DIY Projects

Project: Railway bed

Project: Railway bed Author: Style At Home

DIY Projects

Project: Railway bed

Amidst the pile of debris our eyes were drawn to the tapering wooden poles protruding above the rusty metal ammunition boxes, military bed bases stacked one upon the other, enough rainwater-filled latrines to equip an entire barracks and assorted shovels.

Filthy, wet and shivering, we stood in the biting wind on a November morning speculating on what the poles had been used for and how they could be used again. Inspiration struck: their slender shapes lent themselves perfectly to a design for a bed, a four-poster bed to be precise. We quickly acquired a job lot. We later learnt from Lawrence, owner of Harper's Bazaar and purveyor of all things surplus to government needs, that they were solid ash levers used on the railways to move wagons around the sidings by hand before mechanization made them obsolete. If you cannot obtain ash levers such as these, the bed could just as easily be constructed using any pillar-like objects, such as fence posts or staircase newel posts.

The metal bed frame and headboard fittings were located in a salvage yard. Almost forty years old, they had once been turned out in their thousands. They were robustly constructed for use in army barracks but had never been used and apart from some surface rust, were in perfect condition. If you can't find a similar frame, you can buy one new from a small number of specialist contract furniture makers. This bed could also be made with a slatted timber base set into wooden side pieces fitted to the headboard using any of the numerous connectors on the market.

• Tape measure
• Set square
• Hammer
• 32 mm (1-1/4 in) wood chisel
• Handsaw
• Glasspaper
• Electric drill and bits
• Screwdriver
• Adjustable spanner
• 38 mm (1-1/2 in) paintbrush
• Soft cotton rag

• Four posts
• Approx. 2 m (6 ft 6 in) of 22.5 cm x 25 mm (9 x 1 in) planed timber
• Wood glue
• 65 mm (2-1/2 in) wood screws
• 90 cm (3 ft) single metal bed frame and headboard fittings (chills)
• Wood stain
• Clear furniture wax

Excerpted from Recycle! by Moira & Nicholas Hankinson. Excerpted by permission of Kyle Cathie Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Before commencing work on this project, read through the instructions and think carefully about how you will approach the making of your bed and its dimensions. Remember that you will need to find or purchase a mattress for the bed and that most are made to standard sizes. As a guide, single beds are normally constructed so that the mattress top is approximately 45-50 cm (18-20 in) from floor level and you will have to adapt the project for the mattress you propose to use. Should you wish to provide storage under the bed, it can be made higher, although it is a good idea to keep it to a height such that you can sit comfortably on the edge of the bed.

1 Make a mark with a pencil at the proposed height of the bed frame on the inside face of one of the posts. Place the headboard fitting (chill) on teh post so that the bed frame, when attached, will be fixed at that height. Mark the screw holes and make two marks, one above and one below the screw holes, 10 cm (4 in) apart, centred on the screw holes. Use the set square to transfer these measurements across the inside and down two sides of the post. Measure the exact thickness of the 22.5 cm (9 in) timber plank and draw a line that measurement deep on the two sides across the 10 cm (4 in) pencil lines. Use the hammer and wood chisel to score a line along this mark which shows the areas to be cut out of the post to house the 22.5 cm (9 in) head and foot boards. Turn the post inside face up and with a handsaw make a series of cuts approximately 12 mm (1/2 in) apart and 25 mm (1 in) deep, using the chiselled line as a guide for the exact depth, for the full length of the 10 cm (4 in) marked area.

2 When you have made saw cuts across the whole width of the post, insert the wood chisel into the cuts and gently lever out the waste wood. Clean the cut rebate with the wood chisel and glasspaper, making sure to keep to the depth indicated by the scored lines. Now repeat this process using another post; these two will hold the headboard.

3 Measure the exact width of your bed frame from fixing bolt (or bolt hole) to fixing bolt. Measure the width of a post and add it to this measurement. Use the set square to mark that final measurement on the planed timber plank and cut it to size. Lay the cut plank on a work surface and use the set square and pencil to mark a line the width of the post across each end. Mark two lines 10 cm (4 in) apart at each end centred on the width of the plank, and extend them to join the lines marking the width of the post. Use the handsaw to cut away the two outer sections at each end, each of which will measure approximately 65 mm (2-1/2 in) x the width of the post, to create a simple T joint at each end. Err on the side of caution when cutting: it is better to cut these pieces out too small, and to have to sand down the joints to fit the rebates cut in the posts, than to remove too much timber and be left with loose joints.

4 Put plenty of wood glue into the rebate cut in the first post, then insert one of the cut joints. Check with the set square that the joint is true, then drill and fix with 65 mm (2-1/2 in) wood screws. It is advisable before finally joining to replace the headboard fitting (chill) and check that its screw holes do not correspond with the screws holding the joint. Repeat this process, inserting the other joint into the second post, and you have created the headboard for your bed.

Wipe off any excess wood glue and put the assembled pieces to one side for the glue to dry completely. Now follow the same directions to construct the footboard with the second two posts and remaining length of timber plank.

5 Replace the headboard fittings (chills) on the foot- and headboards and secure with screws driven through the joints into the wood of the posts.

6 You will probably need assistance with this part of the project. Lean the headboard up against a vertical surface and balance one end of the bed frame on its headboard fittings (chills). Raise the other end of the frame and manoeuvre the footboard so that the bed frame can be dropped into place over its fittings. Half tighten the integral nuts fitted into the bed frame to secure it first to the footboard then to the headboard. Use a spanner to tighten all the nuts to make a rigid frame.

When we had assembled the bed we decided that because the colours of the ash wood bed posts and the salvaged pitch pine end boards were so different, we would stain the whole bed a mid-oak colour to give some uniformity to its appearance. This had the additional advantage of masking the lighter tones of the exposed timber where ends had been sawn. After applying the stain with a cotton rag, we finished the bed with a light coat of clear furniture wax and polished it with more soft cotton rag. Installed in a spare room and fitted with a mattress, the bed was made up with a cotton-covered duvet and a down-filled pillow and made welcoming with a natural sheepskin thrown over its foot.

Excerpted from Recycle! by Moira & Nicholas Hankinson. Excerpted by permission of Kyle Cathie Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



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DIY Projects

Project: Railway bed