Shop Projects: Murphy Bed

A friend has several friends who come for extended visits but can’t manage stairs well, and all of their bedrooms are upstairs. That means that when these friends came to visit they ended up sleeping on an air bed in the ground floor sewing room, which wasn’t exactly the most welcoming of situations for someone who already had mobility issues. The answer seemed to be to put a bed in the room, but how to do so and still keep the space open enough to use when guests were not present? One option was to get an easy to assemble / disassemble bed frame and a mattress, but that brought it’s own issues of where to store it when not used in a place close enough for one person, if necessary, to get it out and put it together. Another option, which seemed better, was to install a Murphy bed. It would be ready to use simply by pulling down from the wall, stored everything neatly, and as a bonus the outside when not being used could be used as a design wall for sewing projects.

After a fair bit of research, the hardware kit from was selected. There are several companies selling hardware kits and most include plans of some nature, but this one seemed the best blend of components and design for the application.

Assembly consists of 3 main activities: building the bed frame, mounting the hardware, and assembling the cabinet. By the time I selected and purchased the materials, cut the pieces to finished size in the shop, loaded and transported them to the installation site, and assembled and installed the bed I would estimate 3 days worth of activity, which I could probably reduce to 2 if I were to do it again, and there were a few steps where it was required to have at least one helper. Estimated material cost for the queen size bed as installed (using maple veneer plywood and including a mid-range innerspring mattress) came out to around $700.

The hardware kit includes only the specialized pieces needed for the Murphy bed mechanism and the fasteners needed to mount that hardware as well as a DVD with instructions and video of the assembly process using the provided plans. The quality of the hardware was good and the pieces all fit together well when installed.

The video was moderately useful once you hit the mute button. Visuals were good, but the sound levels and sound editing were terrible. Background music and tool noise were far too loud, the narration was too quiet, and every so often you could hear artifacts of the filming such as “Action… no stop, ok go on….” This is mentioned because it really was distracting while trying to watch.

The paper instructions were relatively good for a basic design. I liked the approach taken of showing how to build a minimal functional product and left any enhancement up to the builder as opposed to some other plans that incorporated the bed design into a full wall unit with bookshelves and storage lockers which over-complicated the basic unit and could have led to confusion. There were some (for the most part humorous) typos, along the lines of “insert 3 screws into the pilot hole drilled in the last step” but they did not overly impact the build progression. Two items of potential confusion were that it wasn’t fully clear which side of some pieces in perspective views were the inside or outside face, and it would have been helpful to have mentioned the reference frame at least once (e.g. “when referenced in these instructions left and right are based on standing at the foot of the bed and looking to the head”).

I built the bed basically as per the instructions, but made a few tweaks for material savings:

1) I reduced the cabinet depth from 16 inches to 15 ½ inches. This allowed the cabinet sides to be cut from the same piece of plywood as the cabinet face, saving a full piece of plywood relative to the plans. The only other modification required was to reduce the cabinet top and associated side brackets by half a inch. No further modifications were required due to the plans referencing everything from the front edge of the cabinet. Per the specs the bed can take a 12 inch deep mattress, so I would assume that the reduction in cabinet width would also require an equivalent reduction in maximum mattress depth (the one we used was well shy of 12 inches and so was not a factor).
2) I used a piece of sanded pine plywood for the cabinet top instead of the maple veneer plywood used elsewhere. This let me use a half sheet of pine plywood instead of a full sheet of veneer plywood for this one part. As the top isn’t visible in this installation (except by the person laying in the bed if they happen to look up and back, and even then it’s heavily shadowed) there really is no impact.

All told with these modifications it took 3 sheets of ¾” veneer plywood and half a sheet of ¾” sanded pine plywood as opposed to the 5 sheets of ¾” veneer plywood called out for in the plans, and there was enough big scrap left from these pieces to build a few shelves or a couple of small tabletops.

Cutting the components in a shop reasonably well equipped to handle full sized plywood sheets was fairly straightforward. Final assembly was made on site, with most of the work being done on the floor a few feet from where the bed was installed. It was helpful to have a helper stabilize and hold some of the parts while assembling, but with enough clamps and assistive techniques it could be done alone. What cannot be done alone, however, is standing the assembled unit up for the final touches prior to installing it to the wall.

In an ideal world I would have finished all the components prior to final assembly, but given the available timeframe it was installed unfinished. This will require it to be uninstalled from the wall and moved out a few inches, and placed on a dropcloth to avoid staining the wall and floor, but this can be done by one person when desired.

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