Designing the Plan and Selecting Lumber

The first step to any project is planning out your design and planning out your lumber purchases and the tools you’ll require. We talked in my previous post about tools, and now we’ll talk about lumber.

If you remember from my previous post, this is the bed plan we’re adapting. What I’m designing won’t look exactly like this, but consider it an inspiration. That plan came with a very handy cut list, which shows the number of boards you need to use and how to cut them. Since we’re not using construction lumber for this project, however, it’s not that simple. The lumber we’ll be getting from the yard comes in random widths and lengths, so we’ll need to work with the plans I’m posting and purchase lumber accordingly.

Before we get to the plans, lets talk about the difference between the lumber used in the inspiration plans, and our new plans. Construction lumber comes in easy, standard dimensions. You’ve likely heard of 2x4s, 1x4s, etc. What many people don’t know is that a 2×4 isn’t actually 2″x 4″ in size. It’s really 1.5″ x 3.5″. 1x4s are actually 0.75″ x 3.5″, and 4x4s are actually 3.5″ x 3.5 “. You get the idea.

Hardwood lumber actually comes in a different measuring system, to complicate things even further. It’s measured in quarters. Here’s a great page about how and why this happens, but the general idea with hardwood lumber is to subtract 1/4 from the measurement stated and that’s about the actual thickness of the lumber. So, 4/4 lumber is actually 3/4″ thick. 6/4 lumber is really 5/4″ or 1.25″ thick. The largest size most yards will carry is 8/4 lumber, some may have 12/4.

So how do we reconcile this with the plans we’re trying to improve upon? Well, in part, I’m redesigning the rails and the paneling in a way that I get to decide how thick the lumber will be; that’s the great part about adapting your own design! I want to keep the idea of using 4×4 posts, though. My wife really loves the look, and it does provide some nice heft to the bed. Lucky for us, a 4×4 post is 3.5″ wide and thick. If we use two pieces of 8/4 lumber (which are 1.75″ thick each) and glue them together, we can make our own 4×4 posts. There are actually a few advantages to doing this instead of using a single post: 1) It’s VERY difficult to find 4×4 posts that aren’t treated with chemicals for outdoor use, and if you do they’ll be cedar (which is fine if you want to make a bed out of cedar!) and 2) two boards which are laminated (or glued) together can actually be stronger than one single board, and will be much more resistant to warping, which 4x4s are notorious for doing.

When selecting lumber you want to look for a few things. First, make sure you’re going to a reputable yard, and confirm that all of their lumber is fully dried and suitable for furniture building. Bring a tape measure, and make sure you have your lumber list so you can purchase the correct items. Bring a truck, because you’ll be getting some sections that are 10 ft long. Some lumber yards may offer delivery as well, for a fee.

When selecting individual boards, you want to sight down the board on each side and look for a consistently straight board. A bow that might look slight could turn out to be significant over a 10 ft length. You also want to check to make sure there isn’t any bark on the edges, and that any knots in the lumber are stable (meaning they don’t look loose). Since we’re going to be ripping all these boards down to width, don’t spend the extra money on S4S lumber, which means it’s been finished on all four sides. Go with S3S and make sure to use the finished side (straight side) on the fence of your table saw. S4S typically costs more, so this will save some money. Finally, you want to make sure that the color and appearance of all the boards looks relatively similar. If you buy cherry, for example, there can be an extreme difference between the wood that’s in the center of the tree and that on the outside. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you use it strategically! It will lend a lot of character, but if you’re looking for one consistent look, that’s something you’d want to avoid.

In terms of the width of the boards you purchase, you want to maximize the use of each board and minimize the waste. For example, most all of our boards are going to be cut to 3.75″ or 3.5″ in width. A 4″ board is preferable to a 5″ board, because you won’t be able to rip two 3.5″ boards out of one 5″ board. Similarly, a single 7-8″ board could be cut down into two that meet our needs, and would be a good use of lumber. My alder, unfortunately, mostly came in 5-6″ sections, so I was left with a lot of waste (for this project, but it will be used in further projects to come!).

Here’s a PDF of the plan. King Bed Plans (I’ll upload a 3D rendering soon). Don’t cut anything until we get to that blog post, so you can envision how everything goes together.

For this project, you’ll need approximately the following lumber (approximate, because we’re dealing with random widths):

  • Four boards of 8/4 lumber, at least 3.75″ wide and 10 ft in length (or two boards if they were at least 7.5″ wide).
  • Twelve boards of 6/4 lumber, at least 3.5″ wide and 10 ft in length (or 6 boards if they were at least 7″ wide).
  • Two boards of 6/4 lumber, at least 4″ wide and 8 ft in length.
  • Two full sheets (4’x8′) if half inch plywood
  • Additional yellow pine or poplar, depending on your setup (I’ll address this in the last post when we build the foundation/slats. If you’re using a memory foam mattress it’ll be different than if you have a box spring.
The way this alder plywood is assembled, with strips of alder glued next to eachother, will help mimic the wooden slats in the plan we’re using for inspiration

Using alder that I purchased at around $3.25 per board-foot the total cost to make this bed should be right around $800, not including tools. If you used a quality knotty pine, you could get this closer to $650 I think. This bed from pottery barn, which is very similar and made from mahogany, is around $2,000. I couldn’t find a solid wood king size bed on Ashley Furniture’s website of this same style for less than $800. If you chose to use Mahogany for this bed, you’d still be at less than $1,500 for the bed in all likelihood. Plus, you get the satisfaction of crafting it for yourself. But perhaps even more important than the pottery barn comparison, the plan we’re using as inspiration said it cost around $400. In my mind, the extra $200 is well worth the use of higher quality lumber.

The great thing about this plan is that you can adapt it to your own personal tastes. I am selecting alder because my wife likes the character of the knots. It’s also inexpensive and light weight. Oak would be an excellent choice, as would maple or cherry. For this plan, though, it’s important that you be able to source full sheets of 1/2 inch plywood for the paneling. That might be hard to find in something like ash, walnut, or hickory. If you’re dead set on using a wood that doesn’t come in 1/2 inch thick plywood, you could use 1/4 inch plywood laminated to another piece of 1/4 inch plywood. I have never attempted it, but I’m sure it could be done with enough clamps and patience.

If you decide you want to paint this bed instead of staining it, use birch plywood and poplar lumber. Both are excellent for painting, and poplar is relatively inexpensive.

To adjust this plan for a queen, or even full size bed, simply subtract the difference in size and width from the beams that connect the posts on the headboard and footboard, and from the length of the rails. Here’s a handy diagram explaining the differences in bed sizes. For a queen you’d simply subtract 16 inches from the width of the bed and keep the length the same.

One thought on “Designing the Plan and Selecting Lumber

  1. […] I opted to do the sides (aprons) of the table using what would be called “1×6″ stock, if you were to find it at a home improvement center. I don’t mean construction grade 1×6; these stores will carry craft grade hardwoods in this dimension, most likely red oak and maple. Since I can mill my own lumber, I just went ahead and bought some S2 cherry and milled it to 1×6 stock. In actuality, it’s 0.75″ thick and 5.5” wide. If you’re curious why this these dimensions are different than the label states, revisit my blog post here! […]


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