For highlights of this project, watch the video!
In case you haven’t been following along, here’s a recap of the Murphy Bed series thus far. The first post covered an overview of the project and some things to consider for choosing the type of DIY Murphy bed, which you can read here, and the second post went into detail about step 1: preparing the cabinet components which took a few days to get done, between getting the materials, cutting all the wood, edging, sanding, and staining (read more about that here). Now comes the fun part of actually mounting the lift mechanism for the bed and assembling the cabinet.
Tip: While it’s not impossible to do this alone, I would highly recommend getting a helper, preferably someone who is comfortable lifting heavy things.
As I mentioned in my first post, I chose to go with a Murphy bed hardware kit from murphybeddepot.com that comes with all the hardware for the lifting mechanism and the frame for the bed. The instructions say to assemble the cabinet first but I chose to begin with assembling the front panel, which is where the mattress will sit.
The cabinet plans called for having 4 pieces of plywood for the front panel but when I cut the plywood components, I made a slight change to the plans so I would have two pieces of plywood instead of four to have less joints on the front.
Before starting to screw the frames in place, I made sure that the panels were perfectly joined and square. It’s crucial for every component of the cabinet to be square, otherwise, the front panel will not be able to move up and down as designed. I also made sure that the metal frame was centered as per the instructions – this may vary depending on the kit you use. This step is fairly simple, just tedious as there are a lot of screws to put in.
Next I mounted the lift mechanism to the side panels of the cabinet.
The specifics of this step will vary depending on the hardware kit you use but the process will be essentially the same. The holes have to be in a precise location to match the holes in the lift mechanism so here again, precision is key. Some kits provide a template to mark the holes but since this kit didn’t provide one, I measured and marked the location of each hole.
The instructions recommend starting by drilling a small pilot hole before making the hole bigger for the bolts – this helps to ensure the holes are in the right spot. I tried to do this in both side panels at once by stacking them on top of each other and it worked but I wouldn’t recommend doing this because it’s very difficult to keep the drill bit 100% straight and even a minute shift in the location of the pilot hole will cause the holes to not line up.
Then I used a countersink drill bit to make cavities so that the head of the bolts can sit flush with the outside surface of the side panels.
Tip: Make sure you read the instructions many times before starting and make a list of all the tools you will need ahead of time so you have them on hand once you start putting the cabinet together. It will save you from having to make an impromptu trip to the hardware like I had to do when I realized I didn’t have the right sized countersink bit!
The next step was to use nuts and bolts to attach the lift mechanism to the side panels. It’s a bit tricky to line up all the holes so I started by putting in one bolt very loosely and then fitting all the other, one by one, loosely at first. That made it easy to make small adjustments so they all fit it. Then I tightened the bolts – a wrench was handy to hold the nut while I used the drill to tighten the bolt.
Then it was time to add more springs – this part was somewhat frustrating because some of the springs went in very easily while others required a lot of coaxing. In the end, using the wrench to left the plates did the trick. The number of springs you will need depends on how heavy your mattress is, and what type of material you used for the front panel. Unfortunately there’s no easy way of knowing exactly how many you need before you put the mattress on and test it. I didn’t wear gloves while doing this but I highly recommended to do so – the springs are very greasy and it’s easy to get your fingers caught.
After that was done, I was finally ready to assemble the cabinet. I chose to use brackets and screws to assemble it because a) I don’t have a workshop or specialized tools and b) I wanted to be able to take the cabinet apart for moving it, something that wouldn’t be possible if using dowels and glue. I was able to order all the screws and brackets necessary to assemble the cabinet components with the Murphy bed hardware so that took a lot of the guesswork out of having to figure out what I needed.
I started by installing the headboard and then moved on to the top and bottom pieces. It’s fairly simple to put together but clamps and an extra pair of hands is very helpful. And it’s easy to get confused as to what piece goes where so it’s also a good idea to refer to the drawings throughout the assembly process.
Once the cabinet was built, I used a stud finder to locate the wall studs and marked their location with tape. The recommendations may vary depending on your specific hardware kit but mine recommended securing the top of the cabinet to 3 wall studs with brackets provided in the hardware kit.
Tip: If you don’t have a stud finder, there’s other ways to find them. There’s usually a stud to the right or left of an outlet or light switch and they are typically 16”-24” on center (which means from the middle of one stud, to the middle of one next to it) but most common is 16”. So if you have an outlet or switch nearby, you can start there to locate a stud and move along the wall to find the others. One caveat is that depending on when your home was built the actual size of the studs might not be the standard 1 ½” x 3 ½”. Between 1900-1950 rough cut 2×4’s were most common and were actually 2″ by 4″, and homes built between 1950-1965 could have 2x4s that are 1-⅝” by 3-⅝” – keep that in mind as this will affect the actual distance from the first stud to the next.
Before securing the cabinet to the wall, I had to check that it was square. I wasn’t sure the best way to do that but I used my carpenter’s square to check every corner at the front – it’s very important that the cabinet be perfectly square everywhere, otherwise the front panel won’t be able to close.
After securing the cabinet to the wall, the next step was to put the face panel onto the lift mechanism. I had to call in reinforcements at this point because this step requires lots of muscles to first pull down the tension arm and then to lift the front panel onto the tension arm.
Side Note: If you don’t want to deal with springs, you can get Murphy bed kits with pistons, though one of the downsides of pistons is that they are visible on the sides even with the mattress on. With the springs, the mechanism is out of sight once the mattress is there.
Luckily when we released the tension arm and lifted the front panel in place, it fit right between the side boards. We did have to make a slight adjustment to even out the spacing on both sides but that was minor. We tested the bed with the mattress on but we had put in too many springs so the front panel didn’t stay down. So we removed the mattress and unattached the cabinet from the wall so we could get access to the back of the lift mechanism and remove the springs.
All the heavy lifting was done but I still had the inside of the Murphy bed to finish. I didn’t like the look of the white wall above the headboard and I also wanted to incorporate some color, which is why I hadn’t stained the insides of the panels.
After looking at the inside for a bit, I came up with an ambitious plan to create a panel to cover that space, and also incorporate lighting, all of which needs to be 1” thick or less so it doesn’t interfere with the mattress or bedding. My next post in the “how to build a Murphy bed series” will be all about that project and the final reveal of the finished Murphy Bed – best way to not miss it when it’s published is to subscribe to my newsletter if you’re not already signed up!