Let Me Fix You: Box Spring to Bed Slats

Scouring thrift stores can be a great, cheap solution for outfitting your space with vintage furniture, but it can also be the source for a growing to-do list of DIY projects. Such was the case with the beautiful wooden bed frame I found at my local Salvation Army. I scooped it up for $120 and brought it home to my new apartment only to discover that my box spring now posed two major problems: (1) the box spring, combined with my modern day super thick pillow-top mattress, made the bed too high to get into (like step-stool necessary), and (2) at some point during the move, my box spring developed this squeaking sound that creaked every time I rolled over.

So, I could get a new box spring (but it would set me back another $100 and it still wouldn’t solve the height problem) or I could replace my box spring with an alternative. I went online and discovered many mattresses today, particularly those of the pillow-top variety, don’t need to be flipped and thus don’t require a boxspring anymore. My first thought, of course, was: IKEA! They don’t believe in box springs either! Which would have been an excellent solution, if only my new bed frame had had a center rail—an integral structural support to the thin slats sold at IKEA. Not eager to test out their buckling potential, I looked into: a single sheet of plywood, which was nixed for its apparent susceptibility to mold growth, or a bunky board, except that they are designed to only be used in addition to slats (which made me question why people buy them at all?). This left me with only one option: it was time to make my own bed slats.

Step 0: Googling

I started researching making my own bed slats and found this excellent slat tutorial.

Step 1: Acquiring Tools

You know what’s awesome about doing all your previous DIY projects in your Stepdad’s back shed? Power tools. Do you know what my apartment doesn’t have? Power tools. It does, however, contain a wimpy (albeit visually appealing) toolbox! But, given the scope of this project, and even though I had some woodworking knowledge under my belt, doing this on my own was going to require purchasing a few things.

With the number of DIY projects starting to build up in my apartment, I decided it was time to invest in a power drill of my own. Turns out, a power drill/portable saw combo at Home Depot only costs $10 more than just a power drill. Considering I was already set to spend the money, naturally, I bought the combo. It was the cheapest brand, Ryobi, but at $99 I wasn’t being picky. I double-checked reviews online, compared the features to the other drills around it, made sure the set came with a lithium-ion battery (not nickel-cadmium, which was the former battery standard but is now being phased out), and that the battery pack would work with any future Ryobi power tools I chose to purchase (next buy: power sander!).

But once you’re the proud owner of a fancy new power drill, you still need two things before you can actually use it: drill bits and screws. I opted for a slightly larger drill bit kit because I wanted to make sure I had a set that included all the basic screwdriver heads. Because I had no idea what kind of screws I’d need for all my drill powered future projects, I settled on this assorted wood screw pack to get me started. I also purchased a variety pack of nails just in case this whole plan blew up in my face and I had to resort to my good ol’ hammer. (For more tips on what you should have in your toolbox, check out Michelle’s suggestions here.)

Note: I have yet to use my portable saw but my vastly more experienced Stepfather strongly suggested I buy myself a Work Mate before using it. It’s a foldable and portable work table with clamps that you can use to saw things more easily (read: without hurting myself).

Step 2: Acquiring Materials

Chances are, wherever you go for wood, they are going to have an overwhelming number of options. There are several key decisions that you will have to make:

Note: Before you go to a lumber supplier (in my case: Home Depot), it is important to measure–actually measure with a tape measure and everything. Don’t be rushed, and don’t skip this, or you’ll end up making the same mistake I did.

First thing you have to decide is what type of wood you want. For a project like this, where no one will be seeing the wood, you can go with a cheaper soft wood like pine or Douglas fir.

Next, you need to decide on what thickness and width you want your wood to be. When I think about lumber, “2-by-4” is more of a name than an actual description. Turns out it’s actually both. The first number is the thickness of the wood and the second is the width. So a 2×4 is 2” thick and 4” wide. Unfortunately, to be extra confusing, lumber is actually identified by what they call nominal lumber sizes, meaning that it is labeled as the size it was before the wood was planed and cut. Therefore a 2×4 was 2” thick and 4” wide. However, now as it lies in front of you, the wood is only 1.5” x 3.5”. Not confusing at all, right? I totally didn’t know that until I was researching for this article, so of course I took the length of my bed (72”) and decided I’d need eight 6″ wide boards. With each of the eight boards spaced 3″ apart this would give me: 48″ of wood + 24″ of space = 72″. When I got home and realized the real measurements of the wood, my 3” between each board turned into 3.5” but it still worked. I wanted the slats to be as thin as possible for the mattress to sit on while still being strong enough to hold it up without bowing, so I went with 1” thick wood. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The blog post I was following had me looking at 2×12 boards, but the employee helping me saved me a ton of money by suggestion I use 1×6 boards instead.

The next thing you need to figure out is length. My 1×6 boards were each 72” long. (Again, the blog had suggested 16’ (192”) boards, but these were way more manageable and cheaper.)  72” is a lot longer than my full bed, so I needed to trim them down to size. I may now be the proud owner of a portable saw, but I still had the friendly folks at The Home Depot cut my wood for me. The first time I tried this, however, I had been lazy and rushed in my measuring, so the super quick measurements I scribbled down were actually wrong. When I got my perfectly trimmed 52.5” boards home, I discovered that they were too short by 1.5”. One thing the blog had right, which I ignored, was the common bed sizes: if I’d listened to them regarding the width, I would have cut my wood correctly (to 54”) the first time and not wasted $30.

When buying wood, it’s also important to check for defects (like these common wood defects) in each board. When I got home with my second round of correctly cut 54” wood, I realized I had one “weak” board, meaning that the board was easier to bend in the middle than the rest. I already had my boards spaced 3.5” apart and I didn’t want to lose a whole board and risk putting too much weight on the remaining ones. Instead, I put the weak board on top of the metal frame on the end, where it would be more supported and have the least amount of pressure on it.

bed 2Step 3 (which should have been Step 1): Designing using your vast structural engineering knowledge

… or what you learned from Google.

So, at first, the plan (devised from the blog I’d found) was just to get a bunch of boards and lay them across my frame. This would have been great except that, unlike their example, my bed frame didn’t have anything on the sides to keep the slats from moving or, worse, slipping off. Not wishing to experience this in the middle of the night, I had to do a little extra planning:

Let Me Fix You- Box Spring to Bed Slats

Thanks to my earlier wood measuring error, I had a few extra boards to work with, so I decided to add two support boards to keep the slats from moving and/or slipping off the frame. Once flipped over, the supports would hit against the metal on the frame, thus keeping the slats in place, and look like this:

Let Me Fix You- Box Spring to Bed Slats (1) If only I had made these drawings BEFORE I started and not just for this article. Add that to the lessons-learned list.

This was the final product:

Bed Slats square

After a month of excellent sleep, without injury or sagging, I think it’s safe to call it a success!

Photos by Anastasia Heuer

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  1. Great job on turning something that was starting to look like a lemon (the bed frame that could not hold a mattress), into lemonade.

  2. This is just what I was looking for! Thanks for the diagrams and what not to dos. I’m about to attempt the same project in my kid’s room and feel somewhat confident after reading this tutorial!

  3. Thanks! Hubby is actually on his way to the store now and will attempt this tonight for our daughters new full size bed. We’re converting the crib to the full size bed but we didn’t know that it didn’t come with anything to hold the new mattress. Hope this helps!

  4. i am dealing with a similar situation, the bed is too tall with convertible crib we have when we use the box spring and the mattress. but the research i have done is showing that you really do need a box spring to prolong the life of your mattress and you need to flip it too…we are ok for now as our child only weighs ~40lbs but as he gets heavier it will be an issue. i think what we are going to do in the future is put the box spring on the floor and mattress on top and hide the box spring with a bed skirt….

  5. My son is 6’2″ and 240 lbs. He is in the basement of a rental house which has a stair well that did not allow Full XL box spring through it. So I needed an alternative that would allow airflow below off the basement carpet, but on the cheap. My solution used 6 ea of 2″x6″x10′ cut to 52 3/4′ for an L&P Instamatic Full size frame. I had the last 2×6 slat stick out from the frame a bit to accommodate the XL mattress (75 inches or so) , but since it’s at the foot (not head) side of the bed, I elected to NOT add any more posts for support. It stands 7 3/4 inches high on the wheels so I got some of those 5 inch cones they sell at Menards to make up for no box spring. So 12 3/4 inch total height to the bottom of the mattress. All in, about $100 including the bed frame. I’m also going to staple one of those $10 army wool blankets to the top of the boards to give it a breathable membrane in case it gets damp in the basement — wood is porous and will absorb moisture. With 11 slots at about 5 total inches, they are each separated by a little less than a 1/2 inch.

  6. If you ever need to do this again, there’s an easier, less heavy & awkward solution — emulate ikea. 1, get a drill bit that can go through metal, and drill holes at each end of each rail. Thread a bolt through the hole. Put a slat at each end of the bed, tight against the bolt. Staple ribbon (or better, nylon strapping material) to the slats, stretching it between the head and foot slat –you want a little bit of tension so it won’t move. Then, you can put the other slats in place, spread out as you prefer, and staple them to the ribbon so they stay in place.

    (And put a middle beam on there. 1 inch slats aren’t going to hold up over time without a center support. Just measure the distance from the bottom of the skat to the floor and have a couple 2x12s or something cut to the appropriate depth and length. )

  7. This is absolutely great! I just read this for the obvious effort you have put in to create this blog and the visuals. Keep enlightening!

  8. I found your Blog at 10 this morning… and by 2 my daughter was sleeping on her new bed…. safer and lower to the ground without the huge box spring. Thanks SOOOOO much for making it as simple as possible to follow step-by-step!

  9. Thanks for posting this. Now I know what to do with my son’s antique wooden bed frame without slats or mattress support. I refuse to drill or alternate the wood in any way and this is the perfect solution. Thanks!

  10. Hey , I don’t see how you laid the planks across the bed. My mattress drops inside my frame with weak planks that has a box spring on top of it.

  11. You saved me from a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN!!!!! My wooden slats began falling out the first night !! No drill! I was going to tie a 12 foot extension cord (the closest thing I could come up with that was strong!) to hold the metal rails together, thus keeping the wood bed slats from sliding out! Now all I have to do is screw some boards under the wood slats – close to the rails. Thank you thank you thank you!

  12. I’ve never seen a bed frame where the side rails look like your side view picture: all metal frames look like this |_ _| to hold the slats/box spring. Methinks your frame was assembled with the metal side rails INVERTED, maybe.

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