How to Build a Modern Cable Railing Bed | Building Plans + Video

Sunday, January 5, 2020 -
how to DIY free building plans queen wood metal wire cable stair railing

Remember a few weeks ago when I shared the waterfall edge plywood nightstands I made for my sister? (P.S. you can get the free building plans HERE) I mentioned that she was downsizing into a smaller home and needed new furniture to fit the new space. I told her I was happy to hook her up with a new bed to match her nightstands but the one catch is, she would have no say in the design. 

The truth is, we are thinking about using steel cable stair railing in our new house that we're building and I wanted to try it out on something smaller first. I absolutely love mixing materials like wood and steel together whenever I can, and if you've followed me for long you know I love integrating unexpected materials into my builds. I actually sketched up the design for a queen sized steel cable headboard several months ago and was originally going to save it for our new guest room. When my sister had a need for a new bed, I knew this is what I was going to build. I figured since this was going to sit in her new house and all, I could at least let her choose the color. White it is! 

I often have a sponsor or client paying for materials when I build a piece of furniture, but this one was a gift so I needed to make a few material decisions that would help stay under budget. Also, the fact that we were going to paint the wood led me to choose inexpensive framing lumber for the headboard and platform bed frame (4 x 4 posts, 2 x 4s and 2 x 3s). I'll say this, I've been using mostly plywood and hardwood lately and I've been a little spoiled. I forgot how rough and inconsistent framing lumber can be. My husband and I spent 6 hours ripping, planing, and flattening the boards to make them pretty enough to get that modern look I was going for, BUT the good news is, if you like a little more character in your wood or are going for that "farmhouse" look, you don't have to go through all that effort. 

FYI: I designed the plans to use standard dimensional lumber thickness (1-1/2") however, I did adjust the dimensions to work with slightly smaller 3" x 3" posts instead of off the shelf 4 x 4 posts. You can make 3" x 3" posts by laminating (gluing together) smaller boards, or even order them from a table leg supplier.  If you don't like those options or want to rip your posts down half an inch, you'll need to adjust some of the measurements on the plans. 

Materials List:

  • (2) 4 x 4 x 120" wood post (ripped to 3" x 3")
  • (1) 4 x 4 x 86" wood post (ripped to 3" x 3")
  • (3) 2 x 4 x 86" wood board
  • (11) 2 x 3 x 86" wood board
  • (1) 1/2" x 12" wood dowel
  • (2) 48" x 96" x 1/4" plywood sheet

*The hydraulic crimper is totally optional. There are several different types of cable connection hardware. Some require a swaging tool and some don't. The tool I used is pretty expensive ($100) but I saw it as a good investment sine we will use it with our stair railing. If you only need to install the cable on this bed, I'd recommend looking for a "swageless" option. 

Cut List:

  • (3) 4 x 4 @ 48" (one notched according to diagram)
  • (2) 4 x 4 @ 56" (both notched according to diagram) 
  • (2) 4 x 4 @10"

  • (1) 2 x 4 @ 56"
  • (2) 2 x 4 @ 78-1/2"

  • (2) 2 x 3 @ 75-1/2"
  • (9) 2 x 3 @ 55-1/2"
  • (2) 2 x 3 @ 9-5/8"

  • (2) 1/4" plywood @ 29" x 80" (notched according to diagram)

Check out the build video for the full details or keep scrolling for the building plans. 

1. Cut Legs and Half Lap Joints

Cut 4 x 4 headboard pieces and front legs to length. Using a circular saw, table saw, or  router, cut 3" wide, 1-1/2" deep notches or "half lap" joints in center leg and top and lower stretchers, following the diagram below. 

Whichever tool you choose to cut your joinery, make sure your blade is clean and sharp. Anytime I get a new saw, the first thing I do is upgrade the blade to a Diablo. If you watch the build video above, you'll see that I just scored my dream saw, a SawStop Jobsite Pro! It comes with a pretty good blade out of the box, but I swapped it for a Diablo 50-tooth combination 10" blade and I couldn't be happier! 

The Diablo 50-tooth blade cuts far cleaner and easier than any other blade I've tried. In addition to the super thin kerf (less wasted wood and less pressure pushing through the material) and non-stick coating, the blade features laser cut stabilization vents that help prevent deflection and vibration.

2. Assemble Headboard

Align the notched center leg within the half-lap joints of the stretchers. Apply glue to the joint area of leg and both stretchers. Clamp everything together and drive 2" finish nails to temporarily hold the pieces tightly while the glue dries.

As you build, it's important that you regularly check the assembly for square. I always have a speed square in my pocket while I'm working. If you asked me what tool was the MVP of this bed build, I'd easily say the new Husky Folding Framing Square

Yep. You heard me right. A folding speed square! And it's even better than it sounds. Husky just came out with a high quality, aluminum framing square that can extend from 6" to 12". When folded, the arm securely locks into the frame. It's like having two squares in one compact package!

Using a 1/4" drill bit, pre-drill through the outer back legs and into ends of the top and lower rail. Countersink the holes 1/2" deep using a 1/2" drill bit. Attach legs to stretchers using glue and 5" lag screws. Plug holes with a wood dowel and trim flush.

3. Install Cable Railing

Following manufacture's instructions, install five lengths of 1/8" diameter steel stair railing cables, 3-1/2" apart.  You can use whatever connectors and mounting hardware you'd like. 

4. Assemble Footboard

Align a 56" long  2 x 4 between two, 10" tall front feet. Allow a 1/4" set back or "reveal" from the front of the legs and the face of the front rail. Pre-drill through the outside of the front legs and into ends of the front rail. Countersink holes 1/2" deep using a 1/2" drill bit. Attach legs to rails using glue and 5" lag screws. Plug holes with a wood dowel and trim flush.

5. Assemble Mattress Support Frame

Align nine 1-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 55-1/2" slats between two 75-1/2" long runners. Pre-drill through the outside of the runners and into the ends of the slats. Secure in place using wood glue and 3" screws. 

Place side rails along frame. Allow rails to extend 1-1/2" on either end. Raise the rails 5/16" above
the frame, creating a small lip to allow for plywood. Secure using glue and 2-1/2" screws driven from the inside of the frame.

Center 2 x 3 x 9-5/8" inner support legs on the 3rd and 6th runners. Secure using 1/4" x 4" bolts, washers, and nuts. 

Optionally: The support legs can be made to swing upward to make moving and storing the frame easier. Secure only one bolt with a locking nut. Attach the second bolt with a wing nut. Remove the bolt and wing nut. Flip the legs up, parallel and flush to the slats and drill 1/4" hole on opposite end of leg and through the slats. Reinsert the second bolt and secure with wing nut. 

6. Add Bed Rail Hardware

Attach metal bed brackets to the inside face of side rails. Attach a bracket on both ends of each rail. 

7. Connect Frame to Headboard

Connect headboard assembly to the frame via metal bed brackets. The headboard will extend 1/4" wider on both sides. 

If you use the bed rail hardware I have listed in the materials list, you are going to need a set of wrenches to adjust the tension of the bolts. I've been using the Husky 270-piece mechanic's tool set and it has every type of wrench and socket I'll ever need. The 72-tooth ratchets need an only 5 arc swing to turn fasteners. That means they are perfect for tight spaces like between bed slats. The best part, the kit comes with a lifetime warranty. 

8. Connect Frame to Footboard

Connect footboard assembly to the frame via metal bed brackets.The top of rails should be flush to top of front legs.

9. Add Plywood Toppers

Place two 29" x 80" x 1/4" plywood sheets on top the mattress support frame. Using a jigsaw or hand saw, cut a 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" notch from the front two corners of each sheet. Drill 3" holes between the slats to allow for proper ventilation and air flow around the mattress. Secure the plywood in place using 1-1/4" screws driven from the top face of the plywood, down into the frame. 

10. Sand and Apply Finish

Sand the entire surface of the wood up to a 220 grit. Remove dust and apply whatever paint and/or finish you'd like. 

Throw your mattress in place and you're read for a slumber party!  

What do you think? I absolutely love it! 

I was originally a little bummed about painting all that douglas fir white, but seeing it all together I think it was the right way to go.

The white ties in perfectly with the white drawer fronts on her modern nightstands and I actually think it makes the stainless steel sparkle just a little bit.

I've built a couple beds before but this was the first one I invested in detachable bed rail hardware. Truth be told, it's way less expensive than I thought, it wasn't too hard to install and it's so convenient to be able to easily take the bed apart when my sister needs to move again. When a piece of furniture is held together with screws that are backed out and re-tightened multiple times, eventually those screw holes get stripped out and the construction isn't nearly as strong.

One of my biggest concerns when I design furniture it to make sure it will be just as functional as beautiful.

I was a little worried the railing wouldn't be strong enough to lean against when sitting up in bed, but I'm happy to say the cables are more than strong enough and have plenty of tension to comfortably support your back when sitting upright.

My husband was ridiculously helpful on this project and I think it's kinda adorable that his beanie matches my hair in this photo.

Ready to build your own queen sized modern steel cable bed? Feel free to pin the image below to save the idea for later. 

How to build a modern queen sized bed from cheap wood and install DIY cable stair railing

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