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Would You, Could You Build a Headboard? Yes, We Could – and We Did!

I keep trying to figure out how we are so incredibly busy during a time when everyone is supposed to be staying home and chilling out. But we are more busy now than we are under normal circumstances. It’s kind of nuts actually. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, we moved our daughter to Nashville. Our youngest is on her own, two states away. For most families, having a child move out is a mix of emotions. On one hand, you are delighted to see her growing and prospering and building a life as an adult. On the other hand are the sadness and longing for the days when you were the center of her world.

Then comes the chaos. Some of you know what I mean. That force that seems to take over the whole house as your kids pack up their entire lives and try to fit the pieces and parts into boxes. Lots of boxes. That pop up everywhere and have you tripping over them in the middle of the night.

And what about furniture? Do they bring what they have from their bedrooms? Or do they buy new furniture that is perhaps more appropriate for an adult than a child or a teenager? And who is going to pay for all of that stuff? Do you? Do they? Do you split it? Endless, endless questions.

Kassidy is an engineer. So she created a spreadsheet, then a budget. We weren’t so fancy. When she went shopping, I said, “I’m paying for this, you’re paying for that. Don’t argue. Your father and I already discussed this.” I’m the mom. I get to make those decisions. At least for now.

The bed was a huge decision. The headboards she found were boring, lacking in the simplicity that she wanted. After hours of scouring the internet, we were no closer to finding what she was looking for.

On top of that, given that Kassidy works from home, she also needed a desk. Her childhood desk would not do, as it was more teenager-ish in terms of style, and wasn’t big enough for the multitude of computer gear necessary for her job. But anything that was of decent quality and did not look like her grandparents might have chosen it (sorry, Grandma) was way too expensive. By hundreds of dollars.

We can do this ourselves, right?

So she and I decided on a mother-daughter project. Jeff and I had constructed a curtain rod out of industrial pipe. How much harder could a headboard and a desk be?

Turns out, not that hard. In fact, the most difficult part was the trip to Home Depot, where the very experienced and oh-so-patient staff in the lumber and pipe fitting sections clearly thought we had lost our minds. Probably because we came armed with a pencil and an engineer-style drawing.

We were in there for two hours. I know those nice men thought we were nuts as we walked back and forth, towing a flatbed cart stacked with wood.

DIY Headboard

Let’s start with the headboard for this post. We’ll break down the desk separately, as the process was way more complex. The wood is the trickiest decision, and depends on both your budget and the look you want. 

You can modify this for whatever type of wood you prefer, but we were on a budget. Shiplap is lightweight but sturdy, has a beautiful wood grain, the pieces fit together in a tongue-and-groove style, and it’s not overly expensive.

Here is what you need:

  • 6 1×6” shiplap, cut to 66” each
  • 2 1×4” boards, cut to 54” (This might vary depending on the height of your mattress. The bottom of Kassidy’s headboard was 21” from the floor – the distance from the floor to the top of her mattress. Measure yours TWICE before cutting.)
  • 1 1×4” board, cut to 35”
  • 12 1×1 ¼” wood screws (buy a few extra, trust me)
  • Sandpaper or a small, hand sander with medium weight sandpaper
  • Wood stain of your choice
  • Latex gloves to protect your hands
  • Small pieces of cotton cloth to use for staining (Never use a paintbrush to stain! It will not go on smoothly.)
  • Varnish (we chose a water-based varnish because it cleans up easier and dries more quickly)
  • A clean average sized paintbrush
  • 3 heavy duty Command strips by 3M

Tools:

  • A drill with both wood and screwdriver drill bits
  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • Vice grips (for when you accidentally strip the screws and have to get them back out of the hole you made)

Sand the wood

Step 1: Even though the shiplap is smooth, you want to lightly sand the front and the back to remove any stray scratches or marks, and to smooth out rough edges. Remember, this is going to be your headboard, so you don’t want it to snag your linens or anything else. Sanding takes a little extra time, but is well worth it. 

Step 2: Wipe down the wood with a damp cloth to remove any excess sawdust or dirt. Either will make your stain less smooth, and wreak havoc with your varnish.

Stain it

Step 3: Lay the shiplap flat, on a clean sheet of newspaper. Shake the stain to ensure it is mixed thoroughly, then open it using a flat head screwdriver. Put on the gloves and wrap a piece of cotton cloth around your index and middle fingers. Dip them into the stain, and carefully smooth the stain on the wood, working with the grain. This should go on pretty quickly, but keep the coat even, with no drops or splotches. Be sure to wiggle the cloth into any knots in the wood, so the neutral color of the shiplap does not show through.

Completely coat one side and ONE end, moving each piece to the side to dry, and setting in on the NON-stained end. 

Let the wood dry completely, around 2 hours. Then, repeat, adding a second coat.

Step 4: After the second coat is dry, flip the wood over and repeat the process on the other side and the remaining unstained end.

Varnish it

Step 5: Now is when you varnish. Why varnish the wood? Because varnish protects the wood from scratches & stains, and gives you a smooth finish. Do you have to complete this step? No, but why build something and not protect it?

Open the lid of the varnish and gently STIR. Do not SHAKE a can of varnish – ever. Shaking produces bubbles, which transfers to your wood, which you then need to sand out. You then have to re-stain and, well, you get the idea. Stir.

Great product! Worked exactly as described!

Using the paintbrush, apply the varnish smoothly, in long strokes, again working with the grain of the wood. As with the stain, varnish only one end so you can stand the wood upright to dry. 

Drying will take at least 2 hours. We gave it 3, just to be sure.

Follow the same process as with the stain – let dry & repeat – but this time, apply 3 coats instead of 2. You want a nice layer of protection on that wood. Then flip the wood over and varnish the other side.

Finished boards

NOTE:  Don’t forget to stain and varnish the 1×4 boards, too. You want everything to be uniform in color, even though those boards are going on the back. The bottom sections will drop below the headboard as ‘legs’, and they should match.

Place the ‘legs’

Step 6: Once all the wood is stained and varnished, and the final coat is completely dry (I’d wait overnight for that, just because I was highly paranoid about messing it up.), lay the shiplap out on a large blanket or other soft covering (why risk scratches?) and fit the pieces together. Be sure they are fully locked in, because there will be a tendency for them to shift as you begin to assemble.

Locate the center of the top board by measuring 33” from the outer edge. Mark that spot at the bottom. Measure and mark the 33” spot at the bottom, too. Lay the 35” 1×4 down the middle, with the center of the board over the two marks you made. Does this have to be absolutely perfect? No. But you want to try for a centered board both for sturdiness and aesthetics. 

Once the board is in place, mark the board where it centers over each piece of shiplap. This is where you are going to pre-drill the holes for the screws, and you need one mark for each piece of shiplap in order to secure the center board to it.

Decide where you want the longer ‘legs’ to line up, and repeat the process. This time, accuracy does matter, as the legs need to be the same distance from the bottom of the headboard to the floor. Otherwise, the legs will be unbalanced and wobbly. We placed the boards ½” from the top of the headboard, and flush with each outer edge.

We ended up with the center board a little longer than we planned, but it didn’t matter.

Once you have marked your spots, you can pre-drill the holes in the 1×4’s using a drill bit that is one size smaller than your wood screws. Kassidy and I had no idea what sizes the bits were, so we eyeballed it and were fine. Just don’t drill into the floor! We used a tailgate table (because we aren’t equipped with sawhorses and such around here), and clamped down one end at a time, then flipped it to drill the final holes. You could lay the boards across a garbage can if you had to – anything that doesn’t have a surface underneath.

To assemble or not to assemble, that was the question

This is the point where we took a break. We had come this far in our garage in Ohio, but needed to move Kassidy to Tennessee. If we assembled the headboard at home, how would we get it down there? Assembled, that headboard is BIG.

In the end, we did not want to risk breaking the headboard by transporting it whole, so we rolled the wood in blankets for packing. This went off to the side, with nothing else on it, as the shiplap is sturdy, but not meant to hold weight. Again, there was a healthy dose of paranoia involved here, but that’s just us!

Assembling the headboard

Step 7: Once we had everything unloaded into the apartment and put together the bed frame, it was time to construct the headboard.

We lay the boards face down (shiplap has a grooved front), and fit the pieces together. Beginning with the center, we lined the boards up with the marks we made earlier. Then, using a screwdriver bit on the drill, we screwed in the wood screws, working from the top down in order to ensure that the boards did not separate. They want to pull apart, so you need to constantly check that they are fitted tightly together.

BE CAREFUL! If you drill the screws in too deeply, they will poke through the front of the shiplap. You want the heads of the screws to be flush with the top of the board.

Repeat the process with the two ‘legs’, again working from the top down.

Affix to the wall

Step 8: Once the headboard was fully assembled, we lifted it carefully into place at the head of the bed. We checked to make sure it was centered, and that the bed was in place where we wanted it. The final step was to affix a 3M Command strip to each board and press them securely into the wall. This ensured the headboard was stable without drilling holes in the apartment walls.

That’s it!

Our cost breakdown

  • Shiplap: $42.00
  • 1×4 boards: $4.00
  • Wood screws: $4.00
  • Wood stain: $9.00
  • Wood varnish: $17.00
  • Command strips: $8.00

Total cost – $84.00!

No way could you buy a custom headboard for that price!

Kassidy is thrilled, as we used the same stain for the desk I’ll show you later this week. Everything matches perfectly. We also have a sense of pride and accomplishment at tackling something we had never even thought to try before. And she and I did it all together.

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