Building a Crib for my Son

When my wife and I started trying to get pregnant, I began designing a crib for my child to be. My rationale was simple: my wife would be providing everything that our child needed over the course of the pregnancy, and aside from caring for her, there wasn’t much that I could do to help the process along. The crib was a project that would keep me occupied, and would provide the child with a safe place to sleep throughout the early stages of its life.

I set about designing the piece in Fusion 360, referencing two YouTube videos for inspiration and checking my work against the Canadian regulations regarding crib design.

I sized everything around a mattress that we purchased from Toys R’ Us. After modelling its dimensions in Fusion 360, I could build the rest of the piece around it.

The design that I came up with was a simple affair with pleasant curves and clean lines:

A render of the 3D model that I built in Fusion 360 before starting the project

Once happy with the design, it was time to purchase the rough stock that I would mill down into the individual pieces that make up the finished crib. I chose red oak for the skeleton of the crib and poplar for the parts that would be painted white.

The rough cut stock for the project, stacked up in my shop before milling began

The Headboard and Foot Board

Each end of the crib is composed of an oak frame that surrounds a floating poplar panel. Because the panel isn’t glued into the frame, the boards that make it up are free to shrink and expand with seasonal changes in humidity.

I cut a dado along the centre of each oak piece. The dado stretches the entire length of the shorter pieces that make up the top and bottom of the frame, but on the longer pieces that make up the sides of the frame, the dado is stopped so that you can’t see it from the outside.

The oak pieces that make up the frame of each end of the crib. Shorter top and bottom pieces are on the left, while longer side pieces are on the right.

I cut a tenon that was sized to fit into the dado on the end of each of the shorter pieces. This allowed the top and bottom of each frame to slot into the sides that make up the legs of the crib. With the joinery cut, I used my band saw to cut a gentle curve along the frame tops, and dry fit the pieces to check my work.

One end of the crib dry fit with clamps. The frame is rotated 90 degrees to the left and is sitting on its side. The panels that make up the centre of the piece have not yet been installed.

Next, I began work on the shiplap boards that make up the centre panel of each end of the crib. I made these pieces out of poplar, a cheaper hardwood that takes paint well. Each shiplap board was cut on the table saw in four passes: Two to form the rabbets on each side, followed by two more to add the chamfered edges.

This is a diagram of the end of a single shiplap board. Multiple boards can be laid side by side, with their overlapping pieces interlocking to form a panel.

With the shiplap boards cut, I could slot them into my dry fit frame to make sure that the joinery was nice and snug. I think that the shiplap adds a pleasant detail to the otherwise smooth face of the end of the crib.

Four of the shiplap boards that make up the middle of one end of the crib fit into place

The Sides

With the headboard and foot board complete, I turned my attention to the sides of the crib. Each side was comprised of two long horizontal oak stretchers spanned by 13 vertical poplar bars. I cut a tenon on the end of each bar, and a corresponding mortise into each stretcher. Since there’s no such thing as a square drill bit, I used a chisel to square up each of the 52 holes.

I lost track of the hours that I spent cutting all of the joinery for the long sides of the crib. While they were certainly less complicated than the ends, the joinery was far more time consuming.
One side of the crib dry fit together after all of the chiselling was completed

The Mattress Support

The final component of the build was the platform that supports the mattress. It’s a simple oak frame with a 3/4″ slab of MDF that sits inside of it.

This frame is really heavy. It turns out that Medium Density Fibreboard is super dense stuff. I’d hate to have to move a sheet of 3/4″ High Density Fibreboard!

My wife and I wanted the crib to be adjustable, with a high position that would be used until our child could sit up, and a low position that would be used thereafter.

When I built the mattress support frame, I opted to strengthen the joinery with wood screws, thinking that they would be hidden by the bottom stretcher of each side of the crib when it was assembled. Unfortunately, I neglected to think about where the frame would sit when in the high position, leaving the screws visible in the final build. Ideally, I would have built the frame the other way round, with the short ends overlapping the long ones so that the screws would always be hidden regardless of the height of the frame.

Dry Fitting the Pieces

To affix all of the pieces of the crib to one another, I opted to use threaded brass inserts and countersunk brass screws. This construction means that I can take the entire crib to pieces with nothing but a large flat head screwdriver, making it relatively easy to transport and to store once our child has outgrown it.

In a previous post, I wrote about the technique that I learned for driving the threaded brass inserts home. Even after I figured that out, accurately positioning the inserts so that they lined up with the holes that I drilled in the corresponding piece remained a huge challenge. I spent a lot of time locating and tuning these holes so that everything would line up at assembly time.

The first assembly of the crib with fasteners in place. None of the pieces have been glued together just yet, so the clamps are holding the headboard and foot board together.

While building the crib, I was also renovating the room that would become our child’s nursery. This turned out to be an equally big job that deserves its own post. Suffice it to say that I bit off more than I could chew, and didn’t manage to get all of the major components of the crib dry fit together until the day before our son was born. Thankfully, friends of ours gave us a bassinet that he slept in until I was able to finish the project.

Finish and Paint

Because of the way that the naturally finished oak and the painted poplar pieces were arranged in this build, I opted to wait until finishing was complete before gluing and of the parts together.

I used my trim router to add a 1/8″ round over to all of the parts that little fingers might be able to touch, and then sanded all of the pieces to 220 grit. Next, all of the poplar pieces were laid out on sawhorses and painted white.

The bars of the crib between coats from a rattle can

My goal was to end up with a smooth paint job, reminiscent of something that you might buy commercially. I started off using spray paint, repeatedly applying thin coats and lightly sanding between each. Although this technique worked, it seemed quite wasteful, so I switched to brushing paint on when it came time to do the shiplap. I still tried to keep my coats thin and sanded between each. Ultimately, I ended up with a smooth, almost plastic finish on all of the white painted pieces.

Once the white paint was dry, I glued everything together, and then set about finishing the oak. For this project, I opted to try Osmo Polyx-Oil satin finish. I started out applying it with a paint brush, but wasn’t happy with the number of drips and sags that I was getting, so I switched to applying it with a rag, rubbing it into the wood in the same way that you might apply furniture wax. This ensured a smooth, even coat, and left the oak feeling natural to the touch.

The two long sides of the crib with a wet coat of Osmo Polyx-Oil on the oak stretchers

Installation

By the time the crib was finally ready to be moved into our son’s room, it was the first week of November, nearly two and a half months after he was born.

Assembling the crib in my son’s nursery

Thanks to the threaded inserts and brass screws, installation was a snap. The finished crib is really heavy, and requires two people to move, so it’s a good thing that it can be easily taken to pieces.

The finished piece looks great in the corner of my son’s room. It’s far and away the nicest piece of furniture that I’ve built to date, and the fact that it was built with love for my son makes it all that much better.

Our boy trying out his new bed for the very first time ❤️

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