This project began in response to a very practical need.
The concept really become more exciting when it became clear that it would be possible to build a ‘crib convertible’. Several of these 3 in 1, or 4 in 1, options presented themselves–as products to buy at the store, or plans that could be executed by the weekend warrior. The crib now has purpose after the kid grows out of it. I read several reviews. Seeing some pretty stunning pictures, I settled on the following plans from Wood Magazine:
Our crib convertible starts out as a traditional crib, obviously. Then by replacing the ‘footboard’ section of the crib (with a similar member without the slats) it quickly becomes a toddler bed. In the final iteration, the toddler bed becomes a big-kid bed. To do this, the crib footboard is returned to the mix, and the crib side boards are replaced by 7 foot bed rails.
This post covers the creation of the crib. The toddler bed and big-kid bed attachment parts have not yet been fully constructed.
The plans were very helpful, but I decided to improvise on the sequence by which it would all get done. I started by building a form using 2 3/4 pieces of melamine. I would use this form to make whats called the ‘headboard cap’ but I also wanted to use it as a router table for the project (router tables are really cool).
To make the curved side of the form, I used a thin piece of scrape wood. I had my parents hold the piece at either ends, while I applied a bending force. At the right curvature, I penciled the curve onto the wood. I bandsawed both pieces of melamine. Then I glued the pieces together, and sanded the curve part smooth.
You can see half way up the form is a hole, which is where the router bit comes out. In this picture I am making the slat retainers. I had cut long 1×1 inch pieces on the radial arm saw, and here I am routing a groove in the 1 inch piece. On one side, I routed a 1/2 inch slot and on the opposite side a 3/4 inch slot.
These slat retainers were an essential part of the project. On both the headboard and footboard were to be 15 vertical slats made from walnut. The retainers would hold these 1/2 inch pieces in place and connect them to the rest of the piece which was 3/4 inch.
My guitar project of several years back had left me toting around a large piece of 3 1/2 inch walnut, that I was hoping to use. I took the piece to The Woodworker’s Club in Rockville, MD, and asked the guy to cut me the slats. I don’t have a table saw, and knew that I needed this done right, happy to pay $100 for the service.
I tried my hand at ‘planing’ the walnut slab before taking it in.
When I asked the guy to cut the pieces to 1/2 inch, I wasn’t exactly sure the width that the 1/2 inch router bit would produce in the slat retainer. Being safe, he volunteer to cut them to 1/2 inch ‘fat’.
Turned out that the 1/2 inch bit produced exactly a 1/2 inch groove. The safety measure meant that I would end up hand sanding the ends of each and every slat (30 total)–to make them fit snugly into the retainers. Just a few hours of time.
I should return to the curved side of the melamine form, as this had two important functions. The top part of the headboard has a curved piece of 3/4 maple plywood that needed to be cut (this is the part that has COLE inscribed on it). I rough cut the plywood then used the form with a flush-trim router bit to make it nice and smooth. The other use for the form was involved the headboard cap. The cap-making process was interesting, to someone who has never bent wood.
Wood, especially a hard wood like maple, really doesn’t want to bend, or stay bent. To make it so, you need to cut it very thinly. It seemed a novel concept to me. If you cut several pieces thinly, apply some glue between them, then bend and clamp the wood into place, you can solve the riddle. In this case, I would be clamping the wood to the top of the melamine form to produce the curved piece on top of the headboard.
Because all of my Home Depot stock of maple came in 3/4 inch pieces, I needed to produce thin wood with my limited tool options. Enter the poor man’s planer. Considering what I was doing, this endeavor took way too much time. I taped a piece of maple to my form, and clamped a couple long pieces along side. The router was mounted facing down and was rigged such that it could ride on the rails. I periodically lowered the bit, hovering the router jig back and forth over the piece. It was very time consuming, but finally yielded a piece roughly 1/4 inch.
Two of the 1/4 inch pieces were then glued together, bent across the form, and clamped down. Happily, when the clamps were later removed, the headboard cap retained its curvature. The headboard cap would later be glued to the top of the headboard.
To complete the headboard and footboard the only main component not yet discussed are the legs. The legs were to be made from 3 laminated pieces of 3/4 maple. It was a clever design because the middle piece of maple could be notched before it was assembled. This way when the 3 pieces were glued together there was a natural mortise in the legs.
Again using the router table, I put a 6 inch notch in the middle part of the leg. Another notch was put in the lower part of the leg to serve as a mortise for the lower cross member.
I glued all three of the leg pieces together. After it dried, I used a hand plane to make the leg smooth on all sides. After I had the leg looking good, I used the drill-press to drill all the necessary holes for the hardware that would hold everything together.
Finally I was able to put together the basic
skeleton for both the head board and the footboard. Then I got started on the sideboards. These involved similar construction–with the upper and lower plywood cross-members, the retainers, the pieces of maple on top for nice effect. The only real difference was that we used 1/2 plywood for the middle section instead of the slats.
I used my old panel clamps to glue these things together. Of course, at this point, I was becoming very conscious of my dimensions. Ultimately I had a mattress frame and a mattress that needed to fit inside this crib. Nothing in the project could really go too badly, as long as the mattress fit.
Before I had completely glued up the sideboards, I made sure to drill my vertical-horizontal holes for the cross-dowel fastening system. Basically each corner of the sideboard would get two intersecting holes. From the bottom hole, the cross-dowel would be inserted and threaded through a bolt coming in from the side hole. The bolt would attach the sideboards to the headboard and footboard. This holes needed to be drilled very precisely. The location was important (so that the two hole would intersect) and so was the straight-ness of the hole. This was made more difficult by the fact that the piece was too large to be done by the drill press.
Finally it was possible to assemble the whole thing. Because my cross dowel holes were so imprecise, it took a lot of finagling, but eventually it came together and was time to sand and finish. Shellac seemed like the way to go. From what I read, as a natural product of the earth (bug resin or something) it was the most safe finish possible. I did 3 coats and called it good (buffing ).