Alex's Loft Bed Made From PVC Water Pipe
Update April, 2014
A LOT of people seem to
like this bed design and many have built it, modified it, and sent me
pictures. I'll try to post more of them soon.
I am often asked about
how much weight the bed can safely support. I can't give you a
definitive answer, but my experience is that my son's bed routinely
handles over 300 lbs and has never had a problem. By that I mean
there has NEVER been a cracked or broken pipe anywhere in the
bed. That said, PVC pipe is not intended to be structural, it is
intended to carry water, so the manufacturers of the pipe do not
provide any specs relating to mechanical/structural strength. If
you build a structural object out of PVC pipe you're on your own as far
as the structural integrity goes. That didn't stop me and you
shouldn't let it stop you.
When Alex was 3 years old I decided to give him a little extra room in his bedroom by building him a loft bed with a lot of play room underneath. I had been using PVC pipe for other projects and thought it would be good for this one, too, so I made some measurements of PVC pipe fittings and created some 3D CAD models so I could construct the whole thing in the computer before ever cutting a piece of pipe.
PVC pipe is great stuff to work with. You can get it at any home supply store, it is cheap, strong, easy to cut, fast to glue, and there are enough standard fittings that you can make almost anything. There's no need to be particularly accurate or precise when cutting, and the fittings provide accurate 90 degree angle joints. The only tools you need are a tape measure, almost any kind of saw, and a rubber mallet. A drill comes in handy, too.
First I measured his mattress and figured out how big the mattress platform needed to be. I also had to figure out how he was going to climb up into the bed- a ladder, of course!
In the end, here's what I came up with (click the picture for a larger image):
So far the loft bed plans have been used to make two beds- my son's and my nephew's. My brother built the bed using my plans and everything worked out exactly as expected (though he left out the middle bar on the railing). I'd post a photo of Alex's bed but his room is so messy it's embarrassing. A photo my nephew's bed (made by my brother using my plans) has been on the web (here) for about a year and I've had about fifty requests for plans to duplicate it. I was hoping to get $10 for a set of plans, but so far everyone who has asked for the plans balked at the price, so I have decided to make the full set of plans available here, free. Don't say I never did anything nice for you! If you build the bed please send me an email and a photo and I'll post it here.
update October 2007:
Finally, after emails from about a hundred people about the bed I have a photo from someone who has built it!
Here's a bed that was made by Stacey S. and her son using these plans. Like my brother, she decided to leave out the middle rail.
Update August 2008:
I finally took a good picture of Alex's bed. Yes, here it is, the original! Note that I have raised the bed height because we moved to a place with higher ceilings. The ladder now has one rung more than shown on the assembly drawing. The vertical support pipes are now about 51 1/4" long and I wouldn't recommend going any higher. The bed starts to get pretty wobbly when they get that long.
The structural part of the bed frame is made entirely from 2" schedule 40 PVC water
pipe and fittings. The railing is made from 1 1/2" schedule 40 pipe.
I put a few pine boards on the mattress platform to support the mattress instead
of using a box spring. Unless you have high ceilings, you'll want to do
Tips on building the bed:
When you buy the fittings and pipe, buy a couple extra of each piece. You can return the extras when the project is finished. Nothing is more frustrating than making a mistake and having to make another run to Home Depot just before closing time so you can buy one lousy elbow or T.
I made the bed in sections then connected them together. The subassemblies correspond to the assembly drawings (see links below). I made them in this order- base, mattress platform, ladder, railing.
Cut the pipe pieces, then dry-fit everything before applying any glue. This is where the rubber mallet comes in handy! You will need the mallet to get the pieces apart after dry-fitting. Apply a little thought to the assembly sequence. I found for example, that the best way to make the ladder was to first glue a T to the end of a rung, then glue the other T to the other end of the same rung. How do you assure that the two T's will be aligned? When gluing the second T to the rung, quickly position it as close as you can by eyeball, then press it against the floor so that it will rotate into alignment with the other T. The glue sets in a matter of seconds, so time is of the essence! Once the rungs and T's are assembled, you can add the vertical pieces.
The same sort of process is used throughout the bed construction.
PVC pipe usually has some red or black ink markings on it. You can clean the ink off by wiping the pipe with a rag dampened with acetone. Clean off the ink before you glue the pipes together!
I left the main vertical supports unglued so I could take the bed apart easily to move it. It is a good idea to drive a single screw through the fittings and pipes at any unglued connection to ensure that they can't come apart.
The plans consist of shopping/cutting list that you can take to the store and five drawings showing how the parts fit together. Here they are:
THE SHOPPING LIST - Print it out and take it with you to the store. You can check off the items as you fill your cart.
THE CUTTING LIST - note: the lengths of pipe pieces on the shopping list are longer than the dimensions shown on the drawings. The drawing dimensions show the exposed part of the pipe and don't include the ends that are hidden inside the fittings.
ASSEMBLY DRAWINGS - These will show you how the pieces go together. Duh!
If you want to make a bunk bed, you just make 2 mattress platforms, add another rung or two to the ladder and you're good to go (you're going to need high ceilings):
Update July 30, 2009:
Joe "Nitro Joe" Higgs built a bunk bed based on my plans and sent me a photo. Click the image below to see a larger image. Joe has a pretty good science web site with lots of science demos for kids. Check it out here: http://www.nitrojoe.org/1.html Thanks Nitro Joe!
Update: Dec 23rd, 2011 (Happy Festivus!)
Ben W sent me a photo of the bed he built for his son/daughter:
You can send email to me here: