Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Father’s Triple Bunk Bed Plans; 50th Anniversary

It was 1963 and with six kids (five of them boys all in a row), dad and mom decided that a triple bunk bed was the answer to our overcrowded bedroom. Dad built the thing being armed with his own triple bunk bed plans and a few simple tools.  I am sure that he got the basic idea from his times aboard naval transport ships during MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign in the 2nd World War, but how he came up with the actual design will always be a mystery.

I will say that the plan for triple bunk beds elicited far greater enthusiasm than our burr haircuts did. Dad was a much better military barber than a furniture designer but he still built us an amazing bed. No one else I knew had anything like it and and my friends were envious. Even if it did not qualify as one of the wonders of the ancient world, it was absolutely kid-cool. What it lacked in safety features and structural integrity, it made up for in novelty.

My best Rendition of my Father’s Triple Bunk Bed Plans (do not try this at home).

The posts were made of 2-2x4s face joined with framing nails (no screws were ever involved in the bed’s construction). He made it with ladder ends similar to triple bunk plans that we now make available. The ladder was made from 1 ½” diameter closet poles that were sunk into the posts with the old-school cordless drill - a bit and brace. I still remember those closet poles flexing when I stepped on them on the way up to Joe’s bed which was on the top. They never broke and I never worried because dad built it, so I knew it must be alright.

The thing that most disturbs me now is the way he built the mattress platforms. First of all, the bed was not as wide as a standard bed, it was only 32 inches which is the size of the hollow-core door slabs that made the mattress foundations. These were fastened to the bottom of the bed rails with framing nails. After a few years and a lot of growing kid activity, the nails began to pull loose. While resting in bed the platform would sag enough that we would be face to face with exposed framing nails pulled loose from the bed rails (yikes!). Dad’s solution to this problem was to put more nails in it. (Screws would have been better but it was a still a fundamental design flaw). This reminds me of the old saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.

The mattresses consisted of cheap 4 inch slabs of foam that we bought from an upholstery factory. I remember going downtown with mom to get them. Mom covered the foam with sheets and they served pretty well for small kids.

As our family grew up and the older kids moved away, more bedroom space was available so dad cut the bottom bunk off and made it a standard bunk which my brother James and I used it until were 10 and 12. James, my younger brother, kept his considerable collection of used bubble gum stuck to the post for later use. The old white painted wonder went the way of all flesh (along with the gum collection) when dad had it hauled to the dump and James and I got a new bunk bed from Sears and Roebuck.

Despite its considerably flawed design and safety issues, we loved it. It was the coolest bed around and served our large family for years. Based on what I know it seems a little scary. Actually, it seems a lot scary. Times have certainly changed.

If a triple bunk bed is in your future, why not spend a few bucks and get a plan that you can count on for safety and structural integrity. If the $9.95 is really a burden, I invite you to contact me and I will see if I can help.

 Happy Father's Day to all fathers everywhere who are trying to do the right thing.


  1. Yes, your plans are much safer than these. We love our bed! You'll know when we need our next one because we'll buy your hardware kid again.

  2. Thanks, Tamsyn! This bunk was one that we had to keep tweaking and tweaking to get the design to meet all of the CPSC safety laws. We'll look forward to hearing from you again!