Making a Shaker Rope Bed

Looks pretty good with the quilt my Mom made on it.

My house guest finally complained about having to sleep on the floor, so this winter I decided to take a step towards civilization and not rely so much on camping gear to furnish the house. I don’t really like the usual sort of bed with the steel springs and the thick suspiciously fluffy mattress. If I could get good straw I’d be fine with a straw mattress I could burn every few months and replace, but the modern types that typically last forever or until they are too nasty to touch don’t seem like a good idea to me. I’m comfortable on the ground, or even on the floor, and a cheap airbed camping mattress works well, too. When it springs a leak I recycle it and get another.

So getting a bed wouldn’t have been on my list of things to do unless it were requested by a nice person who someone managed to get through an entire summer here last year without complaining. Still, it’s my house and I wanted something I’d get along with, too, so I spent a couple of months this past winter hewing a bed frame out of logs I cut from a couple of trees that have been down in the back of the place for a year or two. Well, one went down in a storm and the other was shading out the pear trees, so I felled it myself.

It’s pretty amazing when something this difficult to build goes together and doesn’t even squeak.

I’d never made a Shaker rope bed before, but I did once have a book of Shaker furniture plans and there were at least photos of the beds the Shakers made and slept upon. It’s unlike a modern bed, more of a box frame than a mattress support. The wooden frame surrounds the mattress (or sometimes the mattress overlaps it) and what holds the mattress up is a woven rope lattice. Seems like a good idea to me and I had thought of making one years ago, except that I had a genuine Army cot back then and those are nearly as comfortable as sleeping on the ground so I was happy with the cot.

These have to be tight otherwise it’s more like sleeping in a sack than on a bed. Correctly done, it’s a very comfortable ride.

Making a timber frame Shaker bed, with all the parts hand hewn from rough logs, and no two pieces alike, is a pretty complicated thing to do. Mortise and tenon joints are beyond the ability of many people even if they start with dimensioned lumber of good quality. When nothing is straight and there’s no surface to use as a reference, fitting joints together gets a bit tricky. I’ve had lots of experience with such things, though, and it was good to have a reason to do them again.

Aside from time and effort and thought, the bed cost me $21 for quarter-inch 100 lb test rope. I had a folding exercise mat that was about the right size so I used that as the bottom half of a mattress, and I bought a two-inch thick queen-size memory foam mattress pad to top it off. So the mattress was the expensive part, I forget what the exercise mat cost because it’s over ten years old now, and the foam pad was over a hundred dollars. That’s not too bad, I guess, and when it gets nasty I won’t feel I can’t afford to throw it away. I might have my own straw by then and could make my own mattress.

I do like the look of a wheat field.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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