Designed to ease a child’s transition from a crib to a regular bed, toddler beds always seemed unnecessary to me. I planned to move my daughter directly into a regular bed equipped with removable rails — until I realized that her room was too small to accommodate even a twin-size mattress. Suddenly a toddler bed looked like a good way to put off shuffling room assignments.
This cute and practical toddler bed evolves with your family. As kids grow up, it converts to a bookcase.
Rather than settle for one of the manufactured models that my daughter would soon outgrow and cost as much as $500, I designed a toddler bed with a future. Simply by removing the rails, I can convert the bed into a bookcase that our family can use in practically any room.
I built the bed in a couple of weekends using a table saw, a router and a drill/driver. The total cost, including Baltic birch plywood, solid birch, fasteners and paint, was about $120.
Make the parts
Start by cutting all of the plywood parts to the sizes noted in the cutting list. All of the corners that might get bumped are rounded to a 1-in. radius (see drawings in the PDF below). The fastest and most consistent way to cut these radii is with a template and router with a flush-trim template bit (see photo 1) that features an upper or top-mounted bearing.
Use a 1-in.-radius corner template and a router with a flush-trim template bit to round the corners of the headboard, rails and sides. Attach rails to the sides of the template to register it on the workpieces.
After you’ve rounded all of the corners, replace the template bit with a 1/8-in. roundover bit and round over all of the edges that will be exposed. Leave the edges that will butt against or join to other parts square.
Next, cut the solid-wood rail supports to length, and round over the long edges with the router and 1/8-in. roundover bit. The rails will be secured in notches that are cut in each rail support. To cut these notches using a table saw, set the blade height to 1/4 in. and use a sliding miter gauge to make several crosscut passes (photo 2). Then sand all of the faces and edges smooth before beginning assembly.
Cut the notches in the rail supports with a table saw. Set the blade height to 1/4 in. Use a sliding miter gauge to keep the rail supports perpendicular to the blade. Make several passes to “nibble” out the notches.
Assemble the base
Instead of using screws to fasten the case parts, I chose to use Miller Dowels. These stepped dowels create a strong joint, and because they are wood, they don’t need to be concealed with plugs.
Mark the shelf locations on the inside faces of both sides. Assemble the sides and shelves on a flat surface with the front edges up and the back edges flat on the work surface. Secure the top and bottom shelves with 1x-size Miller Dowels and then secure the middle shelves with Mini-x Miller Dowels. To secure each shelf (photos 3), clamp it between the sides, drill the hole with the Miller TruFit bit that corresponds to the dowel size, apply glue to the dowel and tap it in. Remove the clamps after the shelves are secure; then trim and sand the dowels flush with the surface.
Drill three dowel holes for each shelf. Drive the stepped drill bit through the side and into the center of the shelf. Apply glue to the dowel, insert it into the hole and tap it with a mallet or hammer until it seats.
Next, attach the bed support to sides and shelves with Mini-X Miller Dowels. Clamp the bed support to the sides and shelf assembly, making sure the side edges are flush and the bottom edges of the sides are flush with the bottom edge of the bed support. Install Miller Dowels every 10 to 12 in. along the sides and along the top and bottom shelves (photo 4).
Attach the bed support (also the bookcase back) to the sides and shelves. Make sure the sides and shelves are square and flush with the edges of the bed support before clamping and installing the dowels.
The rails and headboard are supported by posts that fit through 3/4 x 1-1/4-in. slots in the bed support and are fastened to the inside of the sides with machine screws. Mark the locations of the slots on the bed support. Then use a router, a 1/2-in.-dia. flush-trim template bit and a template (see drawings for template layout) to cut the slots (photo 6). You can also cut these slots by drilling pilot holes at each end of the slot and using a jigsaw to cut the sides and square off the slots.
Clamp the template to the bed support, drill a 1/2-in.-dia. pilot hole for the template bit and then cut the slot with the router and flush-trim template bit. Use a rail support to position the template for the third slot along the sides.
Finish and assemble the rails
Use Mini-X dowels to assemble the full side rail and book pocket. Because the book pocket is positioned away from the edges of the full side rail, it is important to take extra care when positioning the book pocket and determining where to drill the dowel holes.
I waited to attach the rails to the rail supports until after I had applied the finishes because I planned to paint only the rails and simply apply clear finish to the rail supports and the base. You can finish and embellish the bed to suit any decor — use different colors of paint or stain, use stencils to paint the child’s name or a favorite phrase on the rails, apply patterned or textured wallpaper to the rails, or even upholster the headboard and rails with fabric and batting.
Whatever finish you choose, look for low-VOC formulas to limit off-gassing (the release of fumes during and after curing). Before you begin application, sand all of the parts smooth, and clean off all dust. Next, mask off the areas of the rail supports and rails that will be joined with glue. I applied three coats of water-base polyurethane to the base assembly and rail supports and then applied one coat of primer and two coats of latex paint to the rails.
After the finishes are dry, slide the rails into position and drill pilot holes for the machine screws that secure the rail and headboard supports (photo 7). Drill one 3/16-in.-dia. hole 2 in. from the bottom edge and centered across each rail support. Fasten each rail to the bed with a No. 8 x 32 x 2-in. flat head machine screw, finishing washer, flat washer and wing nut. The headboard supports each require a filler board to fill the gap between the support and the bottom shelf. Fasten the headboard supports and filler boards to the bottom shelf with two No. 8 x 32 x 3-in. round head machine screws.
Slide the supports into place. Clamp the support perpendicular to the bed support. Drill a pilot hole through the side and rail support. Fasten the rail support to the side with a flathead machine screw and wing nut.
The final step before moving the bed into the child’s room is to attach the rails and headboard to the supports. Apply glue to the mating surfaces, clamp them together and secure them with No. 8 x 1-1/4-in. flathead machine screws, finish washers, flat washers and locknuts (photo 8). This screw length keeps the threaded screw end just below the rounded top of the locknut to prevent the screws from catching on fabric or scratching skin. This project works well both as a toddler bed and as a bookcase. If you don’t need a toddler bed, building the bookcase is easy: Just leave out the rail construction and cut the rail-support holes. When using the bookcase (especially in a child’s room or in an earthquake zone), anchor the top edge to the wall to prevent tipping.
After seeing my daughter climb up on the bed for the first time, I must admit that I underestimated the piece’s appeal. Even if I didn’t plan to get years of use out of the bookcase, the project would have been worth building just to see her proud smile when we tucked her into her little “big-girl” bed.
Glue and clamp the rails to the rail supports. Drill a 3/16-in.-dia. pilot hole through the rail and support. Fasten the rail to the support with flathead machine screws and locknuts.