Most parents could use more storage options in their children’s bedrooms. Space there is at a premium and often time is spent cajoling children to find somewhere to put their toys, knickknacks and collections. One option that will certainly create more storage is to have a captain bed in there. A captain bed comes in various styles, with several options but essentially it is a bed that comes on a platform so that it can offer storage underneath, sometimes a trundle bed if you have sleepovers a lot, and where the headboard usually is you can have shelves or a bookcase. You could use it to give you more space for things there, or if the room is small you could have this bed and opt out of having a set of drawers in there to create more space for play.

Once captain beds were not well designed, were pricey and were not that comfortable to sleep in so they were not very popular. Today this has changed. As well as having a variety of designs and styles where you can buy a bed and assemble it yourself, there is also the option of looking at how to build a captain bed yourself. This is a great way to keep the cost down and make something you know is sturdy but it does take a certain level of DIY skill and knowledge. This article offers a step by step guide on how to build a captain bed.


  • Sandpaper – will need different grits between 60 and 220
  • Wood Glue
  • Screws, 5/8″, 2”, 11/2”, ¾”, 1”,
  • Finish nails, 2”, 1”,
  • Lumber – 3 x finished 2x6x8”, 2 x finished 1x12x72”, 2 x finished 1x12x96”, 2 x 2x4x8′, 1 x 2x4x10′,
  • 4 x 2x4x10′, 24 x 1x4x8′, 10 x 1x2x8′, 1x sanded ½” plywood 4×8 sheet, 1 x 1x6x10′,
  • Clear coat
  • Wood stain
  • Pre-stain wood conditioner
  • Metal corner braces x 4
  • Shelf brackets x 8
  • Joist hangers x 14
  • Drawer slides


Tools to build a captain's bed

  • Drill
  • Painting goods – brushes, rags, drop cloths
  • Sander
  • Hammer
  • Saw – Miter saw would be the best option but a circular is acceptable
  • Frame Clamp
  • Table saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Router or hand chisel
  • Vacuum

Step by step guide on how to build a captain’s bed

Step One – The legs

Decide on what height you want the bottom of the rails and then cut two pieces from the finished 1×6 lumber to that height, around 12 inches each for example. The other two legs cut about three and half inches longer. Using finishing nails and the wood glue attach 2 pieces together to make an L shape. Then do the same with the other two pieces and then put together to make a square. Use a frame clamp to ensure it is properly squared off. Cut off the excess wood using your hand or table saw. The rail will now be able to sit on the shorter sections.

Step Two – The Rails

rails If you are building the bed somewhere other than where it is going to stay you could just glue and nail opposite corners and use brackets for the others so that it can be easily taken apart when it is time to move it to the bedroom. Using the 2 x finished 1x12x72” and 2 x finished 1x12x96” cut the rails to whatever length and width the mattress is, adding an inch to each measurement. For example to build a captain bed that is queen size it is 60×80” plus the 1” means you are at 61×81”. When doing the foot and head rails make sure you keep in mind the side rails thickness also. So if your rail thickness is ¾” double that and add it to the foot and head rails. So from 61” you go to 62.5”. Be sure the nail heads are set, filled with wood filler and then you can sand them.

Step Three – Attaching the legs and rails

Position the legs and rails as if they are upside down and use the shelf brackets to attach, making sure the longer parts of the leg are inside the frame and shorter parts are on the rails. There is need for glue or nails, just screw the brackets in.

Step Four – The cleats

captains bed cleats

To hold the plywood on the edge of the bed and to keep the rails stiff we need to make the cleats. They need to be cut to fit in the space between the shelf brackets and then glued and screwed too attach them so they line up with the rails bottom. As your bed legs are 3.5” over the rails’ bottom this will give the plywood support at the corners. For the cleats on the joists the spacing should be at least 12” on center and then more like 8” when at the middle of the bed.

Step Five – The joists

Using the 2x4x10′ lumber measure your joists and cut them. If your rails are right then your joists should all be almost the same size. Using the 11/2” screws fix the hangers to the cleats to fix the joists. You may want to hold off on screwing the joists in if you need to move things later. Use a scrap piece of lumber from the 2×4 to make the the height of the joists in the hangers are in line with the cleats.

Step Six – Drawer frame

captains bed drawers

Put the 1x4s through your table saw to take off the chanfers and then give each pieces a good sanding. These will go together to make the frame for the drawers. You need to build the frame so that it does not touch the ground and fits inside the legs. Just make vertical blocks and then two pieces that are longer. Use 11/2” screws and wood glue for each joint and check your measurements to ensure that each drawer opening is the same size. On the center blacks measure for the drawer fronts thickness to make the doorstops. If using ½” ply and 1×2 ¾” thick for the front of the drawers for example you want the doorstops 11/4” in from the edge. Using 11/2” screws screw in the frames. Also build a false drawer for the front frame using 1×4 and 1×2 lumber and plywood. Put the plywood into the frame and create a look that mimics the look of the drawer fronts on the side.

Step seven – The drawers

Make sure the drawer frames have joists to stiffen them up using  the 1x4s and 11/2” screws. Using the table saw, the ½” sanded plywood and the 1x6x10′ for the drawer front you can now make the actual drawers. You can use rabeets, butt joints or biscuits with the back and sides being ½” plywood and the front being the 1×6. Use1” finish nails and wood glue to put the drawers together. Use a frame clamp to hold the pieces together as you assemble. This can be time consuming but eventually you will end up with 6 almost finished drawers. The drawer fronts should have a drawer pull slot that you can either use a mitre saw to create or more safely use a router or hand chisel. When attaching the fronts use place shims and 1” screws for the front middle and 11/2” screws for the edges. Before the drawers can go in make sure you buy drawer slides and follow their own instructions on how to install them.

Step eight – The headboard

Take the 1x4x8” wood and cut 10 to the same size as the width of the bed. Place them on the floor making sure they sit very closely together with the better sides facing down. Put 4 1x4s so that they are perpendicular to how the slat are placed ensuring 1 to 2′ hang over. Screw these on making sure the slats remain tight with little if any gap. Turn it over and nail a 1×2 piece so that it is lines with the top and then another piece lined with each side. On the top slat and 1×2 nail a 1×4 flat.

Step nine – Sanding and staining

This is now the time to sand everything down. While this is time consuming it is something that must be done. Use a vacuum to get all the dust off when you are done. Put on a pre-stain wood conditioner. Make sure the paint or stain you have chose is something you are happy with by testing it on the inside of a  rail. Follow the directions of the stain and apply. Then make sure you also give it all a clear coat. Several coats will lead to a better finish so be prepared to spend a few days on this.

Step ten – Move it and assemble!

captain bed final

When everything is stained you can now move it to the room it is going in and put it all together. Put on a piece of plywood on top of the joists and then you can put on your mattress. When put together well and using good quality materials this bed should last you for years. That is how to build a captain bed!