Inspiration & Design
I love woodworking but don't tend to make really "nice" pieces, in the sense of heirloom-quality fine furniture. It was time. Brie and I had been sleeping with our mattress on the floor and our first child was about to be born. Now or never.
We both like 4-poster beds (were we reading Harry Potter at the time?) so that choice was easy. I also saw a design which incorporated backrests and thought that would be fun to add to the project.
I originally wanted to create an elaborate canopy over the bed, either resembling tree branches or perhaps a cathedral vault, but it was going to take too much time to realize that vision and we didn't have much to spare. As it is, the bed was just barely finished in time - about a week or so before my son's due date! Christopher was in fact born on his due date! One of the 5%!
As with many other projects of mine, I used Blender as CAD software just to make sure the parts all fit right. I find it's really handy to have a 3D model to visualize things. The animation you can hopefully see to the upper right is the render of a 360° rotation of the bed design.
Before I realized how little time I had for completing this bed, I went pretty far with a design which would create a catchedral vault over our mattress. I wasn't 100% sure that it wouldn't feel odd, but I really liked the idea of weaving the 4 posts together on top to form a canopy over the bed.
I went so far as to create some Blender models and animations to see what it would look like
I decided to build the bed out of Pecan. It's the state tree of Texas, which is appropriate, and I also knew some folks in Victoria, TX who had a lovely armoire built out of a pecan tree that had fallen on their property. I was astonished that such a common, locally abundant tree should produce such beautiful grain. Why had I not seen pecan furniture before??
More astonishing even is the fact that all of the pecan/hickory that's available at local stores is imported from out of state! What? State tree of Texas, abundant as the weeds on our lawn and there's no local mill producing such a plentiful and attractive wood? As an import, it's pricier to buy than it should be. I really need to learn how to mill this wood for myself.
Part of the reason it's not more popular, I'm sure, is that pecan is supposed to have a tendency to split, which doesn't surprise me given the way the two pecan trees next to our house are always losing big branches during storms. Anyway, I bought enough 4/4 (roughly 3/4" thick) wood to get the job done. One of my friends generously loaned me the use of his shop, complete with thickness planer and jointer. Without these, the job would have been very difficult or impossible. He also has a bunch of excellent hand tools, one of which was indispensable for the backrests!
My friend, John, has a compass plane which was indispensable for creating the backrests. A compass plane has a shoe which can be adjusted to fit a convex or concave curved surface. I initially thought that I could use a spokeshave for this work and now I realize how naive that idea was!
Even using the right tool for the job, there was still "chatter" that I had to deal with since I had glued together flat panels to form a curved surface. That meant that I was sometimes planing with the grain, sometimes against it.
Most of the wood that I purchased had very attractive grain to it, as well as that characteristic pecan wood smell that takes me back to my childhood playing at our family's lake house near Seguin, TX. I mapped out which pieces would be used where and begin planing and truing the wood, creating boards that were the right widths for the various parts. The trickiest parts to make were the backrests.
I didn't have proper equipment for steaming and bending the wood to make the curved backrests, but still wanted the grain to appear continous across the face of them, so I made them much thicker than necessary (I was afraid that a single thickness of the 4/4 wood would be too thin once I smoothed it out) and used biscuits to join end grain to end grain. If I could do these again I'd find a way to steam some thinner panels into the desired shape!
Brie and I both love the end result.