January 6, 2015

Walnut Queen Bed - Part 1

Building a bed for our master bedroom has been on the to-do list for quite some time. Other projects kept getting in the way and even after it made it to the top of the list I really struggled to find the right design. We wanted something fairly simple and I also wanted to find a design that would take advantage of the 16" wide walnut that I had stashed away for this project. I browsed through Google images looking for different options, looked through the beds posted to the projects section of Lumberjocks, and even created a pinterest page to collect pictures of beds that we found interesting. In the end the bed from Vermont Wood Studios shown below kept catching my eye.
Vermont Shaker Moon Bed

With this basic design in mind I started drawing out plans in Sketchup to dial in the proportions and determine the proper dimensions to accommodate a queen size mattress. This took a few iterations as I struggled to figure out how to make this design work with a boxspring. 

In the end I tossed out the boxspring and designed this bed to support the mattress with a series a slats across the width of the bed. This allowed the mattress to sit lower and reduced the overall bulk of the bed. I also tweaked the design such that the headboard was 15" wide (or would that be tall?) so that it could be made with the single widest board that I can run through my planer.

Back in September I finally kicked off the actual woodworking by sorting through my stash of thicker walnut timbers (man I love finding unique lumber like this on Craigslist) to find four nice sections to make the corner posts.

In the end I was able to get all four posts out of a single 12/4 timber. The grain is a bit more wild than I would ideally like but I couldn't justify ripping apart larger 6x6 timbers to try to find more traditional straight grained rift-sawn stock. My hope is that since the design is so simple this grain will actually add some visual interest without looking too ridiculous.

The next step in the rough milling process was to sort through the wide walnut stock to find the best pieces for the headboard and footboard.

I cut the headboard and footboard to rough length and set them aside while I found some lesser quality boards that could be ripped into the smaller widths needed for the side rails and lower rail on the headboard.

Some of these walnut boards have partial "live edges" as shown on the board below. In order to process this board I first needed to snap a chalk line inside of the narrowest point of the board to define a reference edge to be used in later steps.

I then ripped the board along the chalk line at the bandsaw.

The sawn edge was then trued up with a jointer plane. Having a decent workbench really makes working with these big slabs much easier.

I then ripped this board in half at the table saw with the jointed edge along the fence. These pieces will ultimately become the 6" wide side rails of the bed.

I followed the same basic process with the wide slabs for the headboard and footboard but rather than rip them in half I ripped off just a bit to bring them down to 15" wide so they will fit through the planer.

The next task was to start flattening one face of the headboard. I used winding sticks to identify any twist and knocked down the high spots with a jack plane. Lex was helping at this point and decided pose for the picture.

When I had one side flat enough that the board would sit flat on the workbench without rocking I ran it through the planer with that face as the reference surface. After a few passes I started flipping the board to plane down each side evenly until both faces were planed smooth. My generic planer only has a 2HP motor but it chewed through this mouthful without any hesitation despite the fact that the knives are getting a bit dull. 

Lex and I then moved on to cutting the headboard to final length. At this point I double and triple checked the sketchup model and my measurements since the headboard will ultimately define the width of the bed frame which needs to carefully fit the width of the queen sized mattress. 

At this point in the project I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to setup the headboard to plane the ends straight and true. I brought this up with some of the guys at work and Mark gave me a stupid look and said "Isn't that what a shooting board is for?" I had never run across a need for a shooting board before but after thinking about it for a few seconds it was clear. "This is exactly what a shooting board is for." I took a bit of a detour to build a quick shooting board and then tested it out truing up the ends of the headboard. Wow, that was clearly the right tool for the job as the resulting ends were as square and true as I could measure.

My next task was to layout the mortise and tenon joints between the headboard and corner posts. Since the board is so wide I split the joint into 3 separate mortises and associated tenons with a shallow groove and associated web between them. 

With the mortise laid out I hogged out the waste with the hollow chisel mortiser.

After chopping the mortises I knifed in the outline of the groove and then started to excavate that area with a chisel.

After removing the bulk of the waste with the chisel I switched to the router plane to bring the groove down to a consistent depth.

With the female portion of the joint complete I started creating the tenons on the headboard with a dado stack. Since the ends of the board were square and true from the shooting board it was simple to run the ends against the rip fence to guide this cut. The rip fence setting was also very critical since it defined the width between the shoulders at each end which ultimately defined the distance between the two corner posts which needs to carefully match the width of the mattress.

With the faces of the tenon formed, the next step was to layout the individual tenons as well as the remaining web between them. I marked the extents of each tenon directly from the mortises in the corner post and used a square to extend the lines. I also cut a small scrap to the depth of the groove and used this as a spacer to mark out the baseline of the web as shown below.

Due to the length of the board, holding it in position to saw the tenons on the end was a bit awkward. I ended up simply leaning it up against the rear edge of my workbench wedged up against the base of the table saw at the bottom. I then made the vertical saw cuts to define the edges of each tenon with a backsaw. This was the first real test for my new Bad Axe hybrid filed 14" sash saw and it got the job done with ease. I like this saw.

I then used a coping saw to remove the bulk of the waste between the tenons leaving the small web between them to be trimmed up with a chisel where needed.

I then started test fitting the joint and tweaking the fit with a chisel and shoulder and block planes.

This trial and error process took quite a few iterations on the first joint but went much quicker on the other side where I had a better idea of where the tight spots were likely to be.

The end result was two joints that fit nice and tight along the shoulders.

I love the first point in a project where you can actually dry fit a few components together and stand them up to get an idea of what the finished project might look like. Below you can see the basic shape and proportions of the footboard. I still need to cut the curve along the top edge of the board and refine the shape of the corner posts but at this point I am shifting focus to the headboard to complete the basic joinery and get it to this same stage.

I still don't have heat in the shop so progress through the rest of the winter will be largely dictated by the weather. Here's to hoping January brings a few mild weekends like those we had in December.