Bunkie Board: What Is It and How Do I Make One?
This is a guest post from our friends at Comparakeet.
Have you ever heard of a bunkie board?
Most of us are no strangers to the box spring. It was and still is a popular bed base option, especially for a traditional innerspring mattress! In fact, the two go together perfectly.
How about a foam or hybrid mattress that may be thicker or heavier than what we grew up using? Can your trusty box spring provide a modern mattress sufficient support? The answer: Not always.
Contemporary brands usually warn against using an old box spring with a brand new mattress, even mentioning that doing so could void the warranty. Oh, no!
The trouble is this: If you just traded up your starter mattress for a new one, you may not be willing to spend on a new bed base right away. This is when a bunkie board might come in handy.
What Is a Bunkie Board?
A bunkie board is a flat object often made of particleboard, plywood, or another practical composite material; about one to three inches thick and cut to match a mattress size.
It may also be spelled differently! It is also commonly referred to as a “Bunky” board.
This pallet-like product goes right between your mattress and your bed surface. It will work with a variety of bed bases: box spring, box foundation, metal frame, solid platform bed, and then some. No bed base? No problem.
Some bunkie boards even feature decorative details. At least one side may be stained, painted or covered in cloth. A few non-standard bunkie board designs can also have more practical applications.
For example: A bunkie board can be thinner or thicker than the average range of one to three inches. Why? It all comes down to what your mattress needs.
Do you want the bunkie board to blend in with the bed base you’re using? Thinner it is. Do you want to add some height to your bed? Thicker may be the ticket.
How Does a Bunkie Board Work?
A bunkie board is an easy, non-intrusive solution that provides a slim but solid surface that can prevent sagging and may lengthen the lifespan of your mattress.
It’s particularly recommended for foam mattresses. This includes polyfoam, memory foam, latex foam and hybrid mattress variants.
Note that unlike less affordable but much sturdier options, a bunkie board may not last as long as your mattress. At its average price point, though, even a few years of use would be worth buying one.
Let’s go through some common bed bases—and then some—to look at how a using a bunkie board would be to a sleeper’s benefit.
Bunkie Board vs. Bunk Bed
If you’ve been wondering where the bunkie board gets its name from, this is probably the answer! Remember how we said box springs and innerspring mattresses go together? The same is true for bunkie boards and bunk bed frames.
Imagine using a box springs for the top and bottom bunks. They won’t fit! With a bunk bed, lack of space is a real issue. Bottom bunk sleepers don’t want sleep too close to the bottom of the mattress above them, and top bunk sleepers don’t want to sleep too close to the bedroom ceiling.
This is also a situation where decorative elements of a bunkie board add to the experience! Bunk bed frames usually have slats, so the bottom of the bunkie board may be visible to the bottom bunk sleeper.
Bottom line: A bunkie board is ideal for bunk beds, because it provides adequate support while being as good as invisible for the most part. Same goes for trundle beds and day beds.
Bunkie Board vs Box Spring
Back to the old reliable box spring! It’s worth mentioning here that a traditional box spring and a modern box spring may be built differently. The former actually has springs inside it, which complements a spring mattress.
An old school box spring and innerspring mattress worked in tandem to manage pressure points and weight distribution. Remember needing to rotate and flip your mattress every few months when you were younger? This evened out the stress put on the mattress and box spring by the constant balancing act between the two bed parts.
These days, a box spring can be synonymous to a box foundation, and may refer to a simple cloth-covered wooden frame.
How does a bunkie board fit into all this? Again, it goes under the mattress and above the base. An old box spring may not have the stiffness and stability to support a new mattress, but with a bunkie board on top, it may be sufficient.
Does your mattress warranty absolutely forbid the use of an old box spring? Or: Not sure if your old box spring can withstand the weight of your new foam mattress? You can lay a bunkie board directly on the floor, and then put your mattress over it. This will do until you find a suitable bed base that fits your budget.
Bunkie Board vs Plywood
We know that a bunkie board can be made of plywood. Does that mean that we can just use plain plywood instead of an actual bunkie board?
The short answer: Yes! If you’re in a really tight spot, a sheet of plywood will work. It is just as solid and should be cheaper than a bunkie board. No bed base and no bunkie board? No problem—but know that this should be a temporary solution.
First of all, plain plywood won’t work unless the measurements are very precise. Make sure it will fit snugly on your bed base. Otherwise, you’re relegated to the floor.
You should consider treating or covering up the plywood as soon as possible, too. Plywood can chip and snag, which can damage your mattress cover and even your sheets.
We know what you’re thinking: Why not just make a bunkie board, if plain plywood needs to be carefully measured and treated, anyway? You’re right—and you’re in luck. There’s a DIY how-to that covers this just a few paragraphs away.
Bunkie Board vs Slats
Let’s say that instead of an old box spring, you have a slatted bed base. Some platform beds and bed frames—including bunk bed frames, as we noted earlier—fit this description.
Most modern mattresses are compatible with slatted bed bases in theory. If you check your mattress warranty, though, you may find a few caveats.
For one, a foam mattress may not get adequate support from flexible slats. Using anything but sturdy slats may be grounds for voiding the warranty. Same goes for the space between slats! Most new mattresses won’t be able to perform properly if the gap width is more than two or three inches.
The solution: a bunkie board, of course! However, we should point out that using a bunkie board will cancel out the main advantage of using a slatted bed base.
Slats allow for more air flow and breathability underneath your bed. This can lessen possible heat and moisture retention in the foams significantly! A bunkie board literally covers all of that up. The payoff, though, is a solid surface that’s better for overall mattress durability and longevity.
Where to Buy a Bunkie Board
With such an unfamiliar name, it may surprise you to find out that it’s quite easy to find a bunkie board for sale! You may chance upon a selection at a mattress store or bedroom furniture dealer near you, but there will always be a much larger selection online.
There are bunkie boards available to match every mattress size! Standard U.S. bed dimensions are well-represented. The more common the size, the more options there are. Expect to find twin bunkie boards, full bunkie boards, queen bunkie boards and king bunkie boards without breaking a sweat.
How to Make Your Own Bunkie Board
As promised, here’s a step-by-step process that you can follow to make a simple DIY bunkie board. Steps one through six are necessary, but the seventh and last step is optional.
You will need the following: One plywood sheet, medium-grit sandpaper, quilted upholstery fabric, upholstery spray adhesive, and a heavy duty staple gun.
Optional: Power tools, specifically a circular saw and a sander.
Step 1. Get the Measurements of Your Bed Base
You’ll need to remove your mattress from your bed to do this right. Measure the inside length and inside width of the bed surface. That’s all! Using a tape measure may be better for this, rather than a ruler, as it be more accurate.
Once you have the two measurements, you’ll want to subtract an inch or two from each. You don’t want to end up with cut plywood that’s flush to the sides of the bed frame.
Some clearance is needed for the fabric or padding that you’ll add to it later. More clearance means you can pad the bunkie board more. It’s all up to your preference—just as long as the surface area of the piece of plywood completely covers the slats.
Step 2. Cut the Plywood to Size
Note that there are standard and oversize cuts to choose from, and several thicknesses as well. The dimensions of the plywood sheet will really depend on the size of your bed.
Let’s assume you’re making a queen bunkie board: A standard queen size mattress is 60 inches by 80 inches, or roughly five feet by seven feet. Therefore, you may work with a 5’ x 8’ oversized sheet of plywood. You can trim this to around 58 ½ inches by 78 ½ inches, keeping the clearance you need in mind.
Thinner plywood may be easier to cut, so if you’re doing it yourself with a circular saw, you can get the ¾ inch-thick sheets.
If you’re planning to get it cut at the store—most big chains offer this, sometimes for a fee—you may want to go with a thicker sheet, either 1 ⅛ or 1 ¼ inches.
Note that the latter measurement can be a imprecise due to the difference between actual and nominal plywood thickness. Don’t worry about it! This is due to the sanding the plywood sheets go through when they’re being manufactured.
Step 3. Sand Down the Edges of the Board
Use the sandpaper to smooth out any roughness or irregularities you notice on the cut edges. If you have access to power tools, a sander will make this process faster.
Step 4. Cut the Quilted Upholstery Fabric to Size
Quilted upholstery fabric can be bought by the yard and is usually cut to the order. Again, the dimensions you start with really depends on the size of your bed. You will generally want to have an amount that can cover about twice or thrice the area of your board.
To prepare the fabric, spread it upside down on a large, uncluttered surface. You can use the floor if you don’t have a table wide enough to do this on.
Now cut pieces in the following measurements: One in the exact dimensions of the board you just sanded down, and one or two with an added six inches or more all around
Let’s go back to the queen bunkie board. Following the instructions above, you’ll get one piece of upholstery fabric that’s 58 ½ inches by 78 ½ inches. The other two should be at least 64 ½ inches by 84 ½ inches. You can round those half inches up, if you want.
Step 5. Adhere Two Pieces of Quilted Upholstery Fabric to the Board
Upholstery spray adhesive is best, but if you can’t find any, a multipurpose spray will do.
Clean off one side of the plywood and the smaller piece of fabric. Make sure there’s no dirt, fibers or sawdust on the surface of the board before you spray it with the adhesive. Lay the fabric over the plywood, centering it as much as possible. Smooth it out firmly. This is now the bottom of your bunkie board.
Repeat the process with the other side of the board and one of the larger pieces of fabric. You should end up with the fabric properly adhered both sides of the board, with about six inches of excess fabric sticking out all around.
Step 6. Fold and Staple the Excess Quilted Upholstery Fabric
With the board bottom side up, neatly fold the excess fabric from the top so it’s flush to the board. You may pull ever so slightly to make sure that the material is taut, although with the adhesive it shouldn’t be necessary.
Staple the folded fabric in place and repeat throughout all sides of the bunkie board. Perfect upholstery corners aren’t a must, but will make the bunkie board look more presentable.
Done! You now have your very own bunkie board.
But: Do you think you need to pad it just a little bit more? Are the exposed staples bothering you? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you might want to do the next step, too.
Step 7. Staple In More Quilted Upholstery Fabric
Remember that third piece of fabric? If you want your bunkie board to have an even more polished look or if you’re after a more padded feel, use that fabric and do this extra step.
Keep the bunkie board bottom side up. Lay the third piece of fabric on top. Now carefully fold the material into a rectangle so all the fabric’s excess edges are folded into and underneath itself. This rectangle should sit at the center—small enough to show the edges of the board, but large enough to cover all the staples you made in the previous step.
The folded edges of this rectangle should be as straight as they can be. Pro tip: If you really want it to look good, you can measure the same margins all around that third piece of fabric, pencil them in, then fold and crease at the marks.
Staple symmetrically. Do all four corners at the very least, then add more if you think the fabric needs more securing.
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