bed frame construction, plywood bed decking

Hanging Bed

A somewhat unusual option, for people who are looking for a minimalistic or even industrial style of decorating, is to install a hanging bed, rather than a more traditional bed on a frame. While there are a number of people who manufacture hanging beds and hanging bed kits, the majority of people who decide to go with a hanging bed make it themselves. This is a project that can be as simple or as complex as the builder desires.

One advantage of a hanging bed is that it allows the space underneath the bed to be used for other purposes, whether those are storage or a desk. Hanging beds in children’s rooms make better use of the space, especially when the bed is hung high, like the upper bunk in bunk beds. With the bed that high, it is easy to put a study desk or toy storage under the bed, with a ladder or an open staircase, which also serves as storage, leading up to it.

Hanging beds also make interesting options for a deck or porch, hanging a day bed which can be used for taking naps or doing double duty as a porch swing. They work great in loft rooms, where the exposed rafters provide an excellent attachment point.

While it is possible to make hanging beds which have headboards and footboards, most don’t. This is intended to be a simplistic style, where such things are unnecessary. The one real exception would be a daybed on a porch, where one side and ends are needed, so that the bed can be sat on as a sofa or porch swing.

Hanging the Bed

Before doing anything, it’s important to decide how the bed will be hung. Adding the hanging method on afterwards wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective and could lead to bed that’s not strong enough to support enough weight. Since the bed is suspended and not sitting on the floor, this is much more important than it would be for a more traditional bed.

Hanging beds are usually hung with rope, often a hemp rope, which has a more traditional look and feel to it than a nylon or polyester rope will. Sisal and jute are also traditional rope materials as well, with similar appearance to hemp. Other options are chain or using steel pipe and fittings, which has become a popular industrial style for furniture and fixtures.

When selecting the rope or other material, make sure that the weight rating of the rope is strong enough for the need. This includes the weight of the bed itself and the people sleeping in it. Keep in mind that many people tend to gain weight as they grow older, so it would be useful to account for that. In addition, any nocturnal activity could add additional stress to the rope and hardware.

The basic difference between an eye bolt and an eye screw is that an eye screw is made with wood screw threads, so that it will cut into the wood and hold, whereas an eye bolt has machine screw threads, to be used with nuts. When using eye bolts, two nuts should always be used, so that one can act as a jam nut, preventing the other from coming loose. Of the two, eye bolts are considerably stronger than eye screws and should be used wherever possible.

eye bolt, eye screw
Eye bolt and screw

With either eye bolts or eye screw rope will need to be knotted to attach it. While many people use a simple overhand or square knot, an eye splice is better and more finished looking. While this might seem like the “impossible knot” to many, an eye splice really isn’t all that hard to do, especially once you’ve seen it done once.

One of the challenges in hanging any bed is keeping it level. All four attachment ropes, chains or pipes must be the same length. Otherwise, the bed will hang crooked or the frame will twist. This is more of an issue with knotted rope, than either chain or pipe.

Where will the hanging attach to the bed?

If galvanized pipe or iron pipe is being used, the pipe will obviously be connected to the bed platform and the ceiling joists with pipe flanges. But with rope, there are more options. The rope can be passed through the bed platform and tied in a simple overhand knot, in the case of lofts, where there are exposed beams to attach to, it might be possible to tie the rope at that end too. But in most cases, either eye bolts or eye screw are the preferred way of attaching rope.

When attaching rope or chain to eye bolts that are running through the top of the platform, it is necessary to make the platform larger than the bed, so that there is room for the rope or eyebolt to go into, outside the area where the bed sits. Not a lot of room is needed, only about 1-3/4” on each side.

However, if the rope is going to pass through the platform and then be tied on the bottom side, it’s necessary to decide whether the rope will pass through the frame as well or just the platform. In cases where it passes through the frame, the aforementioned 1-3/4” per side is sufficient, but in cases where it needs to pass through the frame, about 3” is needed all the way around.

In the case where eye bolts are run through the sides of the bed frame, rather than the top of the platform, or where a metal pile is used, the bed frame needs to be the same size as the mattress, as the hardware will already stick out past the edges of the bed anyway.

To make an eye splice:

When it comes time to hang the bed platform, it’s necessary to support it in some way, whether with temporary stands or cinder blocks. Be sure to verify that the bed platform is level in both directions, before beginning to hang it.

  1. Start by untwisting about 20 cm of the end of the rope. Tape the ends of the three strands, so they won’t unravel while you’re working, as well as the rope itself for the same reason. This tape can be removed later. 
  2. Slip the end of the rope through the eye bolt or eye screw and make a loop of whatever size seems aesthetically appropriate and bring the loose ends of the rope to that point. It can be helpful to temporarily mark that point for reference. 
  3. The basic idea of making an eye splice is to weave the rope into itself, or weave the three cords making up the rope back into the main body of the rope, forming a loop. To do this, the rope needs to be untwisted enough at the point where the strand is to go through, so that the strand can be woven under one strand of the main rope and brought back out again. 
  4. Starting with the middle loose strand, untwist the rope enough to slip the end under one strand of the rope and pull it snug up to the point where the strands separate. 
  5. Take the left strand and repeat with the next strand up the main rope, slipping it under that strand. 
  6. Then take the right strand and repeat; but this time, slipping it under the strand below the one that the middle strand went under in the main rope. 
  7. Continue working up the rope, alternating between the three loose strands, with each of them skipping the strand in the main rope that the previous one went under and going instead under the next strand up. 
  8. Please note that the third or right strand will end up going under the other strands which have been woven into the rope. This helps to lock the strands together and into the rope. 
  9. With natural fiber rope, three to four full rounds of weaving, weaving each of the three strands into the rope, is sufficient. With rope made of artificial materials (nylon, polyester) a minimum of five rounds should be done, because the fibers of the rope are slicker and more likely to slip. 
  10. Once the eye splice is done, the excess material can be cut off at the end and either heat sealed (for artificial fibers) or in the case of natural fibers, taped or wrapped to prevent unraveling. 

To hang with pipe:

Hanging with pipe or chain is simpler than hanging with rope, as there is no need to tie the rope to itself. With chain, the number of links needed is selected and any extras are removed. The chain can then be attached to the eye bolt with an S-hook. Just be sure to use a strong S-hook, rather than one made out of thinner wire.

In the case of galvanized steel or iron pipe, the pipe is cut to length and threaded. Plumbing departments in the major home improvement warehouses are equipped for this, with the necessary cutting and threading machine. They will usually provide this service for free. The pipe is then attached to an elbow and then to the flange, via a short nipple. The only difference at the ceiling is that there is no elbow, so the end of the pipe can attach directly to the flange, saving time and fittings.

Attaching at the ceiling:

Eye screw are often used at the ceiling, except in the case of pipe hangers. The main reason for this is that it’s more or less impossible to install an eye bolt, as it has to go up through the ceiling joist. While there are probably eye bolts that long, they would be hard to find.

Since eye screw are used, it is best to use oversized ones, rather than something that is just big enough. The larger the diameter of the screw, the longer the thread and the more they will bite into the wood, adding strength.

Since ceiling joists are either 16” or 24” apart, there’s a strong possibility that they won’t be in the right position for the bed. In that case, a 2”x 4” block should be attached, spanning the space between the joists. Use joist hangers to secure the block in place, so as to ensure that it can handle the weight.

Making the Simplest Hanging Bed Frame

Any hanging bed needs a platform frame, rather than the type of frame that is used for conventional beds. A box or box springs is never used with a platform bed, so the mattress needs support across its width and length. Slats aren’t enough, although a slat platform, with gaps of 2” or under works fine. If slats are used, be sure to round the edges of the slats, so that the wood doesn’t wear away at the fabric on the bottom side of the mattress.

To make an extremely simple hanging bed frame, all that’s needed is wood pallets. The slats on the top and bottom need to be cut off flush with the frame and then the edges of the slats on top need to be rounded to protect the mattress. Connect the pallets together, through the frame, with either deck screw, lag screws or bolts.

Since the screws will be going into side grain, rather than end grain, screws make a strong joint between the pieces. However, they won’t, when going into end grain.

Making a Better Hanging Bed Frame

While wood pallets allow making a very simple hanging bed, they are a bit rustic for many people’s tastes. In that case, it’s better to build a bed frame. There are two basic ways of doing this; with overhanging slats or with flush sides:

bed frame construction, plywood bed decking
Bed frame construction

In the diagram on the left, the decking is hidden by the bed frame. This allows the use of plywood, rather than 1”x 6” boards for the decking. In order to do this, a support member needs to be attached to the inside of the bed frame, for the deck to set on.

In the diagram on the right, the bed deck is supported on a 2”x 4” or 2”x 6” frame. In this case, 1”x 6” boards should be used, as the edge grain of plywood cannot be hidden. The decking should overhang the frame by one inch.

Keep in mind how the bed will be hung, either making the frame the same size as the mattress or slightly larger, as discussed above. standard mattress sizes are:

  • Twin – 75”x 38”
  • Full or Double – 75”x 54”
  • Queen – 80”x 60”
  • King – 80”x 76”

A minimum of one, and better two, crossbars should be installed as part of the frame, especially on double or larger size beds. While a simple frame around the perimeter could probably support the weight, it would sag. Adding the crossbars, like adding slats in a normal bed frame, spreads the weight out and helps prevent sagging.

frame crossbar
Frame crossbar

Screw the frame together is not effective, as the screws would be going into end grain. Likewise, gluing the corners isn’t very effective for the same reason, glue doesn’t hold well in end grain either. It’s better to use nails, especially coated nails, for the assembly of the frame, especially when nailing into end grain. Glue can be used for attaching the support to the frame on the hidden deck design and screws or nails can be used for attaching the deck to the frame with either design.

Additional strength can be added to the corner by using metal angle brackets on the inside of the corners or by using a piece of scrap 2”x 2” on the inside, gluing and screw the frame members to it.

For an even stronger and more attractive frame, assemble the corners with visible dowel pegs. This is not using the precut and fluted dowel pegs which are sold for making furniture, as those are too short. Rather, the idea is to drill through one board, into the end grain of the other board and then pound a dowel rod coated with wood glue into it. The excess dowel can then be cut flush with the board, making a visible, but attractive and strong joint. This is especially good if the wood is to be stained and varnished, as the end grain of the dowel will be obvious.

/* */