DIY Project Series: Bunk Bed Edition

DIY Project Series: Bunk Bed Edition

What are the first things you do when you try to cut costs or save money?

Some people cut the cords and get rid of cable TV or lower their cell phone bill by cutting back on data – you can live on WiFi alone, right?

Then there are those who sacrifice groceries or settle for the dreaded 1-ply toilet paper…

And there are some who lower the thermostat in winter, trying to get by with extra blankets and more cuddling (let’s face it, that one has its upsides!).

But what happens when you absolutely need something and there is no way to avoid the fact that money MUST be spent?

Let’s say you have a second child, only one extra room and the solution you come up with is…

Bunk beds.

What do you do?

DIY savings

Sure, I like to save because I’m frugal, but quality is also important. I don’t want to end up replacing things in a year or two and that is part of being a smart saver.

I want to be sure that whatever I buy will last, so I do not need to spend any more money.

For that reason, I build things.

And I love DIY, which can be a great way to save money: DIY savings as I call it.

If you can build something for less than the cost of buying it, you're creating savings for yourself above and beyond what you can find by comparison shopping.

That is what I aim to do here. I am starting this project – and hopefully you can follow along – as an experiment in doing DIY projects for the sake of saving money.

My 4 DIY rules

I love to build and I have been doing renovations around the house for years. Here are a few important rules I have learned along the way:

  • You get what you build. Just like the old adage, "you get what you buy," you also get what you build. Further to that rule, the materials determine the result. If you buy cheap lumber, you will get something of equal value.
  • Your tools are as important as your materials. If you try to do all of your cuts with a handheld circular saw, nothing will be square and you will not have a single straight line so nothing will fit together.
  • Take your time and think. A rushed cut or solution will usually mean one of two things: you will ruin the lumber with a bad cut (and will need to buy more which translates to more money), or you will need to take something apart and do it again the right way (which takes up more time).
  • Budget enough time to finish the job. You may think this is a one-day job, but you’d almost always be wrong. If you think it will take a day, it will take two or three.

So, if you have the following tools, or can look at buying them as an investment in future projects and savings, then here’s what you’ll need for DIY projects:

  1. Mitre saw
  2. Kreg jig
  3. Drill
  4. Table saw*

(*You will need this if you want to cut a piece of plywood to be the base for your mattress, instead of a box spring.)

Related: DIY Project Series: The Farmhouse Table Edition

To build or to buy?

Even if you have the tools, the time and the ability, it all comes down to money.

My wife had been looking at bunk beds for months, and we were discussing (fighting over), which would be the best, most economical option: new, used or DIY.

The online Ikea shopping cart had been filled and unceremoniously emptied at least twice. Kijiji had been searched and calls had been made without any luck.

The general price we came up with was somewhere between $229 to $329, with almost no perceptible improvement in quality. The third and least appealing to us was a metal framed bunk bed for around $150 at Amazon.

There were a few offers on Kijiji, but they were firm at around $300, offering the mattresses as well (but that was not a selling factor for us).

Tight budget

Needless to say: We were on a tight budget. Child care is expensive and so is life in general.

The price point at Ikea is nice and, frankly, it's a great option if you are not particularly handy. If the metal frame bunk beds appeal to you, then those would be completely fine and economical.

But if you have some experience with carpentry, then you might want to consider the path I chose.

I built my beds for $220.43 (taxes included). That includes all wood and fasteners.

If you are handy, and have the time and money, then this might be the route for you. What you will have in the end is a more stable, longer-lasting set of bunk beds.

Bunk bed plans

    DIY L-shaped Bunk Beds

    There are a few styles you might want to consider when making your bunk beds.

    Some bolt to the wall and save space. Some are more traditional and classic. And some are quite adventure-inspiring, with cables running from the wall as supports.

    Personally, I prefer the space-saving plans below, for two reasons.

    • They looked really cool and would allow for an L-shaped layout for the beds, which I thought the kids would really like.
    • With a little modification, I could get rid of a headboard, bolt wooden 2x6 box bed frames to the wall and add a couple of posts to the outside corners. Then I could just make a second box on the floor and call it done.

    In my mind, I thought I had found an easy way out: Build a 42x82 inch box, using a kreg jig to fasten them, gluing the joints with wood glue. That seemed easy and cheap.

    Making a lumber list in my head, like a madman – knowing my wife would never approve of such a hairbrained, artless idea – I came up with this:

    Lumber Quantity Cost
    2 x 6 6 pieces $41.88
    2 x 4 1 piece $5.80
    2 x 2 4 pieces $13.12

    After tax, the total would be $69.92 and I would only have to figure out a ladder and safety rail using some 1x4 pine pieces, which wouldn’t cost more than $20 for four pieces.

    Related: Budget Home Decorating Ideas

    My plan seemed foolproof. I could build a set of bunk beds with premium quality lumber for about $130, once I included the bolts and screws.

    But my wife did not agree. Her statement was simple, defeating and full of sense:

    "You are not bolting bunk beds to the wall of a one-hundred-year-old house, Jon."

    I agreed with her after a lot of moaning and belly-aching. She was right.

    It’s a bad idea and I’m telling you this now so if you happen to have bought an old house, you may think twice about using a plan that bolts a bed to the wall. You will be bolting through plaster, never really sure if you hit a piece of strapping or a stud, which means you will not know how strongly the beds are attached until you test them.

    So instead, I opted for this simple and sensible plan: Ana White’s Side-Street Bunk Beds.

    They were easy and sturdy, but what I liked most about them was that they required very few tools. I will caution you though that there are a few errors in her plans above that you will need to fix. (She also doesn’t include the ladder or safety rail in this plan.)

    Here are other DIY plans:

    Bunk bed materials

    After I did my cuts, I realized I didn’t have enough lumber. My face hung low – I was trying to save money.

    Trips back to the hardware store are death for your money-saving budget. But, I was short two pieces of 2 x 2.

    Here is the list you should follow:

    7 - 2 x 4 at 8 feet long

    6 - 2 x 6 at 10 feet long

    4 - 2 x 6 at 8 feet long

    4 - 2 x 2 at 8 feet long

    With her measurements, she says to leave ½ inch between the boards of the headboard and footboard (the boards cut at 36 inches), but she does not cut her vertical boards long enough to do that. The result is that my bunk beds do not have that beautiful gap.

    So I have written out the cut list for the lumber as it should read.

    Corrected cut list

    Lumber Quantity Description
    2 x 6 @ 36" 18 headboard and footboard
    2 x 4 @ 75.5" 4 inner posts
    2 x 4 @ 19.5" 4 upper section of outer post
    2 x 4 @ 35" 4 outer post between lower and upper rails
    2 x 4 @ 10" 4 outer post supporting lower bed rails
    2 x 6 @ 82" 2 side rails
    2 x 2 @ 75" 2 rails supports - hold box spring or bunk board
    Slats cut at 39" 32 bunk board for holding mattress

    How long does it take?

    Head boards for DIY bunk beds

    I won't go into details about the building process. You can find them in the plans you choose and in the links provided.

    But let’s talk about the timeline...

    I did my research the week before I started – it took about two days of googling free plans and then talking it over with my wife. It was a weekend project and I wanted to have my plans before going shopping.

    The cuts took a few hours. My main concern was that I was cutting at 90 degrees and at the exact same length. Your best bet is to set up a guide.

    The rest of the build took a weekend. Then, I waited a week before painting, which took a day.

    When all was said and done, the build took 5 days from planning to painting.

    People with more experience may be able to do this build more quickly, but I like to take my time.

    Finished DIY Bunk Beds

    Was it worth it?

    After many muttered curses and mistakes, I built the beds.

    There were hiccups because I didn’t check the plans and run the measurements before I started cutting, so I couldn’t have the beautiful spaces between the head and footboards.

    I also didn’t notice the link for the ladder and safety rail until I made my own design, which you can see, is still a work in progress.

    But everything turned out. The rail is good and the beds hold children. That’s the important bit, right?

    They are stronger than any other bunk beds I could have bought.

    At my six-year-old’s birthday party, there were 10 boys climbing all over them. That is enough evidence to me that I made the right decision.

    Should you make your own bunk beds?

    In the end, after I had gone ahead and endured the cost, time, headaches and incessant questions from my boys, "When will you bed done, Dad?" and “Are the beds ready yet?”

    The answer isn’t easy.

    But if you answer yes to the following questions, then this might help you save money ‒ or at least create a better, longer-lasting product.

    • Will building this bring me joy and a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction?
    • Am I handy?
    • Do I have the tools required?
    • Do I have the time?
    • Am I unlikely to make a mistake that will cost me more money in the long run?

    DIY Bunk Beds

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    Editorial Disclaimer: The content here reflects the author's opinion alone, and is not endorsed or sponsored by a bank, credit card issuer, rewards program or other entity.

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    Marpy's picture

    excelent article. Great idea for a cottage as well as a home. With minimal modification minus the ladder, you can have 2 single beds.

    August 13, 2018 @ 1:45 pm
    Marpy's picture

    Also, you can use a belt sander to smooth/ clean up the lumber, round the edges to avoid splinters before you start. If you have a finish sander, you can give it a final sanding before finishing.

    August 13, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

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