For Julia’s birthday, I built her a 18th/19th century low post rope bed. The design is based off of several beds from the era but is scaled up to Queen size. After two nights in a row of 3am scrambling, I got it done just in time for her surprise birthday party. It was my first project involving turning. I quickly realized why spring pole lathes work much better with green wood. Fully dried hardwood is a bear to deal with relying on thigh power alone.
I decided to use poplar lumber. This is was a common secondary and paint grade wood for antiques. It would be perfect for a simple low post bed like this: it’s hard enough for the demands but not too hard to work… and oh, and the price was right. ($2.30 b/f)
After I cut the lumber to rough length, I brought it down to my generous cabinetmaker friend, Basil. He helped me get the stock to dimension for time saving purposes (a real boon when you have a deadline looming!).
After I laid out the mortises and turnings on the four posts, I began to chop out the mortises. I had in the past used forstner bits to drill out the waste followed by a paring chisel to bring it to the edges, but last fall I bought a pigsticker mortising chisel from Tools for Working Wood. This thing is a beauty. Not only is it effective, but it’s really really cool. (Here’s a great video of one in action.)
I laid out the rounded corners and carved them off rather than turning them with the skew chisel. I had zero success at that with all my practice attempts so I opted just to do it at the bench.
I made a scratch stock cutter for the profile on the outer top edge of the rails. I scratched it in before I cut the tenons. I forgot to get pictures of shaping the head board but needless to say it involved a hatchet, spokeshave, and chisel.
For paint, we went bold. We always loved the turquoise / teal historic paints. So we found Cobalt blue milk paint from Real Milk Paint Company in Quakertown, PA. This is a historic formula from the early 1800s. What we hadn’t anticipated was just how vibrant this stuff was. I mean it was electric! (Funny how after it was finished some friends said it seemed peculiar to them that it was such a “modern” color. This definitely reflects the mistaken notion that every fashion before the 1950’s was muted and drab. Oh how wrong that idea is!)
Finished. I first dyed the raw wood with golden brown TransTint dyes to give some age. The first coat of paint was “Slate Blue” followed by the “Cobalt Blue”. After this dried, I rubbed through the edges and dinged, scratched, and dented the bed a bit. This (mis)treatment was followed by brushing shellac and lighting it immediately on fire before it could dry. This creates a wonderfully crazed texture. Then I applied Van Dyke glaze liberally which was finally sealed in with another flaming shellac treatment.
Because I didn’t feel up to constantly fiddling with tightening the ropes to support our mattress, I decided to install angle iron on the inside of the rails and lay in some ¾” cdx. For the rope strung look, I wove the rope in and out of the rails and nailed it inside at the ends of each individual rail. This is a very handy way to make a maintenance free rope bed.
For the final touches, I printed my 18th century style label, distressed it and dated it. I always attach this on the back with hide glue.