Canadian Woodworking

Sleigh bed

Author: Denis Roy
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: August September 2003

This pine sleigh bed is an elegant addition to any bedroom. It has a very traditional country styling that fits in with almost any decor. This plan details construction of a double-sized bed, to fit a standard 54″ x 75″ mattress set.

Create the templates

Use the grid diagram to draw the one-inch grid onto thin plywood or other stiff sheet material. Plot out the contours of the parts on the grid. Cut out the traceable templates using a band saw or jig saw. Note that the curved bars are supposed to be symmetrical, to simplify assembly. Create half-templates for these parts, with a mirror line at the centre. Trace the contour onto one side of a piece of stiff sheet material. Flip the template along its mirror line to trace the opposite end. Cut out the template for tracing onto your stock.

Lay out the parts

Lay out the parts on your materials, starting with the longest parts. Trace the contours for the headboard legs (#1) and the footboard legs (#2). Cut the parts to shape using a band saw or jig saw.

Sand the parts, refining the curves

Using a ⅜” round-over bit in a router table, round over all edges of the parts.
Complete final sanding.

Bed bars

The bars in the headboard and footboard are curved, which requires a lot of extra work in sawing and sanding. The bed also looks good with straight bars if you wish to avoid the extra effort. The straight bars need to have the same total length and cross section as the curved ones.
If you decide to make straight bars, create the blanks and rip them into straight bars on the table saw instead.

Prepare the blanks for cutting the curved bars

The headboard bars (#7) require 2×6 blanks to be cut to a length of 34 5/8″. The footboard bars require a length of 22 ⅝”. Each blank creates five bars so three of each are required in order to produce 15 bars of each length. When creating this many parts, it’s possible that one or two will be of unacceptable quality, so it may be a good idea to create an extra blank.

Using a ¾” straight cutter in a router table, cut rabbets along each end as shown. Each rabbet should be ½” deep and ¾” wide. This is a lot of material to remove so at least three passes will be required. This can also be done with a dado blade in the table saw. The net result will be a tenon exactly ½” thick in the centre of each end of each blank.

2×6 construction lumber usually has slightly rounded edges. These blanks must have clean square edges. Using your table saw, rip a small amount of material from each edge of each blank in order to achieve a square edge.

Draw a line across the centre of each blank

Trace the contour of the right side of the bar on the right side of each blank as shown. Cut the arch shape free using the band saw.

Glue the arched piece on the other side of the blank, aligning the centre marks.

Clamp it as shown using two or three clamps. Yellow carpenter’s glue is the best choice because its gap filling qualities allow you to glue surfaces fresh from the table saw, without jointing. The glue sets up quickly, allowing you to take the clamps off in as little as 30 minutes, in order to use them on the next blank.

Sand the faces of the blank smooth with a belt sander.

Trace the template of the bar on the blanks five times to create five bars, allowing for the kerf of the band saw blade. If necessary, you can modify the width of the bars slightly in order to fit the blanks. If you do modify the widths, make sure all bars are the same width. Cut the bars free.

Sand the sawn edges of the bars smooth. Using a ⅜” radius bit, mounted in a router table, round the edges over with the router. Mark out the tenons on the ends of the bars. The desired tenon width is ½”. Cut the edges of the tenons to size using the band saw or by hand. Complete final sanding of all the curved bars.

The curved top rail’s supple shape is the prominent feature of this project. It beckons you to run your hand over it.

Cut the top rails

Cut the top rails (#3) a little over-length, from choice 2 x 4 stock. Set your table saw angle to 20º. The accuracy of the angle setting on the saw is adequate for this series of cuts. Set your saw fence 1 ⅛” to the left of the blade. Note that the angled blade may render the scale on your fence off a bit. Measure to make sure it’s right. Pass the two top rails through the saw.

Re-adjust the fence to 1 1/16″, leaving the saw angle as is. Flip each piece, passing through the saw. Reset the saw angle to 28º. Set the saw fence at 2 15/16″ to the left of the blade. Flip each piece and pass through the saw.

Reset the saw angle to 45º. Set the saw fence at 3 ⅛” to the left of the blade. Flip each piece and pass through the saw. Reset the saw fence to ⅞” to the left of the blade. Without flipping the pieces, pass them through the saw.

The completed top rail is now near its final shape, with facets that must be removed. Use whatever tools you are comfortable with to achieve this. A hand plane, cabinet scraper, or belt sander will all do the job. A stationary belt sander is ideal for this, allowing you to use smooth twisting motions to achieve the required smooth curves. Follow up with extensive fine sanding since these pieces are the most visible of the whole project. Finish by trimming the top rails to final length.

From leftover 2×4 stock, cut out a couple of anvils to hold the top rails with the mortise face horizontal. These anvils will be used to hold the work piece when drilling and chiseling the mortises.

Cut the two short bed rails

Cut the two short bed rails (#5) to length from 2×6 stock. On the footboard rail, trace the template on each end and cut the profile shown. The headboard rail won’t show so you don’t need to cut the contour. Round over the edges using the router. Don’t round over the ends.

Mark the centre lines on the short rails (#5) and on the top rails (#3). Starting from the centre, measure and mark mortise centres 3 5/16″ apart, seven on each side of the centre. Each part has a total of 15 mortises to be cut.

Using a ½” Forstner bit, drill a hole ¾” deep at each mortise location. Using a sharp chisel, square up the corners of each mortise hole, creating mortises ½” square, ¾” deep.

Note that the anvils are important when mortising parts #3 to keep the holes perpendicular to the flat bottom of the part. If using a drill press to drill the holes, clamp them to the table, allowing the part to slide horizontally for drilling the 15 holes. When chiseling, be sure to chisel over an anvil to prevent denting the part.

Test fit

Test fit each tenon of each bar into its respective mortise, trimming the mortise or the tenon as required. Ideally, each should be snug but not tight. You will be pulling 30 of these joints together simultaneously, which can be difficult if they are too tight. When determining which way to orient the bends in the bars and the direction of the top rail, hold the corresponding leg in position, at the end of the assembly. Orient the parts to match the curvature.

Assemble the parts, pulling it all together using pipe clamps with the anvils. The anvils prevent damage to the top rails. The clamps could possibly exert a bending force on the top tenons, possibly at risk of breakage. Position the clamps on the anvils in line with the tenons, not the edge of the top rail.

Drill holes

Drill ⅜” holes about ¼” deep in the positions on the legs (#2). Within the holes, drill 3/16″ diameter holes through the part. Apply glue to the ends of the rails and install the leg using 3″ #8 screws. Position the top rail within the top of the leg visually. The resultant position of the bottom edge of #5 should approximately line up with the support notch on the leg. The face of #5 should be even with the flat face of the leg. A slight twisting of #5 may be required to line it up with this flat face.

Note that the bars are not glued within their mortises and care must be taken to ensure that the parts do not separate while installing the legs. Once the legs are screwed into place, the bars are permanently captured between the rails. If they seem loose, tap a 1″ finishing nail through the rail into each tenon. This should be done on the side that will show the least in the finished bed. Ensure that the assembly is square by comparing diagonal measurements.

Fill the screw holes with ⅜” diameter plugs, cut with a plug cutter. Apply a bit of glue and tap them into place. Sand off the protruding portion after the glue is dry.

The upper screw can be covered with an applied wooden rosette if you like.

Repeat this entire assembly process for the headboard assembly. The headboard is taller and therefore somewhat more awkward to assemble with pipe clamps. Web clamps, or ratchet tie-downs can also be used to pull the assembly together. Use the anvils to prevent the web clamps from twisting the top rail. Trim them as necessary to provide a pull that is in line with the tenons.

Cut the long bed rails to finished length

From 2×6 stock, cut the long bed rails to finished length.

With the best face outward, cut the rabbet on the inner upper edge. This is best accomplished by making two passes over the table saw.

Trace the template from the contour diagram onto the ends of the parts and cut the lower edge to shape, using a band saw or jig saw. Sand the edges of the parts and round over the upper and lower edges with the router. Don’t round over the ends.

Find a socket wrench to fit the head of your ⅜” lag bolts. Drill a hole into each leg of the bed to fit this socket. This should be ⅞” but, if you are lucky, you may get away with ¾”. A thin, inexpensive socket is a benefit in this instance. Using a forstner or spade bit, drill the ⅜” deep countersink hole at a height about 1 ½” above the bedrail support notch in the leg. The hole should be centred in the face of the leg.

Position the bedrail on the support notch, recessed about ¼” from the face of the bed. This recession is needed to allow the bedrail to fit the rounded edges of the legs. Using a ¼” drill bit, drill through the centre of the countersink hole, into the bedrail. Remove the leg and deepen the ¼” hole as much as the bit will allow. On the leg, enlarge the hole to ⅜” diameter.

Place a flat washer over the 6″ x ⅜” lag bolt and drive the bolt firmly into the bedrail with a socket wrench. Repeat with all four corners of the bed. Since the hole alignment may differ slightly at the different corners, number the parts.

Cut bed frame slats

Cut bed frame slats and install them equally spaced. Each slat is held with a single woodscrew at each end. A minimum of four slats is required but you can add more if you like. They serve to guide the boxspring into place in the bed frame.

Go over the entire project with fine sandpaper, concentrating upon areas where glue was wiped up. Apply filler as needed to fill minor defects. The sleigh bed is now complete and ready for finishing.

A full material/parts lists for mattress sizes (other than the one featured in this article) is available at:

Note: The author has had good luck using Western Spruce, however, Eastern Spruce may be too soft. If you live on the east coast, use Pine, or check with your local lumberyard for alternatives.

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