The Murphy Bed part three – finishing it up

After setting off into the unknown and attempting to build a Murphy bed with a hardware kit to save space in our former guest room, it turned out to be a little easier than I initially thought, wrapping up in almost a week. Part one of this story is here, part two is here.

After just a week building our new Murphy bed, I almost had it finished.

No one was more surprised about that fact than I was. I thought it was going to take me at least a month. I even told Rachel before getting started that I was shooting for hopefully by mid-October or so. A week after buying the lumber, I was assembling the last of the pieces together into something resembling a Murphy bed two Sunday evenings ago. I was desperately trying to get it finished before the end of the weekend, because we have another child who sleeps in this room during the day in a pack’n’play.

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With all the holes pre-drilled at this point, and everything painted, assembly didn’t take all that long. Normally, I’d be drilling pilot holes for almost all the screws, but because I was using my favorite GRK screws that are self tapping and self countersinking, it’s not necessary with most wood, other than the kind of stuff that’s really likely to split. (i.e., not plywood.) But those GRK screws are the best — I highly recommend ’em, folks. Home Depot carries ’em, pretty sure Lowe’s does. I’d put an Amazon link in here but they’re one of the few things that are like twice as expensive at Amazon than they are in your local big box.

I already had the bed frame put together in the last post, and after putting the headboard on (horizontal board at the head of the bed box connecting the two side rails), that was almost it. After screwing the few pieces of hardware on, everything was nearly done, other than the cap header that connects everything together up top — standing there to the left of me.

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Of course, getting this all done in a week was only possible because I spent almost every night outside cutting the wood, measuring and installing the hardware, finishing the lumber, painting everything, etc. And that was only possible because Rachel released me from basically 90% of all parental duties for the week. The only downside was that I barely saw my daughter for a week! So we reunited when she got her biggest wish of the moment granted and got to climb up on the bed — she had been trying to do it for 30 minutes.

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She’s been running around the house since saying “Let’s go play on the Murphy bed!”

And with that, the basics of the bed were put together. No springs yet, which means that you had to lift the full weight of the bed up (whoa, heavy!) to fold it up. So we left it down until I could get it attached to the wall and put the springs on which counterbalance everything.

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But before I could attach it to the wall, I realized that I needed to move the one electric receptacle in that wall that ended up right behind the headboard. So I had to cut open the wall a bit, and move it down inside the wall about 8-9 inches so it would be below the headboard. And the patch the hole and prime and paint and sigh….

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Of course, now the receptacle is trapped inside the Murphy bed, so I ran drilled two 1-5/8″ holes in each side of the bed cabinet down the near bottom and ran extension cords with nice looking small white power strips out each side — which you can see reaaaallll small there on the left side of the cabinet on the floor, the tiny white blob there. So now we have receptacles on each side of the bed, basically.

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With the receptacle issue solved, I could attach the entire thing to the wall.Though I didn’t manage to get this done in time to finish on Sunday — it trickled into Monday because of the receptacle work.

Attaching it to the wall is the most important thing before putting the gas springs on, because if not, those gas springs are so strong that if you tried to pull the bed down, it would pull the entire frame down on you along with the bed box itself. I put four 3-inch screws through the top header into studs, and then the gas springs go on.

Once they’re on, you can lower the bed down safely. The black dots up high are stops for the bed. Without those, the bed would keep going into the frame past the point where it’s flush on the front.

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You can see the left gas spring in that last shot. Basically the whole thing is perfectly designed with the weight of the wood and your average queen-sized mattress to be perfectly counterbalanced. The springs have no tension on them when the bed is up. Pulling the bed down expands the springs. I’m amazed how easy the action is. And once it’s down, I can literally start it lifting up by putting my foot under it and pulling up.

This last weekend, I started working on the second phase of the bed: the trim. I wanted to put nice trim across the front of the face to make it look like something more than just a giant flat panel.

I started with some 1×2’s and 1×3’s for a raised look around the edge. Without being able to track down a pancake compressor and brad nailer, I ended up having to do it the old fashioned (read: time-consuming and noisy) way: hammer, finish nails, and a nail set to countersink them.

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And then added some inset cove moulding to give it a nice finished look.

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Oh yeah, and some crown moulding up top. And can I tell you, that if loathing of crown moulding was a country, I would be China. It is my kryptonite. I hate it. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of flexible wood filler painted over a few joints.

For those bottom panels, I’d been struck with some inspiration while doing all my research into Murphy bed kits and found some really cool ways to modify the face after it’s all done. Since the bed is going to stay up 90% of the time, why not build something into the face that can be usable space? I kept seeing a few plans for adding desks onto the front, which seemed like a great idea.

But most of the examples I’d seen were (heavy!) desks that folded down. That seemed a little more risky to me than a desk that folded up from the bottom. It also meant less weight messing with the delicate counterbalance since weight at the foot of the bed actually weighs more than equivalent weight added closer to springs due to, um, leverage and science and stuff. I didn’t want something that could fall down on someone. Like a small child.

I think I was most inspired by this one I saw on a woodworking forum:

But even with that one, I was a little nervous about the weight of that desk. Adding a full 1/2″ or 3/4″ 60-inch piece of plywood across the front was going to be a decent amount of weight, and there are a ton of warnings about deviating from the plan. But I liked the idea of having a desk rise up instead of fall down.

I just wasn’t sure how to hide the legs/supports and the hinges. With the one above, I think that desk sits off the surface a bit when it’s folded down, and they’ve used the space behind to hide those supports. With a desk only 30″ wide, there wasn’t going to be the room to fold long enough supports behind the desk. And I wanted everything flush on the surface.

So I played off of the design of the rest of the trim with the 1-bys and just turned a few of them that look like part of the trim into legs.

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With everything unpainted, you can see what’s what. It’s a big panel for the desk, two 1x2s on the sides, and a 1×3 on the top connecting the legs. The cove moulding on either side is actually attached to the face. But when the desk is folded up, those edges look just like the rest of the face panels.

To attach the legs to the desk, I bought some threaded steel rods, drilled 1/4″ holes into the corner of the desk (one bit size smaller than the 5/16″ rods) and twisted the rods into place. That way, they’ll swivel a bit when you move the desk up or down, but they won’t go anywhere because twisting them in the smaller hole more or less creates threads on the inside of the hole.

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Then I drilled holes through the legs, slid the legs on, and then attached a nylon nut on the top.

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I tried to hide the nuts by drilling a 5/8″ forstner hole around the smaller hole, so the nut would be recessed in the leg. But I just couldn’t get the nuts tight enough with enough clearance around them to tighten them, so I just took the corners off with a jigsaw. I’m not crazy about them being visible, but when the desk is folded down, at least they are all the way down at the bottom where you don’t notice them as much.

To attach the desk and give it a swivel point, I got some satin nickel door hinges. Probably not the most perfect option for this, but they worked ok after mortising out slots for them on the desk and the face so the desk could lay as flush as possible against the face when folded up.

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So how does the whole desk work? Like this:

I still need to install a couple of barrel bolts down at the bottom of the desk to hold it in place flush against the face when you fold the bed down — right now it obviously drops out to the floor as you fold it down. For the legs up at the top, I just used some velcro pads to keep them in place.

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Once the desk mechanism was finished and installed, I could prime and paint all the pieces of the desk — the last elements to be finished. Before doing the desk this last weekend, I filled and sanded and primed and painted all the finish nail holes on the trim.

With the desk finished, all the trim installed, and everything painted 100%, the bed was essentially finished.

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Time to try it out.

Sweeeeeeeeeeeet! Works like a champ!

All in all, it was easier to build than I thought it was going to be. Two weeks start to finish from buying the wood to finishing the desk and trim and cleaning up the room. It’s going to be a huge help in the years to come, and it’ll get its first runout this weekend when Rachel’s sister comes down for a visit.

Because of how the wall jogs into the room for a bit from the door (the wall isn’t flush with the door on that side), you don’t really see it until you get through the doorway into the room. And then, it just protrudes 16 inches or so from the wall. When it comes down, there’s still plenty of room to walk by with that (black now, gonna be white soon) dresser at the foot of it. Lily’s bed will go in one of the corners, and Rachel has some grand plans for a little cushion-covered reading nook under the windows.

We have some more work to do in here that we’ll be chronicling in the weeks to come, but the biggest project is out of the way. Up here anyway. I have a new built-in project brewing in the dining room!

Thanks for sticking it out through three long posts about this project. It was a ton of fun and I can’t believe how well it turned out. If you’ve got any questions about the kit or how to do it, hit me up in the comments and I’ll offer the full range of my experience of having built a Murphy bed exactly one time.

Here are a few last pictures of the finished product, and some before/afters of the room — which is definitely not finished yet. More to come in that department.

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