How to Build Toddler Bed Rails

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Build bed rails for your toddler so that he feels more secure and less like he's going to fall out of the bed. Make sure you choose the right wood (non-toxic) and that the finish is not toxic. Shellac is an excellent choice commonly applied to child furniture.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood
  • 1 3/4-inch wood screws
  • Vodka
  • Shellac (traditional powder form)
  • Dental floss
  • Newspaper
  • Scrap wood (optional)
  • Match the wood in the bed frame but use only non-toxic wood. Don't use pressure-treated wood, which has chemicals added. Select a piece of wood that doesn't splinter easily and test it using rawhide gloves and rubbing at a corner of the wood. You'll also know if your wood splinters easily when you cut into it with your tools. Select oak as a durable hardwood wood that's safe enough to use to store wine. Select pine as a softwood alternative that is less expensive.

  • Cut the wood into 2-inch slats that are 1 inch deep. Use a table saw to get a uniform thickness. Cut the board 1/4 inch wider than the measurements you are after and use a plane to shave down the piece gradually to the desired measurements. Use a wood plane to thin the board close to the proper thickness.

  • From the thinned board, cut six lengths that are 1 foot long. Cut two more lengths that are 22 inches each. Lay the two 22-inch boards on the ground with both ends even and parallel to each other, 4 inches apart. Lay the six vertical slats cross-ways to the 22-inch boards. Tape the vertical slats in place with masking tape, with the top edge of the boards along one of the boards. Tape the other board in place to the slats as they lay across it.

  • Mark two places for each attachment point at every junction of the wood slats, using a soft graphite pencil. The two marks must be diagonal, 1 inch from each other. Make the holes as far in from the sides as you can and still keep them 1 inch from each other. Make sure all of the diagonal marks are slanted the same direction on the wood (for aesthetics). Pre-drill the holes through the slats but don't drill all of the way through the 22-inch boards. Use a drill bit that is the width of the shaft of the screws but not the width of the teeth.

  • Mark the same types of diagonal holes at the lowest part of the slats, away from where they connect to the 22-inch boards. Mark the holes 1 inch from the bottom, then do this again 1 inch above those two holes for a total of four diagonal holes. Drill these and use these drilled holes as a pilot or guide to drill into the toddler bed. Remove the mattress before drilling, but be careful not to drill all of the way through. Replace the mattress and use the screws to attach the rail to the bed. Detach the rail by unscrewing it and put the screws together on a piece of masking tape so that they don't roll away.

  • Sand down any rough or sharp edges of the wood to prevent injury. Make sure to sand the entire surface of the wood to prepare it for the shellac. Use a shellac that the manufacturer indicates is non-toxic. Use a thin shellac with 1/8 lb. of shellac to 1 pint vodka. Mix to dissolve the shellac in a well-ventilated room. Apply this to the wood generously and use a piece of dental floss to suspend the piece from the rafters outside. Be careful not to drip the shellac on anything. Use newspaper under it while it drys and make sure it doesn't soak through. Do several applications and allow the shellac to penetrate the wood, allowing the shellac to dry each time.

  • Add 1/2 lb. shellac to the alcohol and stir to dissolve it. Apply as many coatings as desired, allowing the coatings to completely dry each time. If the holes get shellac in them, carefully re-drill the holes. Re-attach the rail to the toddler bed. Repeat the process for the other side of the bed.

Tips & Warnings

  • To keep the diagonal holes in the same position, use a piece of scrap wood screwed to another piece of scrap wood to make a "step" that's 2 inches deep. This will be your screw guide. The step will allow the guide to slide up and down the slats you drill. Drill the two holes in the scrap where you intend to position the drill bit when you drill holes in the slats as the scrap piece slides up and down. Make sure the piece is short enough to fit between the rails while working, or just trim it to size later (removing the screws in the screw guide before cutting).
  • The slats should never be far enough apart on any bed for a pop can to fit through. Make sure that the rail is installed on a toddler bed that covers the sides of the mattress, and don't use bedding that will trap a child against the rail. Read and follow all instructions that came with your toddler bed and test the materials and workmanship before letting a child use the bed. The child should be old enough not to chip off the shellac with her teeth, or the bed should be left untreated. Shellac by itself is supposed to be non-toxic when it dries, but check with your manufacturer to make sure.

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