Carpentry: DIY Crib

We first dabbled in basic carpentry a few of years ago by building Kea a snuggly all-season outdoor doggy house jam packed with old flannel sheets:

Then we upped our game by building our outdoor patio & deck furniture — who wants to pay $3,000 for a Crate & Barrel “reclaimed wood” farm house table when you have actual reclaimed deck wood laying around!

Building the base
7′ long table
Obligatory bottle opener accessory
Nice ‘n waterproof. Though the Colorado sun does a number on this table so we’ve had to re-sand and re-stain it each season pretty regularly.

Then, naturally, we graduated to demo-ing, designing and re-building our entire kitchen totally from scratch (we’ll share that whole project and the before-and-after transformation photos soon).

Learning how to demo old walls and then reframe new walls.
Drywall mudding… my least favorite job in the world.
Building our custom kitchen cabinets in the dead of winter in our cold garage.
Kitchen cabinet basic carcasses in place. First win: everything fits!


So, with a baby on the way, we decided a DIY crib would be a good place to put our carpentry skills to the test.  Would we be able to build something safe, sturdy and splinter-free?! Almost more importantly, would we be able to build it before our tiny deadline?!

Sure, the whole project cost us more than an IKEA crib would have and took us infinitely longer to assemble, but the challenge, process and finished product have left us feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

We took some inspiration from this DIYstinctly Made crib but, not being ones to follow rules or recipes, we made our own adjustments and added our own flare to the design and construction.

Ryan’s motto in life seems to be a variation of marathon runner Paul Tergat’s famous quote: “Ask yourself, can it be better? The answer is always ‘Yes’.”  While this inevitably means it takes us 18,000 times as long to finish a project as we initially think it will, it also forces the non-perfectionist in me to slow down, think ahead and make sure to get it right.

We’re not organized enough to have kept track of an exact cut and materials list but I’ll try to reconstruct our construction for you.

In general, we wanted a rustic but sturdy looking piece of solid wood furniture that met all US crib safety regulations, had minimal visible hardware, and could be taken apart for moving and storing without compromising its structural integrity. We also wanted certain additional features like being able to have the mattress in a higher position for a newborn and then lower for a curious toddler. And finally, due to space constraints for the first few months we added a removable changing table that sits on the top.


Thankfully we didn’t have to buy any new tools for this project as we already had everything from our kitchen build. Beyond a basic screwdriver and hammer, here’s what we used:

  • Orbital sander with 80 grit sandpaper
  • Miter saw
  • Table Saw
  • Biscuit joiner
  • Kreg Jig for pocket hole joining
  • Drill
  • Drill Press for doweling
  • various clamps


Head & footboard:

We used five 5.5″ wide common pine boards cut to 38″ length, sanded, biscuit joined and strategically pocket-joined where the screws would be hidden later, and then sanded again to create one super smooth nearly seamless 27.5″ W x 38″ L rectangle.

Creative clamping!


We then pocket joined two 43.5″ long 4×4 pine fence posts (which, of course, aren’t actually 4″ wide but rather 3.5 inches wide). We used a few 1.5″ pieces of wood to space the five-piece pine board.

Putting in some late night carpentry hours in our garage

Added a 1.5″ wide by 6″ deep x 36″ long pine board to the top and tah-dah! Now time to make another one exactly the same :-)

We added some decorative framing to the outside of the head & footboards to hide any pocket holes. Then we built a base mattress frame (attachable and detachable from the head & footboards via insert nuts with connecting bolts) to snuggly fit our 52″x 28″ baby mattress.

Next up, we started constructing the side railings (50″ long x 26-1/4″ high). Using a drill press and dowels we calculated that 13 rails on each side would create a 2-1/8″ gap between each rail which is less than the US safety standard regulation that the distance between slats must be no more than 2-3/8″.

26 rails sanded to buttery smooth perfection and with top and bottom dowels in place:

Each of the two side rail pieces are also attachable and detachable from the head & footboards via insert nuts with connecting bolts making the entire crib collapsible to 5 flat pieces for easy transport and storage. With an extra reinforcement which we’ll add later, this crib easily converts to a 3-sided toddler bed.

Our resident stress & quality control tester, Kea dog, confirms that I can give birth to a baby elephant without the crib collapsing!

You’ll notice how snuggly the mattress fits within the crib. The mattress won’t budge and there are no gaps or spaces in which the babe could squish her little fingers and toes. There are also no screws, nails or bolts for her curiosity to discover.


Often to trickiest, most tedious and time-consuming part of the whole project comes at the very end just when you think you’re done and “only” have the finishing left to tackle.

We struggled to find a stain color, brand and system which we liked. As the Googles will quickly tell you, pine is an easy wood to build with but a terrible wood to stain — it blotches, splotches and reverses the grain (the naturally dark lines repel the stain and become light while the naturally light areas of the wood soak up too much stain and turn dark). We tested 8 different brands from various stores, different colors, combinations of wood conditioners, natural oil sealers, etc. We even tested some recommended DIY stain creations using a homemade concoction of steel wool, vinegar and coffee/tea. None seemed to leave us too pleased.  Finally, we settled on a winning combination: 1 coat of Old Master Wood Conditioner (left on the wood for 15 minutes and then lightly wiped off) followed by Old Master Pickling White Wiping Stain (we applied each coat with a foam brush, left it on the wood for 15-20 mins, then gently wiped it off with an old tshirt, let it dry for 12-24 hours, lightly sanded by hand with 240 grit and repeated 3-4 times). It was definitely tricky, tedious & time-consuming work to stain the railings!

But, before you stain, scrupulous sanding is essential. When you think you’ve sanded the raw wood enough, go ahead and sand it again. We meticulously worked our way from 80 grit, to 150, to 180, to 200, to 220 and finally to 240 grit — always with the grain and always wiping the wood down after each pass.

Since the stain we used was white I knew I didn’t want to use a finishing  topcoat product like shellac or polyurethane that would tinge the final product yellow. I had used Polycrylic satin finish on our Benjamin Moore Simply White (water-based) painted kitchen cabinets & wooden window sills so I knew that it would seal & protect crystal clear. However, Polycrylic is a water-based product while the wiping stain we used on the crib is oil-based. So we left the stained crib to cure for a solid 10 days (in our dry warm climate) before finishing it off with 3 coats of Polycrylic (with a super light 240 grit sanding in between).


We stained and sealed the crib while disassembled and then carried each of the 5 pieces upstairs to our bedroom for a final assembly via the insert nuts with connecting bolts.

Head and footboards attached with lower mattress base. Now come the sides.


Attaching the sides

Once everything was assembled we built a mattress raiser for those first few months when the little jelly bean isn’t jumping on the bed yet. We wanted it to be totally secure but didn’t want to add any screw-holes or bolts into the frame (especially since those would be visible once the mattress is lowered to the base). We also wanted the mattress raiser to be easily removeable and storable flat. So we built 4 frames: 2 vertical frames (for the head and footboard each) and 2 horizontal frames (one of which would lock the base of the vertical frames into place on top of the lower mattress frame & the other which would on top of the vertical frames). We built this to the exact measurements of the assembled crib so it’s easy enough to slot into place without scratching the rest of the crib but snug enough that there’s absolutely no movement.

Here’s the mattress raiser exposed through the sides:

And here it is covered with a spare bit of white & gray fabric I had laying around (which conveniently matches the Burt Bees gray & white bee printed sheet!):

Finally, we built a small changing table insert that sits snuggly across the crib. We built it to fit the contoured changing pad (the dimensions of the pad are 16″ x 32″ so the dimensions of our changing table ended up being 18″ x 34″) using 3 left over 5.5″ wide pieces of common board for the base and 3 pieces of 3.5″ pine to frame in the mattress on 3 sides. We added two 1.5″ wide bars across the bottom to secure it between the crib sides so it won’t slide off when the little wiggle worm squirms around.

Finally, we added a floating shelf (made from the leftover 1-1/2″ x 6″ pine board header and footer top) pre-stained with Old Master Wood Conditioner, then stained with Old Masters Dark Walnut wiping stain to match our floors, and finished with Polycrylic Semi-Gloss (a shinier finish than the satin finish we used on the crib itself). We created a custom floating shelf by ripping a 1″ wide piece of the shelf board, screwing that piece into the studs in the wall, and then joining the shelf pieces with two 3″ doweling rods. Simple and much cheaper than buying specialized floating shelf hardware (which neither Home Depot nor our local hardware store had anyways).

A couple baskets with cloth diapers & wipes, a recycled Talenti gelato jar filled with moisturizing Coconut Oil and my crocheted bee & flower mobile finished off our little nursery nook nicely:

And it’s pretty much just perfect with a real life little kiddo in it!


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