…about DIY. (headboard edition)

It’s no secret that the effect of a hammer, drill, or saw in the hand is much more tangible and fulfilling than that of a keyboard or mouse. Recently, I’d been itching to get back to my art-school roots and produce something real; something physical. Then one weekend, I found myself at a fortunate junction of free time, discretionary budget, and will-power to make it happen.

First, a little back story. My girlfriend’s kitchen was remodeled about a month ago, and a pretty old cabinet that had resided there came up for grabs. I snagged it, with the intention of making a custom headboard for her bed.

I may have underestimated how difficult it would be, given the fact that it’s built to last (heavy), and had glazed doors (fragile). It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I started sketching ideas for how to get it to stand above the bed. I went through several rounds of concepts for support structures to keep it above the bed – each with many redeeming qualities, but at least one reason to keep thinking and see if I couldn’t solve it completely.

I found myself walking the thin line between something that elegantly blended in with the bedroom decor, yet was sturdy enough to hold up a thirty-pound cabinet over people’s heads. I came up with ideas that ranged from steel-piping supporting the shelf from beneath, to a lean-to concept that came up alongside the mattress like a ladder shelf. I finally landed on an L-shaped base that would allow the mattress to sit flush with the back of the cabinet, hopefully preventing much rearranging of furniture in the room.

I laughed a little as I thought to myself how similar it was to a client-facing project with all its constraints and difficulties. “This material” aligned with “that technology”. “This weekend” mirrored “that deadline”. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the realities of the actual construction phase were not completely aligned with my expectation of a smooth completion. At least the “client” was easier to read, though no less demanding.

With a rough sketch of my intended solution, I set about the construction phase…

I managed to wrestle a 4×8′ sheet of plywood back from Home Depot and the building commenced. First I built a base out of 2×4’s, some of the plywood, lots of wood glue, and a handful of pretty burly screws. In hindsight, it was probably a little overkill, but when this thing is meant to hold a large cabinet permanently in “ready to decapitate” mode, it was easy to justify a little extra effort.

After the base was built and checked for squareness, I threw the back on and screwed it all together.

Once I was sure that everything was square and rigid, I added some gussets to keep it that way.

I wanted to figure out a way to bolt the cabinet to the base without leaving too much hardware exposed. Fortunately, as a climber, I had spotted the perfect solution at my climbing gym. They’re called T-nuts and they allow a bolt to thread into a nut without it poking out the back of the wood. It took a little extra work, but it was worth it to get the whole thing to sit against the wall nice and flush.

I bolted everything together for a test fit and discovered it was just right. Once I was done building it, I went to bed. It had taken all day. The following day was spent separating the cabinet from the base and moving the whole thing down to her house and reassembling it on site. It had to be done in a short timeframe as she was returning from a trip the next morning. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and before I knew it, it was done. I’m pretty happy with it, though it’s far from finished. This is pretty much an “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) release.

Next steps may include some paint for the wood stand, something clever in the cabinet itself, and some sort of padded headboard.