With two sheets of plywood and a handful of screws, you can make a pretty nice little toddler bed. This design fits a crib mattress (about 52" long), which will last the average toddler well into elementary school.
My toddler just turned two. He's too big for a crib, but a twin-sized bed takes up too much space in his room. There are a lot of toddler beds you can buy that are low to the ground, but I wanted something with A) storage underneath and B) enough height to make diaper changing easy. This is what I came up with.
Step 1: Plan Overview
The basic design is pretty simple. There are five plywood panels (two sides, two headboards, and a middle). You'll cut them out, use a router on the edges (if you want), sand, finish, and screw them together.
*I used a CNC router because they have one at the TechShop I'm a member of (I made it at TechShop, techshop.ws/). A CNC router is a robot-like machine that uses an end mill (similar to a drill bit) to cut out whatever design you put into the computer. Because of this, my design isn't optimized for cutting by hand. However, if you don't have access to a CNC router, you can still make this bed. Just simplify (remove unnecessary curves and holes) and use a hand-held rotary saw and/or band saw. I'll provide dimensions in the next step.
Step 2: Cut Out the Pieces
There are two patterns which correspond to two sheets of plywood.
I have attached the patterns as vector pdf files. You can use these to generate toolpaths for the particular CNC router and end mill you have access to.
I have also attached V-Carve Pro files of both patterns. These hold the information for the toolpaths I used (with a 3/8" two-fluted end mill). If you have V-Carve Pro, you can open these files and export the toolpaths directly to whatever file type your CNC router requires.
Finally, I have attached a pdf ("layout.pdf") with basic dimensions. You can use this to cut the pieces out by hand if you wish.
NOTE: If you're using a CNC router, cut out the holes first. If you cut out the parts first, they may move around while you're trying to cut out the holes.
Step 3: Smooth the Edges
You can simply smooth the edges with sandpaper if you want. I decided to use a table router and a 1/4" roundover bit to put a nice radius on the edges that would be most exposed.
Step 4: Cut Scabs
To help screw everything together, I cut some plywood scabs. To do the same, you'll need:
The simplest way to cut these is on the table saw. Cut five 1.5" strips that are 48" long (the width of your plywood). Then cut three of these in half. This gives you two 48" pieces and six 24" pieces.
Four of the 24" pieces will be used on the four vertical corners of the bed.
Two 24" pieces and two 48" pieces will be used to hold up the center piece (which holds the mattress).
Step 5: Install Scabs
Install the scabs using the 1-1/4" screws. Install screws from the scab side (the inside or hidden side of the bed). Since you have two 3/4" pieces of plywood, the 1-1/4" screws won't quite go all the way through (which is a good thing).
As shown in the first picture, each side piece needs two 24" scabs (flush with the edges) and one 48" scab (with the top edge 27-1/2" from the floor).
As shown in the second picture, each head board needs one 24" scab. The top edge of the scab should be 27-1/2" from the floor.
Step 6: Sand and Finish the Pieces
I used an orbital sander to smooth out the routed edges. I also used it to get rid of scuff marks I'd made while handling the sheets of plywood.
I then finished all the plywood pieces with three coats of clear, water-based polyurethane.
NOTE 1: Water-based finish tends to raise the wood grain. This was especially true on the edges of the plywood. After the first coat of finish, the edges were very rough. After sanding them and applying the 2nd and 3rd coats, however, they ended up pretty smooth.
NOTE 2: For more detail, see my instructable on Refinishing Old Furniture, which has a ton of information on types of finishes, technique, etc.
Step 7: Assemble
Use the longer (1-3/4") screws for the assembly.
Optional: if you don't want any screws showing, you could attach the side pieces by screwing through the scabs and into the head board (i.e. screw from the inside toward the outside). In this case, a wider scab (maybe a 2x2x24" piece) might suit you better.
Step 8: Enjoy
Now you have a solid, nice-looking bed for your toddler. There is a slight railing to keep him or her from rolling off, but of course use judgement with your kid's age and sleeping habits.