Should I Finish Bed Slats?

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Thanks for the helpful advice on scraping vs. sanding my son's ash bed. I sanded to 220 and the first coat of finish (Tried & True Varnish Oil) is already silky.
I don't want to put oil finish on the poplar slats since they contact the mattress. Would it be better to shellac them to reduce movement due to humidity changes or leave them unfinished?
Thanks. -- Bob
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Suggestion: Wax 'em.
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Why finish them? Wood movement isn't necessarily a bad thing. You only need to control it where it wood is joined and movement of the wood can cause problems with some sort of joinery or attachement. Attach the bed slats with a screw through the middle of the slat to your ledger strip and any movement will be an expansion of the wood away from the screw. Another thought - use plywood slats instead of hardwood. No wood movement and much stronger across it's length than hardwood.

sanded to 220

mattress. Would

leave them

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Ummm... actually, solid wood is stronger.

-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
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Doug, Disagree with your comment on plywood over solid wood. In wood of same dimensions, plywood is much stronger than typical wood (especially something like poplar). You don't have the wood defects, splits, checks, etc than can weaken solid wood. Since plywood is laminated veneers of solid wood with the laminations running at 90 degree angles to each others, it's resistance to breakage for something like a bed slat is much greater than a typical piece of poplar. Gary

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In my experience, such defects are far more common in plywood, than in solid hardwood. Maybe you need to find a different lumber supplier. :-)

For a weak wood such as poplar, possibly, although I doubt it very much. And you originally said "hardwood" without specifying species. At least with respect to stronger hardwoods such as maple, ash, or oak, I'm sorry, but that's just not right. In a bed slat made of solid wood, *all* of the wood fibers run the entire length of the slat, whereas in a plywood slat, only about half of the fibers run the length of the slat, and the other half run across the slat. The latter contribute almost nothing to the bending resistance, or load-bearing capacity, of the piece. The solid wood has more fibers contributing to its load capacity, and hence will bear greater loads.
Plywood's laminations at 90 degrees to each other give plywood greater dimensional stability than solid wood, and ensure that its physical properties across length and width are similar, much more so than in solid wood -- but they do NOT add strength. Rather, they reduce it, in exchange for greater stability and uniformity.

-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
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Doug, At last a real conversation about wood and woodworking in here! Sorry but the trolls in the newsgroup are really starting to bug me. I'm almost embarassed to open this group up somedays. I bow to most of your arguements on strengths and stabilities. The whole thing is really relative to what you're comparing. Oak versus poplar versus plywoods versus pine? All sorts of differing variables in the equation as to the strengths and weaknesses of each. One of the weaknesses you get in solid woods is the fact you pointed out that all the wood fibers run parallel to each other. This makes it susceptible to shearing forces. Most pieces of hardwood don't break across the fibers, they split at some point along the fibers. All depends on how you use the wood.
But as to our poor posters original question (from which I've digressed) - I wouldn't waste time finishing or worrying about wood movement. Just make sure you have enough strength in whatever you use to withstand whatever weight you'll have bouncing on your bed. For what it's worth, I've just used old A/C plywood scrap for bed slats on my own bed frame.
And Doug, appreciate the intelligent wood discourse. And you're right - I do need a new lumber supplier - mine just burned down last week!
Gary

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I know what you mean. My wife is a ww-er, too... and she *used* to read the group. :-(

For a bed slat, though, this doesn't matter. Suppose a four-inch-wide slat splits right down the middle. Two, two-inch slats are just as strong.

Can't argue there. One more thing I might add: there should be some means provided of preventing the bed rails from spreading enough that the slats can wiggle crooked and drop out. DAMHIKT.

Mmmm, bummer. Where was that?
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
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I gotta just Gotta back Doug on this one,
By the way bed slats should be made out of Maple poplar just wount cut it strength wise It is also a good idea to pick out a board that has a bow to it and use them convex side up also I've never seen a bed slat finished yet Sweet dreams George

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Thanks, guys. I was worried about poplar's strength but the lumber dealer said it would be fine and it was about half the price of the ash. I agree that it should be fine because 1) there are 14 slats, each 3 1/2" wide and 3/4" thick for a full-size bed; and 2) the construction of the mattress should always spread pressure over several slats and 3) no one in the family is "super-sized" enough to sue a fast-food chain. I'm going to leave them unfinished.
I put the first coat of varnish on the bed yesterday, it took on a nice honey color over night. Of course, last night I was reading Krenov (Fine Art of Cabinetmaking) saying that he would never put such an ugly "wet yellow" finish on beautiful ash. Well, too bad. He doesn't use run of the mill slab-cut boards either...
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That's a misprint...right? You meant 4 slats...right?
I sure hope so.
Have a nice week...
Trent
Certified breast self-exam subcontractor.
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Why? I've never seen a bed with as few as 4 slats. Six, minimum, and that's with a foundation. For a mattress directly on the slats, Bob's number and spacing sound just about right.
Some people (and much furniture) dictate that a foundation be used in order to bring the mattress to the proper height. I consider a foundation to be a complete waste; it takes up perfectly good storage space.
Kevin
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wrote:

14 x 3 1/2" + 12 x 1/2" minimum spacing?
And I've seen a lot of beds with no slats at all. They're really not needed...as long as you have a good box spring and ties on the frame to keep the frame from spreading.
If he's gonna use 14 slats, he may as well lay down a sheet of plywood! lol
Have a nice week...
Trent
Certified breast self-exam subcontractor.
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Bob:
Select your slats for as near to quartersawn as you can get. Depending on the width of the bed, you may want to use 5/4 in preference to 3/4 stock. If you have ash left from the bed project, I'd use that in preference to the poplar. If the piece has a natural bow in it, turn it up.
When I make beds I seal the slats with shellac. Shellac will not interact with the dyes in the bed fittings, unlike inadequately cured lacquer, varnishes, etc. By sanding and sealing the slats you will be able to adjust them with the box spring in place without abrading the covering and when you take the bed apart for a good cleaning, you will be able to wipe down the slats more easily.
Do not use ply for slats. Those who would argue that it is stronger because it is laminated are ignoring the fact that the laminations will be at ninety degrees to the proper orientation with regards to strength. The phenolic resins used in ply lamination are not as shock resistant as the natural lignin in solid stock.
Some beds need more shock resistance than others.
Regards, Tom Thomas J. Watson-Cabinetmaker Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania http://users.snip.net/~tjwatson
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Tom Watson wrote:

Wipe down the slats????? O_o
I can't imagine.
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Unfinished.
Have a nice week...
Trent
Certified breast self-exam subcontractor.
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Silvan responds:

When building the bed rail piece to hold the slats, notch it 1/4" deep or so to hold the slats.
Charlie Self
"Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle." Bob Hope
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Charlie Self wrote:

Wouldn't help though. We actually broke the same bed three times. The rails. Those hook plates with bed pins. Broke the wood out from around the bed pins on one rail, replaced it with a metal rail, which made the slats tend to fall out. Fixed the wooden rail, broke the other side, put a metal rail on *that* side, and the slats wanted to fall out... Then we broke the other wooden side and wound up with two metal rails on our "antique" old pre-war bed, which looks really ugly, but after I drilled some holes and bolted the damn slats in place, they haven't gone anywhere.
Maybe I should un-bolt the slats. Maybe it was the excitement of wondering if the bed was about to collapse that used to put SWMBO in the mood for lovin'.
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Silvan, great story. I don't anticipate such problems with this bed. I will use screws to fasten three of the slats into the ledger boards on the rails to prevent rail-spread.
The rails themselves are 5 1/2" wide by 1 1/4" thick, fastened with that hook-type hardware which is mortised into the ends and attached with three screws per plate (bought from local Woodcraft store). I have a little concern that the top of the mortise is only 1/4" below the top of the rail - if that should ever rip out, I'll substitute wider boards for the rails to allow more wood above the hardware. -- Bob
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Bob N wrote:

Depends on who uses the bed, and for what I guess. ;)
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