A bed without a headboard practically shouts “dorm room”—not exactly a great vibe for your grown-up retreat. So if you’re in the market for this piece of furniture, we hope you’ll be inspired to put together our DIY version, which took a day to assemble. This Old House general contractor Tom Silva built it with stock staircase parts that he cut to size and simply glued and screwed together; he even showed us a shortcut for spacing out the balusters evenly along its length. Paint or stain it any color you like and attach it to a standard steel bed frame, and you’ll turn the spot where you rest your weary head into an even more welcome sight.
Staircase parts are available at home centers, though you’ll likely find a better selection online. For the bottom rail, use a handrail with a fillet, a thin, removable strip of wood that you’ll use as a template for making holes in both rails. Also, make sure the balusters have round pins for attaching to the bottom rail. Before you begin, measure the width of your bed frame so that you’ll know how far apart the end posts should be. Finally, to space out the balusters using Tom Silva’s shortcut, buy some elastic tape at a sewing store and make marks along its length every 3 inches—you’ll use it in Steps 4 and 5.
Step 1: Size the Headboard
Lay the newel posts across the top and bottom rails, as shown. Mark the posts’ centers, and adjust them so that the distance between the centers equals the width of your bed frame. Mark cutlines at the inside dimensions of each rail between the posts. Set the posts aside.
Step 2: Mark Spots for Attaching the Elastic Tape
Line up the bottom of a baluster with one of the cutoff lines you made on the bottom rail in Step 2, as shown. (The baluster should rest on the part of the rail that will be cut off later.) Mark the baluster’s center on the rail’s fillet, which you’ll use as a template for making holes in both rails. Repeat at the opposite end.
Step 3: Determine the Baluster Spacing
Hammer a brad through the first mark on the elastic tape into a spot you marked in Step 3. Stretch the tape to the opposite end, keeping the spacing between marks to 4 inches or less for safety. When you like the spacing, nail through a second mark into the attachment spot at the other end.
Step 4: Mark the Spacing on the Fillet
Transfer the marks from the elastic tape to the fillet. Remove the tape and brads. Mark the fillet’s centerline along its entire length, then slide it out of the bottom rail.
Step 5: Drill Pilot Holes in the Top Rail, and Cut the Rails
Lay the fillet on the underside of the top rail between the marks you made in Step 2, and use brads to tack it in place. Drill ⅛-inch pilot holes through the marks and into the rail. Remove the fillet and glue it into place on the bottom rail. Then cut both rails to length, using the marks you made in Step 2.
Step 6: Size the First Baluster
Place a scrap piece of top rail on the newel post in the spot where you’ll later attach the full rail. Lay a baluster alongside the post, as shown; make sure you like how the turned areas line up. If the baluster extends past the top of the rail, as ours did, mark a cut 1 inch above the bottom edge of the top rail.
Step 7: Cut the Balusters to Length
Use a miter saw to cut off the top of the baluster you marked in Step 7. Use this baluster to mark cuts on the remaining ones so that they’re all the same length. Measure the diameter of the top of the baluster so that you know what size paddle bit to use in Step 10.
Step 8: Mark the Attachment Spot for the Bottom Rail on the Newel Post
Line up the newel posts next to each other. Lay a baluster in its intended position alongside one post, and mark where the bottom, without the pin, falls—this is where the top of the bottom rail should sit. Use a scrap piece of bottom rail to mark the attachment spot on both posts, as shown.
Step 9: Drill Larger Holes in the Rails
For the bottom rail, use a paddle bit to enlarge the pilot holes to the size of the baluster pins; ours were ¾ inch wide and 1 inch deep. Do the same for the top rail, which will hold the tops of the balusters; the holes in our top rail were ⅝ inch wide and 1 inch deep.
Step 10: Insert Balusters into the Bottom Rail
Lay the bottom rail on your work surface, with the holes facing up. Apply wood glue to the baluster pins and fit them into the rail’s holes. Be sure to square up the faces of the balusters to the rail before the glue dries.
Step 11: Add the Top Rail
Fit the rail onto the balusters, as shown. You may need to strike it with a mallet (or a hammer and a piece of scrap wood, to protect the rail’s surface) to get a snug fit. Lay the assembly on your work surface, and use a level or a straightedge to check it for square and plumb.
Step 12: Drill Holes for the Bottom Rail
Mark the centers of both ends of the bottom rail and of the places on the newel posts where you’ll attach the rail. Drill a ¼-inch pilot hole all the way through each newel post and into both ends of the rail. Use a triangular layout square to keep your drill perpendicular as you work.
Step 13: Drill Holes for the Top Rail
Similar to Step 13, drill a ¼-inch pilot hole all the way through the top of each newel post where the top rail will be attached. Then drill a ¼-inch hole in each end of the rail.
Step 14: Assemble the Headboard
Stand up the baluster assembly and lay a newel post on top of it, lining up its holes with the ones in the rails. Drive timber screws through the holes and into the ends of the rails. Repeat for the other post. Sand the headboard, then coat it with primer and paint (or stain and sealer).