should note is that removing the front piece and supports for the bottom bed will make it a lot more prone to skewing (where the top moves side to side and the bottom stays in one place, like collapsing a box. If I may suggest: I'd find an alternate plan with an open front (so you can have access from the front). I'd also find one with an X shaped crossbrace on the back if you're worried about stability. L Brackets won't do much for you...

As to wood, you're going to be using pine. It's pretty much all you can get at any sort of reasonable price for dimensional lumber (2x4, 2x6, etc) and has been the loft-building choice of poor students and the like for many years.

Can you attach it to the wall at all or must it be free-standing?
posted by true at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2007

Best answer: OP Loftbed would be a great resource here.

I built a loftbed for my dorm room, without much carpentry experience. It took me quite a while, but I did it over the summer off-and-on. By far the most time-consuming part was staining and shellac-ing it, but that really made it look great--I strongly recommend doing so.

The other thing that I was very thankful for at the end was my decision to purchase a circular saw for the project--you have no idea how much time that saved. If you don't already own one, you can buy one for $40-50 at Wal-Mart, and it's a pretty useful tool.

Good luck with your undertaking, they look really cool when they're done. I have my desk and computer under mine.
posted by DMan at 1:47 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Joinery will be the tricky part for you. You can save time and maintain joint strength by using outdoor deck lumber ties with cheap 2x4 lumber. Most of these connectors are normally stocked items at Home Depot/Lowes.
posted by klarck at 2:18 PM on October 18, 2007

Seconding true's suggestions to find another plan if you want the open front. The bed in the plans would not be stable without the horizontal framing in the bottom. Also, spend your money on cheap wood, not expensive L-brackets.

You'll want to buy plain old construction lumber, because anything else will be very pricey (it'll likely be pine, but it might be spruce or fir too). One important thing to do is spend some time carefully sorting through the wood before you buy it, picking pieces that are as straight as possible lengthwise and have as little twist in them as possible. The easiest way to do this is to look down the length of the lumber from one end, with your eye near the surface. Please stack the lumber back up nicely after you do this. You'll probably be spending somewhere between $100 and $200. The bed in the plans you link to should cost about $80 for the wood and then a little more for screws, etc.

You'll want something to be able to easily cut square ends: either a mitre box and hand saw or a power mitre saw (pricey). Of course, you'll need a drill as well. You might want to look for a design that doesn't use plywood (for instance, using 1x4 slats to support the bed) because it will be easier (it will be very hard to cut the plywood straight by hand) and cheaper as well (plywood is expensive compared to 1x4 lumber).
posted by ssg at 2:40 PM on October 18, 2007

By far the easiest way* to cut a straight cut for your purposes is to use a circular saw, and clamp a metal builder's square to the wood near the cutting line. Depending on the saw, you'll have to clamp it an inch or two away from the actual line, but once you have it clamped, you can just hold the saw's shoe up against the edge of the square.

Plywood can be cut in this manner using a yardstick instead of a builder's square.

* This may not be proper construction technique, but a friend who is a woodworker did it this way, and I've had much success with the technique.
posted by DMan at 3:12 PM on October 18, 2007

You know, your neighborhood cheapo furniture 'n' futons type store probably has these for a hundred and fifty bucks. You're going to spend quite a bit on wood and hardware here anyway, so what's your grief and labor worth?

Also, I don't see a ladder in your plan. :)
posted by rokusan at 3:13 PM on October 18, 2007

Do you have an Ikea near you? They have a great selection of loft beds.
posted by padraigin at 3:18 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Example: loft bed with ladder, from §149.
posted by iviken at 3:26 PM on October 18, 2007

A. The tromso (ikea loft bed) is a piece of crap. Forget about getting any sleep in it if you weigh more than 150 pounds. I slept in mine maybe 10-15 times, usually opting for the couch, before I sold it.
B. I asked a similar question 2 years ago. After that experience, here's what I'd recommend:
1. Don't underestimate the amount of space you are going to want on top of your loft bed. It's not too cool to be 2 feet from the ceiling when you're laying down. I think the best bet for lofted spaces is leaving at least enough room in which to crouch.
2. 2x4s are probably ok for part of the bed, but you WILL need 2x6s, at least on the 'framing' parts.
3. if you want it to be open, you need some sturdy wood and a very good design or the thing is going to be shaky. I bolted my loft to the wall AND the concrete floor and it was still a little bit wavy.
4. if you're set on diy regardless, the tie joins aren't crazy expensive, and I'd recommend them as it simplifies the design and the construction ability demanded of yoou.
5. if you don't have a compound miter saw or a decent circular, plan it so you need the least amount of cuts and get home depot to cut it for you.
6. it's probably not worth buying anything but the cheapest wood -- there's a good chance you'll toss this when you move. even with the cheapest wood, you're probably looking at $150 or so for all the materials.
posted by fishfucker at 3:41 PM on October 18, 2007

here you go, just follow instructions:
posted by raildr at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2007

I built a loft bed back in university, using 4 4x4 supports for the corners, 2x4s for the frame across the top (I cut notches out of the 4x4s and dropped the 2x4s in them. There was also two bars running between the supports (along the short sides) about 1/2 up (it supported a desk for one year, then I put a couch under it the second year).
I also put small corner braces between the 4x4s and the beams at the top to stop sway. There were a few 2x4s running widthwise at the top between the outside frames, onto which I put a sheet of 4x8' plywood. (The whole frame was built to take one 4x8 sheet of plywood, so no cutting of that required.
I can send a sketch if you're really interested. I didn't finish it, it was very homebuilt looking. Worked like a charm though.
*it cost me $200 for the lumber and the mattress, but it was really cool.
posted by defcom1 at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2007

Simpson strongtie
posted by hortense at 5:42 PM on October 18, 2007

A few basics on joinery and tools:

1.You should attach this thing to the wall. You can find wall studs behind sheetrock by looking for very slight indentations where the drywall fasteners went in, and or rapping on the wall. If you can’t find them that way choose a place where a horizontal member will hide the damage and hunt and peck thru the sheetrock with a nail to find a stud. Then you can plumb up and down with a level to see where it goes. Studs are on 16 inch centers.

2. You can buy an OK circular saw pretty cheap. You can use that saw to make square end cuts with an eight dollar speed square as a saw guide. The speed square is 7 inch equilateral triangle that registers on one edge and does either 90 or 45 degrees. Measure your piece and make a mark
Then scribe a line thru it with the speed square. Now register your saw to that line and push the speed-square tight to it from the off side for a guide.

3. Screws are hard to pull straight out, but not so hot on lateral shear. Its easy to find a nice battery powered screw driver but there’s no such thing as a battery powered nail gun. Sometimes holding power is in direct proportion to driving force. You’re going to have a hard time nailing this stuff and a little pre-drilled pilot hole will help. Make it ½ or less the size of the nail shank.

4. Buy a cheap skillsaw and a nice battery powered drill. Cordless drills are the most versatile tool since the wheel. I’ve been using Makita for the last 12 years. Panasonic and Millwauke look good too, but I’ve seen some problems with Bosch and especially DeWalt.
posted by Huplescat at 5:56 PM on October 18, 2007

Agreed with everything Huplescat said (except that I have a DeWalt cordless and it's never given me a problem).

Minor unrelated hijack, but "there’s no such thing as a battery powered nail gun" is true only for framing nails (clearly the kind that need to be used here). I just put up a bunch of trim tonight with a dewalt 16 gauge finish nailer - totally cordless, uses their 14.4 or 18v battery packs and can sink 2.5" finish nails no problem.
posted by true at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2007

I use a 12 volt drill, and it's fine... but 14 is worth the extra cash. Most jobs are OK with 12.
posted by Huplescat at 6:13 PM on October 18, 2007

Obligatory safety discussion:

Be absolutely sure to establish safe habits right at the beginning of this project, and follow them. Keep the space free of clutter, and regularly stop work to tidy up the work area. Before you buy a circular saw or a nail gun remind yourself not to cut off your fingers or shoot a nail into someon's brain cavity. Unplug them when you're not using them, and put them away at the end of the day.
posted by Blingo at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, all. I'm not particularly interested in buying something pre-fab, and I'm confident I can borrow and scrounge the tools required for this project.
posted by entropone at 10:08 AM on October 19, 2007

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