The Waterloo Project: Cot (Part 1)

It’s cold and bitter today. There is snow coming (yay! — perfect birthday present, Mother Nature!) though not much. And since it’s my birthday, I got to do whatever I wanted, and that was build a piece of my kit.

My warranty gave out a long time ago. Even sleeping on the couch is sometimes a bad idea. Floors are entirely out, and the ground? Phui. Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp. Thirty-seven year old joints are starting to lose their hydraulic fluid.

One of my requirements for this project is using as many off the shelf components as possible. I don’t have a lathe, or a good place to set up our table saw. Long, long years ago, I worked in technical theater, and that’s where I got my introduction to all things constructive, and DIY. I can paint, frame, wallpaper, wire switches, but I’ve never been comfortable with table and jigsaws. I don’t mind miter saws or bandsaws, but there’s something about the table saw that says Amputation Likely to me.

When I started designing the cot, I designed for either stair balusters or pre-manufactured table legs. I chose table legs (specifically Wendell 21 3/4″ Early American) because they were more graceful and in keeping with Regency furniture, while being easily accessible (so if I totally botched one, I was only out $6) and sturdy.

I’m basing this cot on some extant ones. During the Napoleonic Wars, officers often commissioned full kits of campaign furniture, including tables that seat twelve, recliners that convert to beds, and bookcases that break down into small boxes for transport. Campaign furniture is always knock-down furniture — it’s the precursor to flatpack — and it’s incredibly clever stuff. I’ll link to photos in the near future.

My construction methods are not period — that would be using mortise and tenon joints and pegs — because it will mostly be hidden, and this is a prototype.


— 6 table legs (I got mine at Lowe’s; they’re usually back near lumber, on the same aisle as dowels and paneling.)
— 6 1″ diameter oak dowels, 36″ long. (Poplar has sufficient strength, but they come in 48″ lengths, and I didn’t want to be cutting if I could avoid it. Oak is more expensive, heavier per inch, and is harder to drill, so I may rebuild this with poplar in future if it turns out to be too heavy.)
— 3 5/8″ dowels (these are poplar, because I already owned them for another project)
— 2 pieces of 8/32 threaded rod, 3″ long
–14 carriage bolts, 8/32, 2″ long
— 20 Tee nuts, 8/32 threading (I prefer the ones that attach with little nails through holes, but the ones with teeth that you hammer on work, too. Those are slightly more likely to split the dowels, but they go on a lot faster.) 20130111-213812.jpg

Drill and appropriate bits
Vise or clamps
measuring and marking tools, including a tape measure and a level-ruler.
Vacuum cleaner that has a hose. (Sawdust gets everywhere.)

1. On each table leg, make a mark 3 inches down from the top, and drill a hole straight down through the mark and through the diameter of the leg. I step up from a pilot hole with a 1/16″ bit to a 1/4″. It takes longer, but I’m more likely to get a clean, straight hole and it’s easier on the drill.


2. On four of the legs (the corners) make a second mark, one inch above the hole you just made, and rotated 90 degrees from the hole, so your new hole will be perpendicular to the one you just made. Drill those holes, too.


3. On all six legs, drill a hole 4 inches from the bottom through the diameter. On the four with two holes, the holes should be parallel to the bottom hole; on the two with one hole, the lower hole should be perpendicular.

4. Set the legs aside and clamp your first dowel perpendicular to the floor. You’re going to drill holes into the center of your dowels, at both ends, and insert a tee nut into all twelve ends. Here is where a drill press is very handy, if you have one (I don’t) but it can be done with some practice without one. Here is where drilling a pilot hole and stepping up is most important — it’s really easy to angle the drill and even a degree or two will mean you’ll crack the side of the dowel.






A trick for drilling straight holes — grab a blank CD-ROM or a trashed one. Balance it, shiny side up, on the thing you’re drilling. Set your drill bit on your center mark, through the hole of the CD, and align the bit and the bit’s reflection. Drill straight down, watching the line the bit and the reflection make. Once you’ve got the pilot hole drilled, you can remove the CD.

Tomorrow, we assemble, and fit the fabric.

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