Canadian Woodworking


Author: David Voth
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June July 2005

Waterbeds have come a long way since they were popular in the 1970’s. They are available in all kinds of configurations, from a full-motion to a semi or full-motionless.

Waterbeds have come a long way since they were popular in the 1970’s. They are available in all kinds of configurations, from a full-motion to a semi or full-motionless. All are available in a soft side (similar to a regular mattress with no box necessary) or a hard side (where you need a box to contain the mattress).

Many claim that the heated waterbed and equal distribution of body weight alleviates back pain and arthritis. Others find that the vinyl waterfilled mattress resists a build-up of dust-mites which provides one less source of dust for allergy and asthma sufferers.

As long time owners we are still enjoying ours after 20 years for its comfort, durability, and low maintenance. In fact we are so happy with ours that we decided to build this one for our 13 year old son who had out-grown his youth bed.

For this project we used wood from a large white birch on our cottage property that had died. We elected for a hard side version, in a ‘super single’ size (48″ x 84″). Although it is largely hidden, the most important part of the bed is its support box, which bolsters the heavy mattress. We incorporated drawers into the support box, and kept the height of the bed a little lower than a conventional bed so it is easier to get in and out.

Support Box

The support box is constructed of solid birch for the drawer frames and ends, and 2″ x 10″ spruce for the interior blocking. I made the drawer frames from 1 ½” stock. As an economical alternative you could use thinner stock, but don’t use anything under ¾”. If you use smaller stock you’ll need to use a small filler piece when attaching the guides for the drawers. Assemble the frame using 3″ countersunk screws and glue. I used pocket hole joinery to attach the ends to the drawer frames. I attached the spruce blocking to the ends and drawer frame using pocket holes. I also toe-screwed the blocking to the drawer frame. To avoid splitting the wood, pre-drill before setting your screws. I did not use any glue on this part of the assembly.


There are 6 drawers in this project, all having the same dimensions. I used half-blind dovetail joints to join the sides to the front and back, and then added a decorative false front. All the drawer parts are solid birch, except for the bottoms, which are birch ply. I opted for standard kitchen slides with a white baked enamel finish.

Head and Footboards

Although more decorative than structural, the head and footboards do serve to attach the sideboards and hold the mattress in at the ends. An alternative is to build a box that sits on the drawer box. While simpler, this method is also much plainer. If you do opt for the head and footboards, you can build them simultaneously, as the construction process is the same. The only difference is that the headboard is 40″ high and the footboard is 28″ high.

Begin by gluing together 2 pieces of 1 ¾” x 3″ stock for each leg. When the glue has dried, plane each leg down to 3″ x 3″. Chamfer the tops of the legs at a 45º angle. I used a mitre saw, but you could also use a table saw, stationary sander, or router. Sand to remove sharp edges. On each leg you’ll need to cut a ½” dado that will house the head and footboards. For a decorative effect, I routed three grooved lines on the faces of the legs that are visible, and painted the lines black. Once the paint dried a light sanding removed any paint outside the lines.

The panel between the legs consists of a top curved rail, nine slats, and a bottom rail. Cut the two curved top rails a little longer; later you’ll trim these to fit. I cut the top rails with a band saw; you could also use a jigsaw. Sand the inner and outer part of the curve with a drum or spindle sander to eliminate saw marks and any undulations in the curve. Next, cut the slats for the frames. Layout the location of each against the top and bottom rails, ensuring that the widest two are on the outside.

Align the curved top rail against the legs. Clamp if necessary, and mark on each slat the profile of the top rail, and the position of the slats on the bottom rail. Use the bandsaw to cut the profile at the top of the slats. Check the slats against the top rail and, as necessary, sand the top of each slat to get a perfect fit. Mark where the top rail extends past the outside slats and trim so it is flush with the sides. Clamp and glue the slats to the top and bottom rails using biscuits and glue (alternately use dowels or mortises and tenons). Ensure that each slat is 90º to the rails. When the glue is dry, rout ½” tenons to fit into the dadoes of the legs. Ensure that the ends of the curved top rail meet just below the chamfered top part of the leg. Glue the panel to the legs. Finally, add metal bed rail fasteners on the inside of the head and footboards.

Cut and sand the two side rails. Chamfer the top edges so when getting in and out of the bed there is a softer edge. Rabbet a groove along the inside bottom of both rails to accept the plywood base. This ensures that it will not be seen when set up. Cut off about 3″ of one corner (of the plywood base) at 45º for the heater cable. To finish the bed I used a clear water-based polyurethane.


Do a trial set-up, because once you have filled the mattress with water it is impossible to move the bed without draining most of the water. Place the support box a couple of feet from each wall. Put the plywood base on top, and centre it on the box. Secure with a few screws so the plywood does not move. Attach the side rails to either head or footboard and position the rails over the base so the dadoed side of the rails rest on the plywood base. Attach the head or footboard at the other end, and do any final positioning of the bed. Install the heater according to the manufacturer’s instructions and position the thermostat at an accessible and convenient location, usually on the side rail close to the headboard. Add the liner according to instructions, around the inside edge of the frame. Position the mattress so the filler port is at the foot end and slowly fill with water, ensuring that the liner does not come off. Burp air from the mattress and top up with water as necessary. Add water conditioner and adjust the heat comfort level. Kick off your shoes, and enjoy.

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