Making a headboard – Design

After some time of building projects I have finally been asked to build something. A commission! Time to roll in the big bucks!

Actually it was more like “If you want something to make, I need a headboard”. So, that’s a start I guess.

So, next step is to start with a design and a budget. Budget is what I can afford it seems. I have been promised that the lumber would be reimbursed. Labor wasn’t discussed since this is for my mother.

What style to go with? Nothing too over the top or with a lot of curvy bits.

I have an IKEA HEMNES bed that I am looking to replace, so I offered that. No making is easier than some making. I could have painted it and let that be me done but the client suggested it be made in oak to match the trim in the house.


First step was to draw in the old sketchbook. (I should find a way of scanning drawings in so I can share them). I also measured the bed’s mattress, support frame, height of mattress from floor etc. The weight of mattress and box-spring is carried on the frame, so the headboard did not have to be made too big.

Here’s a fuzzy view of the first sketch. The bed is like the Hemnes bed but it would have slats instead of dowels. Also, I figured on multiple plywood panels instead of one solid panel.


Also here you can see the sketchbook on a pile of ole planks that would be offered up for the cause.


After sketching in the book, I made a model on Sketchup in the computer to get a rough idea of how the headboard would look in 3D.

With rough measurements ready I cut up the planks to rough sizes for legs, a top rail, mid rail, and a bottom rail.


And screwed the lot together. The leg material I had wasn’t long enough so I just screwed on some bits of plywood.


The test fit of the mock-up was well received with some minor tweaks.


Next I modeled the mock-up in Sketchup. I tend to go back and forth like this. I’m sure others can do pure 3D design and more can rely solely on sketches and models, but I like to mix them around.


The spacing of the upper slats looked wrong. I wanted the gap between them to be equal with no half -sized gaps on the end. Also I wanted each gap to be no more than 4″ lest a child stick its head in there and get caught. The slats were to be 1-1/2 wide also so I had a bit of math to do and figured out a spacing.

I tried this with 10 slats and the top slats looked OK. However, the three panels on the bottom looked off.


Also, I found out the price of plywood and oak in general and reduced the size of some of the larger pieces and went with more thinner panels rather than three thicker panels.

I figured if I used 11 slats on top and 5 slats on the lower section I would be able to use 6 thin sheets of plywood. Also, the upper and lower slats would be aligned and look a whole lot more cohesive.


I futzed around in Sketchup again finalizing thicknesses of legs, slats, panels etc. I wanted 1/8″ reveals between the legs and cross rails. This is for looks as I didn’t want the face of the rails coming flush with the face of the legs. Its easier to have it recessed a little bit for ease of construction so that any minor defects wouldn’t show up like if I had tried to flush everything together.

Similarly, I wanted the slats to have a reveal between their faces and the faces of the rails. Also the lower slats had to be kept back and still allow a panel to be mounted between them while allowing for a groove in the panel.

So, a 1/4″ panel could go into a 3/4″ groove, stepped back from a 1″ slat, stepped back from a 1-1/4″ rail stepped back from a 1-1/2″ leg. This means finding 6/4 lumber at the store.



Here’s the shopping list.


Finding 6/4 wasn’t easy. 5/4 was about the biggest they had in any real quantity. So, I went back to the drawing board.

Also, I found that the available plywood is really 3/16″ in thickness, so that drove another round of edits. I think I ended up with 5/8″ lower slats and 1/2″ upper slats. The lower slats are recessed 1/8″ back from the face of the 3/4″ rails and are actually flush with the back of the rails. However, no-one is going to see the back as it is going up against a wall so I was OK with it. The upper slats would be centered front-to-back on the rails. The legs were then sized to 1-1/4ish. With these revisions, I went to the store and picked up some lumber.

Just to be sure to be sure, I then I made up another mock-up of one side of the headboard. This was to make sure that everything was sized OK before I started sawing. I brought this to the bed for looks and it checked out fine.


Next up: Woodworking


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