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We have 4 kids and 4 bedrooms. One of those rooms is for Mommy and Daddy, one is for our daughter, and one is a guest room. So, the 4th bedroom will eventually house 3 boys (I could almost hear you gasp…) Right now, my older two sons (5 1/2 and 2 1/2 years) are sharing it, and my youngest (4 months) won’t move in there for quite a while. We’ve known for a while that bunk beds were in our future, and in my normal style, I wanted to make them rather than buy them. I’ve spent months thinking, researching and looking for inspiration, but after my youngest was born, I thought it was time to really get the project in motion.

Using my recently acquired (super basic) SketchUp skills, I started to design. There were quite a few self imposed requirements. Here are a few:

  • No exposed nails or screws
  • Could stand as 2 bunks, with an optional third.
  • As safe as possible for a fairly wide age range.
  • Use readily accessible wood sizes.
  • Each bed should have some shelving, so each boy has at least a little of their own space.
  • The area for each mattress should be a little (1″) oversize so it’s easier to change sheets within the rails.

I went through lots of design iterations, and ended up with this, which I’m calling Mark II. Honestly, SketchUp is an amazing tool for this type of thing. This took WAY less time than you would expect, and you end up with real, usable plans for furniture.

I'll post a full resolution plan at the end of the process.

I’ll post a full resolution plan at the end of the process.



There were a few things that I did that probably made the project more time consuming, but I thought they were worth while.  For example, I was using 2×8’s and 2×12’s but because lumber like that has a rounded edge, you get weird looking joints, when the pieces are flat joined. I wasn’t interested in that, so I cut these all down to 2×7 and 2×11 respectively so that they all had squared corners.

The difference is subtle, but noticeable when two pieces are joined.

The difference is subtle, but noticeable when two pieces are joined.

I also used only pocket holes (using my Kreg Jig) on the entire piece, to hide screws.  This took A LOT more time than just screwing in through the ends of boards, but looks SO much better, I think. It was also, about the only way to join the pieces as I’d designed them in the plans. I flat joined them for a few reasons based on railing and ladder placement. Building for 3 bunks and 2 ladders complicated things more than I expected, but I was really happy with my final design.

Hiding the screws.

Hiding the screws.



After making a list of cuts from the plans, I got the lumber which ended up being $172 !! That included most of the wood for the eventual third bunk as well, but not the shelving units which all came from 1 sheet of 1/2″ MDF – an extra $30. If you’ve ever priced bunk beds, you’ll know that you can’t get the cheapest, flimsiest ones for under $200, so I was VERY excited to hit that price point especially since the beds ended up being so sturdy.

Since I had such specific plans, I did something completely new to me. I was able to do all of the cuts ahead of construction. It was a little scary, but it worked great, and the slats were the only thing I measured wrong.  They were the last thing that I cut (so I got sloppy) and the cheapest lumber I’d bought (so I didn’t feel too bad).  My dad was in town and was helping me with the build, and he commented that he’d never have tried to cut it all first.

It was nice to get all of the cutting out of the way in the beginning.

It was nice to get all of the cutting out of the way in the beginning.

Next came the process of preparing all of the pocket holes, and there were LOTS of them. I wanted to make sure they were placed correctly, and consistently so we made a jig to help with placement. It ended up helping for assembly as well, which was just fantastic luck 🙂

I laid out the pieces of the “headboard” and made the jig out of scrap 2×4 based on the spacing in the plans.

The jig helped with the pocket holes as well as assembly.

The jig helped with the pocket holes as well as assembly.


The footboard had fewer pieces, since it would eventually be where the ladder was connected. The headboard ended up have 28 pocket holes and the footboard had 22. The jig was perfect for marking where the holes went, as well as holding the cross pieces in place while screwing them in. We assembled the pieces while they were laying on 2×4’s so that the back sides of the joints would be flush. We used lots of scrap 2×4 to lift all of the pieces off the ground to the same height. When screwing them together, I was sure to use a liberal amount of glue. The glue and screws combine to make some really solid joints.



Here's a detail of the outside face of the finished joints.

Here’s a detail of the outside face of the finished joints.

Next up were the side rails, which are really the “meat” of the bed. These pieces are the cut down 2×8″ & 2×12″ pieces. If you look at the plans, you’ll see that on the room facing side of the bed, I used the 2×8″, but the back side of the bed has the 2×12″. The reasoning here is that the 2×12″ raises that side of the bed and creates a place for the shelving unit to rest. I wanted it raised so the kids were less likely to roll INTO the shelves while sleeping 🙂

The side rails received pocket holes as well, which would eventually join them to the foot and head boards. Then I nailed on an equal length 2×2″ which would serve as the rest for the slats of the bed. These effectively hold all of the weight of the mattress and child, so I used glue and lots of nails.

The side rails, ready to go.

The side rails, ready to go.

There was a lot more to build, but these 6 pieces (foot, head, 4 side rails) were the guts of the bed, and enough to start constructing it. Construction had to happen inside the boys room, because the bed is BIG, and HEAVY.


Ready for assembly!


This caused the boys to have a sleepover on the floor in their sisters room for a couple of nights. The ensuing late night shenanigans were tough on all of us 🙂 My recommendation, if you build this, send the kids somewhere else for a day or two.

In part 2, I’ll show assembly of the basic frame, building the ladder and more!

See anything so far that you have questions about? Got suggestions? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Thanks for reading…


UPDATE: Be sure to read Part 2!!