Fire Truck Bunk Bed
My kids love this bunk bed set I made them because it looks like a fire truck and has lots of built in storage, my wife loves it because of all the storage! It has a costume closet, 10 drawers, and storage for all of their books.
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Normally my first step in the shop is to grab a notebook and start sketching out critical dimensions for the project, but this one called for a larger canvas.
But once I had a plan it quickly moved to the typical, breaking down sheet goods with my track saw and then cutting to size at the table saw and miter saw.
If this project has a theme, it’s space management. Building a project this size pushed my shop to it’s limit. The one thing I always hear from people I invite to my space is, “wow, it’s a lot smaller than I thought, it looks bigger on camera.” I know, I know.
My joinery of choice for this project is pocket screws. So I bust out my little Kreg jig with grip trainer and spend the rest of the week drilling pocket holes, but I think you get the idea so let me jump to assembly.
This build took 4 sheets of 3/4” plywood so to save cost I used pine plywood instead of cabinet grade since I’ll be painting anyway and much to my surprise it was not perfectly flat. To aid in assembling the book shelves and drawer and closet combo I made a 90 fence to put on my assembly table. This helps hold the pieces and lets me push against the table top or the fence as needed to force the pieces flat as I screw them together.
The fence work great for things that need to meet flush. But for stuff like these shelves, I cut spacer blocks and use them as a guide to keep everything square as I assemble.
After the book shelf assembly is together, I switch and put together the structure of the drawer and closet combo.
The drawers are all just going to run on wood runners. I make these and the divides from more 3/4” plywood and again use spacers to keep these equal spaced. The front dividers get pocket screwed into space, and the runners are glued and stapled into place.
I added a spacer to the bottom of the closet opening to keep it square. It seems short, but that’s because I measured it to fit the back and the plywood isn’t flat.. so this piece is actually pulling it back into square.
Now to the part I was dreading a bit, cutting out the stair sides. I opted for stairs because my boys are fairly young still and it seemed safer than a ladder for them, and offered space for drawers which is something lacking in their room right now. After I marked out the stair pattern I cut the lines freehand with my circular saw and stopped at the line. Because the blade is a circle, it didn’t cut all the way through, so I finished off with a hand saw.
Again I’m using pocket holes to hold the stairs together, so the next step is getting the holes drilled in the sides and all the bracing pieces. Once we started assembling, the fence for my assembly came in handy again screwing the shelves on. My oldest was off for Christmas break while I was working on this, and he was happy to get to help build his bunk bed. Pretty soon you’ll notice some things being painted. It was a bit early in the process, but we ran out of things he could help with so we started covering everything with the paint deco-art was kind enough to provide for the build. As I finish screwing on the shelves, you’ll notice the whole thing is a bit wobbly.
That’s where adding some bracing on the back and bottom comes in, that’ll make everything a lot more rigid. You’ll have to forgive me for the sub-par shots here, I know we block the camera a bit, but I was more focused on sharing the process with my son than getting the best documentation of it.
The stairs will have drawers inside them, so I needed to add runners to the sides. Once again, I’m just using some plywood strips for this. These were a little trickier though, I’ll be adding a pad over the stair treads so the runners need to be spaced slightly above the plywood tread to allow clearance for the drawer. I just used a piece of 1/8” hard to keep everything consistent as I brad nailed the runners into place.
All of the drawers for this build are made the same, just sized a bit differently as needed. First I ripped all the drawer sides.
Then I cut a dado in the bottom of each drawer side that’ll receive the bottom. I just show one pass, but it took two passes to make this wide enough for the hardboard bottoms.
Then I cut a rabbet on each end of the drawer front and back pieces. The sides will rest in these and which makes assembly a lot easier because I don’t have to worry about holding things perfectly in place.
When I started assembling the drawers I ran into a little oopsie and realized I’d cut the drawer bottoms a little too big. Apparently I messed up the math with the dados, but hey, better too big than too small. Once I fixed the bottoms they went together fast. You can see how the rabbets help hold the drawer together as I assemble and brad nail them.
The drawers for the stairs get a cut out as a handle. I figured it anything stuck out on these my kids would eventually hurt their feet and/or break off the handles. So I just made a simple template to transfer the design of the handle and cut them out with the jigsaw.
For the other drawers I used regular pulls. I used a scrap piece of hardboard to make a template to drill some pilot holes from the inside of the drawer box, then followed the pilot hole with the right size bit from the front. This makes sure any blow out will be on the inside of the drawer. Then just screwed on the pulls.
Now for adding the cushion to the stair tread. I ordered some 2mm EVA for to do this. My goal was something that was soft enough for bare feet to be comfortable, but with enough grip that socks won’t slide. This stuff fit the bill perfectly. To attach it I used contact cement. I spread put a liberal amount on both sides and used a foam offcut to spread it around. After about 15 minutes the surface is just a bit tacky and that’s when the two pieces go together and create a permanent bond. And as I usually do, I cut it oversized, and then trimmed the foam to fit after I had it in place.
The railing and trim were easily the most time consuming part of this build. I wanted them to have a ladder look to go with the fire truck/fire station theme, but also meet the safety requirements for a rail. I’m not going to get into it here, but I’ll link below to the Consumer Product Safety Commissions rules for bunk beds if you’re interested.
The rails and trim are made from 2x material ripped down into 1x material. I made the rail with a lot of pocket holes, but in hindsight I think doweling them together would’ve been a better choice.
The trim was a bit tricky. Obviously the whole assembly is too big to move through door ways, so I had to figure out the best strategy for what to install in my shop and what to install in the room. Some of the trim is what the railing will be partly secured to, so I brad nail it in place but then follow up with screws for strength. There’s not much more to say about the trim, but it really pulls the piece together so I’ll shut up and let you watch.
Getting the piece in the room took a lot longer than I anticipated. When I cleared out the room, I remembered the room was decorated around all the touch up spots and holes from the previous owner, so the installation went on hold while I re-painted the room.
You’ll notice the matters supports for the top bunk are running long wise instead of across the span, that’s just because that’s what made sense for this application, the mattress still has plenty of support. Normally the width is the shortest span to support a mattress so the support goes that way to use the more economical material, but in this case the span between cabinets are about the same as the width so the material doesn’t need to be stronger, and running the supports the other way would’ve required adding another rail to support them, which would’ve raised the mattress even higher.
Alright, so now jumping to the lower bunk. Here I’m installing the rails onto the sides that’ll hold the mattress supports. Nothing crazy, just brad nails followed my screws for strength.
I’m going for a firetruck look with the bottom bunk, so I cut out some wheels to be feet and raise the sides off the floor a bit. This will make it easier to slide out to change sheets.
All of the wheels get some edge banding after they're cut so the paint will look better.
After the paint dries I attach the wheels to the sides with brad nails and screws. I clamp a scrap piece of 3/4” to the bottom of the side as I do this to make sure each wheel provides the same amount of stand off from the floor.
Now I start painting all of the pieces that will really give the bottom the fire truck look. Off camera I edge banded and painted the edges black and now the faces are getting the appropriate colors.
All of these pieces are just aesthetic, so once I get them laid out in place I just use plenty of brad nails to hold them in place. After the windows, grill, and lights are tacked on, I come back and wrap the whole headboard in trim to finish it off and tie it into the rest of the build.
Putting together the bottom bunk goes really fast. Earlier I drill pocket holes, so I just screw the sides to the footboard and then to the headboard, add the mattress supports - which are the normal way this time because its the shortest span, and add the mattress.
The last finishing touch is the closet. Off camera I installed a closet rod inside in the area and to make the doors I just add some overlay hinges and pulls to some 1/2” plywood. Unfortunately I won’t be able to recess the doors like the rest of the red panels, but that’s okay. After I install the doors off camera, the whole thing is done!