Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Brunswick Patchwork Bed Bed Project Part II: The Patchwork Headboard

It's always nice to sleep in your own bed. But it's immensely satisfying to sleep in your own bed - that is, the bed you made yourself. The Brunswick Patchwork Bed Bed is finally complete! After some delays due to bad weather and being busy working on other things, I've finally finished the patchwork headboard.


I thought the headboard would be the easy part, since it didn't need to structurally support anything, but in fact it offered a whole new set of challenges. The plans I used were Ana White's Reclaimed Wood Look Headboard, only mine is made of actual reclaimed wood, found in the hard rubbish collection along with the wood for the bed itself. The original plans called for eight planks running the entire length of the headboard, while I wanted to use smaller pieces to create a patchwork look. The first challenge was getting the patchwork panel to fit together. Luckily I used to be an avid Tetris player.

Designing the layout, with wood from discarded beds and other headboards, pallets, and miscellaneous found wood

Once I worked out the basic layout, each piece had to be marked with its place, since the space limitations of my flat meant it all had to be put away at the end of the day. 

Then it was time to hone my handsaw skills. 


Some pieces were short lengths that I had found, but many had to be cut to length, which meant straight cuts were imperative. A few pieces also had to be trimmed along the grain to line up with the rest of the row. There are special saws for cutting along the grain, but I used my crosscut saw that said it was for general use. It worked fine.

Refining my handsaw skills

To make the headboard match the bed, I sanded off the previous finishes of the front of each piece, making sure to keep my labels on the backs. 


Meanwhile, I started putting together the vertical sides of the headboard, made of two 1x3s and one 1x2 sandwiched together, glued and nailed with finishing nails. 

Offcuts from a found headboard have become my "workbench", protecting the wood from the rough concrete courtyard

What they say about woodworking is true: measure twice, cut once. But really - measure twice, not once, not three times. I worked out the width of the headboard (patchwork panel plus two vertical end pieces) a second time, and discovered I got it wrong the first time, by not taking into account another board that was supposed to attach to each end. A week passed before I worked on it again, so I measured a third time - and again forgot about the extra boards! I was back to my first incorrect measurement, and went on to the next step before realising it. A few modifications to the plans, and all was well again.

Testing the length of the headboard and the fit of the patchwork panel

A few quirks of the patchwork panel required adjusting. The Victoria Grove board is a 2x2, while the rest of the panel is 1" thick or less. I got out my trusty jeweller's saw to cut a chunk out of it so it would sit flush with the vertical side piece.


Two pieces were just a fraction too small, but rather than search for new pieces to fit in those spaces, I wanted to use what I had. In the spirit of people who solve a Rubix cube by taking the stickers off and re-applying them, I found a thin piece of wood around the house and ground it down into a wedge shape, to fit perfectly in the gap.

 The keystone piece!

Now it was time to "sew" together the patchwork panel. First I glued all the pieces to an MDF board I found on David Street.


 When the glue was dry, I flipped the whole thing over and nailed each board into the MDF with finishing nails, from the back. Some of the boards were up to 1" thick, and some were less than 1/2", so I used two different sizes of nails, measuring and marking where each board would be on the other side of the MDF before nailing, then selecting the right length of nail for each board. I used some scrap pieces to support each board as it was nailed in place, shifting them around underneath the front surface as I went along.

This held the panel together, but it was wobbly. I decided to add a vertical board down the middle for strength.


The only new pieces of wood in the headboard are the vertical side boards. Now they got fastened to the panel with glue and finishing nails. I did actually buy a 1x3 for the top piece (below), but because of my measuring fiasco it was too short. The same day I discovered this, I was walking down the street and saw two long 1x3s with a sign that said "Take me"! Problem solved.


The plans call for the very top piece to be a long 2x4. Long 2x4s proved to be the hardest wood to find, and in the end that was what I had to buy to finish the bed frame. I wanted to keep within the concept of building from found wood as much as possible, and I had plenty of short 2x4s that I had collected thinking I might put them together somehow. For the bed frame I decided this wouldn't be strong enough, but it would work for the headboard. I used dowels and glue to make one long board out of two identical shorter ones. This is glued and nailed on to the top with finishing nails.

There are also two pieces that run the length of the headboard and sit in front of the patchwork panel on the top and bottom, for strength (below). These had to be cut to length after it was put together, to fit in between the vertical sides. After all that practice with a handsaw, I took the plunge and made the cuts. They fit! The top and bottom boards both stayed wedged in place on the upright headboard before gluing. I fixed them in place with screws fastened from the back. Next I filled all the nail holes and knots with wood putty and sanded them back.


Only one step left: finishing. Like the bed frame, the headboard got two coats of Cabot's water-based stain and varnish in Sutherland Teak colour, applied with a varnish brush.

Now to drill new holes into the bed frame and attach threaded inserts. (Perhaps I could have used the existing holes I filled with dowels earlier!) I clamped the headboard to the bed and drilled through both, so they would be sure to line up. The bolts screw through these inserts so there's no need for them to go all the way through to the other side of the legs of the bed.


The moment of truth! Now to tick off the last item on my checklist: Lean back on headboard and read a book.


There's one other thing I've been doing along the way: keeping a record of the "bed map" - the locations where each piece of wood was found. So there will be one more installment in the Bed Bed story.


Not long ago I would never have thought I could do this at all, let alone with limited tools and very limited space. It all started with a workshop with the Urban Bush Carpenters, who I've since joined. If you're keen to try your hand at building with found wood, come along to a UBC workshop! The next workshop is Building Jewellery Benches and Work Benches, Saturday 17 August at CERES.

2 comments:

  1. That's such a beautiful bed! I admire your patience and skill! Can't wait to see the map where all the bits came from :)

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