Build a Loft Bed
DEAR TIM: I have a daughter going off to college and she wants a loft bed constructed in her dorm room. Her room dimensions are 10 feet by 16 feet with windows on the 16 foot wall side. The loft cannot be in front of the windows and there must be a minimum of 3 feet of space from the mattress to the ceiling. Help! There are only 4 weeks until classes begin. Nancy B., Uniontown, OH
DEAR NANCY: Let's see, from the time you wrote your note until the time this column was written we have lost 10 days. You now have just two and one half weeks to plan and build this loft. Relax, it's a piece of cake! If you take your time, your daughter just might have the coolest loft bed in the dorm. Not only that, her room should be spacious because her desk is going to tuck under the loft for a cozy study area. You need to pre-cut and assemble the loft now so that when you take it to the dorm, it will assemble in about 10 minutes.
The loft bed, that I have in mind, requires a floor space of only 48 inches in width, 78 inches of length and a minimum ceiling height of 8 feet. If the dorm room has a ceiling height greater than 8 feet, the headroom above the mattress, will be very generous. Based upon the room size you have provided, I have to believe that one corner of the dorm room will be able to easily accommodate the loft bed.
The plan I use is based upon a person sleeping on a standard twin sized mattress. These generally measure 38 inches wide by 76 inches long and are about 8 inches thick. Many colleges provide mattresses for dorm rooms. Make sure you determine the dimensions before you start this project.
The materials required to construct the loft consist of: 1 piece of 4 by 8 by 3/4 inch thick A/C plywood, four 4x4 by 8 feet long construction heart redwood or regular pine posts, three regular lumber 2x6x8's, three 1-inch thick by 3.5-inch wide by 8-foot long finished lumber boards and some assorted lag bolts and screws. The bolts and screws allow for easy assembly and disassembly. Nails should not be used to connect any of the pieces of lumber. Avoid using treated lumber for this project, as it is a good idea to minimize contact with the chemicals used in the treating process.
The loft portion of the bed is going to consist of a simple rectangle box made from the 2x6 lumber. This box is then covered with the custom cut piece of plywood. I prefer to make the loft platform so that there is just one inch of extra space around each side of the mattress. The mattress lays on top of the plywood-covered box you are about to make. Check to make sure the mattress you are going to use measures 38 x 76 inches. If so, then you should cut two of the 2x6's to a length of 78 inches.
Cut the remaining 2x6 into two pieces that measure 37 inches long. The long pieces overlap the short pieces at each corner so that you end up with a box that measures 40 inches by 78 inches and is five and one half inches tall. Use three 3 inch long drywall screws to connect the 2x6's to one another at each corner. Cut the piece of plywood to fit the box and use 1 and 5/8 inch drywall screws spaced at 2 foot intervals to connect the plywood to the 2 x 6 rectangular box.
Check to make sure that all of the 4x4 posts are the same length. Lay them on the ground side by side and measure down from one end 44 inches. Use a square across the group of posts and draw a line. This line on each post represents the point where the top of the loft platform must stop so that you maintain the 3 foot ceiling clearance.
Position two posts so that the outer edges are parallel and spaced 78 inches apart. Have your daughter help you tilt the platform up onto the posts so that the top surface of the plywood is just touching the line on each post. Drill two one quarter inch diameter holes through each 2x6 and half way into the center of the 4x4 posts. Attach the platform to the posts using 4 inch long 3/8 inch diameter lag bolts. Do the exact same thing with the other two posts and your loft bed is now complete.
To get up and down from the loft area, you will need to construct a ladder. Use the one inch thick lumber to make a ladder similar to those found on a ship or a fire escape. These have level treads spaced at 10 to 12 inch intervals and are often set at a fairly steep 60 degree angle. Once the ladder is built, attach it to the loft platform with screws so that it will not fall away as your daughter moves up and down from the loft. Be sure to take all of your tools with you in case minor adjustments have to be made at the dorm.
Received these pictures and the following emails. The first one is from Dona Lopez, TX. The second is from Tom Koenig, PA.
"Well it's not really a question, I used your instructions for the loft bed for a "While you were out" style Christmas surprise for my daughter, and I wanted to share the results with you.
I customized it a bit with a desk and a different type of ladder system due to extremely limited floor space, her room is about 10 x 10.
I'm a mom with basic woodworking skills, did it all in three days with only my 20 month old son to help (he's a whiz with the cordless drill lol)!
Thanks so much for the instructions, my daughter was completely floored! By the way the green was her idea!
"Just thought I would share a photo of the loft I just built. Your help was great. I used lots of molding to dress up the 2x lumber. Everything from Lowes, nothing fancy.
I also used rope lighting with remote control to light up the platform around the bed. I recessed the mattress as you suggested but used 1"x 4' angle iron." - Tom K.
Tom also posted this comment regarding his loft bed.
"When I made a loft for my 12 year old daughter this past Christmas I dressed up the 2x lumber with molding. I topped the 2x6 bed frame with a bullnose and cove molding and then put a small dental molding beneath that. I also used a small stop molding on the lower part of the 2x6 to give weight to the lower part of the beam. For the legs I used the same base molding on the bottom of the 4x4s as I have in the entire house. Then I put a small crown at the top of each post. It doesn't make it furniture grade, but it really steps it up from painted lumber."
Read in my May 12, 2009 Newsletter about Liz's need for a special loft bed.