January 13, 2021

How To Build Cat Bunk Beds (or Doll Bunk Beds)

Cat and Doll Bunk Beds

I'm so excited to share this project! It's been a long time in the making and it was very intricate to make, so I wanted to take my time working on this post. In retrospect, I spent way too much time working on the project AND the post, haha--but hopefully someone will find it helpful and actually make it!

Because don't we all need cat bunk beds? Or baby doll bunk beds? ;)

My mom was shopping at a second-hand store a few months ago and found an adorable bunk bed set... for dolls! She knew that Riley (my niece) would love it for her dolls, so she bought it. When I saw it, I could tell that it was handmade and I was very interested in it. I decided to try to replicate it.

Since I don't have a child who plays with dolls, I thought, "Hey, this could make a great cat bed!" So, these instructions are to build cat bunk beds or doll bunk beds--you choose. :)  (I think it goes without saying that these are NOT for real babies. Don't do that.)

I'm going to be as detailed as possible in this post, and I am also including a PDF for printing (it's super long, so I apologize--I made the pictures smaller on the PDF to shrink down the number of pages, but it's still 20-something pages long.) If something isn't clear, feel free to comment or email and I'll answer the best that I can!

(Here is the PDF version - it's basically this entire post, including photos.)

The Materials:

I used lots of scraps of wood--some pine, some poplar, some cedar. A lot of it actually came from a 2x4x12 of pine! The bunk boards for the "mattresses" were just scraps of poplar. Basically, it doesn't matter what wood you use if you're going to paint the bunk beds. But if you're going to stain them, then I'd choose more carefully.

I will list the wood cuts below, but first:

The Tools & Supplies

measuring tape
wood glue
table saw
router (optional - this is to cut out grooves down the center of some pieces--I used my table saw instead of a router table because a lot of people don't have a router table)
*trim nailer (I used 16-gauge) with 1-1/4 nails to 2" nails
*pin nailer (I used 23-gauge) with 3/4" nails
pocket hole jig with 1-1/4" screws (only 12 of them) (Amazon affiliate link)
drill (for the pocket holes)
wood filler
spray primer and spray paint

*If you don't have the nailers, you could use small nails and/or screws to put this together. The nailers made this MUCH easier, however, because the pieces are so small and delicate. Pin nailers are not very expensive. This is the one I have (Amazon affiliate link). The trim nailers can be a little (or a lot) more. Here is a cheap one on Amazon (affiliate link). I use my nailers a LOT. This is a slightly different model of the trim nailer that I have. I got it cheap on Amazon Marketplace. 

Wood Cuts

#1. Corner Posts (make 4) - 1-1/8" x 1" x 24"
#2. Head/Foot Board Rails (make 8) - 3/4" x 1-1/4" x 8-3/4"
#3. Side Rails (make 4) - 3/4" x 2-1/2" x 20-1/2"
#4. Bunk Board Bottoms (make 2) - 1/2" x 9-1/2" x 20-1/2"
#5. Slats for Head/Foot Boards (make 16) - 1/4" x 1" x 6-1/2"
#6. Ladder Side Rails (make 2) - 1" x 1" x 22"
#7. Rungs for Ladder (make 10) - 1/2" x 1/4" x 4"
#8. Support Boards Under Beds (make 6) - 3/4" x 1" x 9-1/2" (Note: You can't see these in the below photo because they are underneath the bunk boards.

(Note: The measurements given are ACTUAL measurements and not "common" measurements.)

First, cut all of the wood. Trying to do it as you go along gets confusing.

You'll notice that there is a deep groove in the side rails for the ladder as well as the head/foot boards where the rungs/slats slide in. You can make these grooves with a router if you choose, but because I was already using my table saw, I just used that. I will explain how to do that below.

The Head/Foot Boards

Start with the 8 front/back railing pieces. You will put a groove along the entire length of the 9-1/4" boards (all of them). You want the groove to be in the side that is 3/4" wide (so, when you run it through the saw, the wider side will be the side that slides along the rip fence.

Set the blade of the table saw to be about 1/2" high. You do NOT want the blade to go all the way through the top of the wood--it's only going to go as deep as you want the groove to be (in this case, 1/2").

Set the cutting width to 1/4" (the width from the rip fence to the blade). Laying the 1-1/4" side against the rip fence, run the board through the saw. It will look like this photo when you're done. The groove won't be wide enough yet, but this is just the first pass through the saw.

Once you do the first pass on all eight of the railings, change the width of the cut by slightly less than 1/8" of an inch (note: make sure you are making the cut slightly wider--where the rip fence is a little farther away from the blade--instead of smaller. That way, the second cut will shave off a little to the left of the first cut.)

Run them through the saw again, and the groove will be a little wider. My slats didn't fit into the grooves just yet, so I adjusted the width of the cut just a hair again and ran them through a third time. I was left with a groove that was 1/4" (or just a tiny bit bigger). You want the groove to be just big enough to slide the head/foot board slats in.

Once you make sure the slats fit, remove them so that you can make marks to line up the rungs evenly on all of the railings.

Now, you'll make pencil marks so you can evenly space out the slats into the grooves. (You only have to do the measurements once, and then I'll show you how to transfer to the rest of the railings.)

The center of the 8-3/4" railing happens to be a ridiculous number of 4.375. Make a mark as close to that number as you can. Then, to make it easier, slide the tape measure over a touch so that the 4.5" spot on the tape measure lines up with the pencil mark you made. (see photo below)

Then, make pencil marks where the tape measure reads 1", 2", 3", etc. You'll have 9 pencil marks. You can erase the center one, because you won't be using it. The slats will slide between 1" and 2", 3" and 4", 5" and 6", and 7" and 8". Since they are 1" wide, they will be evenly spaced--a 1" slat followed by a 1" gap.

To transfer the marks to all of the railings, I lined up the railings tightly and evenly (starting with four, because the speed square was too small to do all eight), then I used a speed square to draw light lines along all of the railings at the pencil marks.

Using a speed square, lightly pencil a line across all of the boards where the pencil marks are.

Once you transfer the marks to all the boards, they will look like this:

Next, you'll put the railings and slats together. Put some wood glue on the end of one slat and slide it into the groove between two of the marks (shown in the picture above--where the numbers are). Wipe off any glue that oozes out.

Continue until you have all of the slats in the groove of the railing. Then put some glue on the top of each slat and carefully slide another railing onto the slats. You'll have to maneuver the slats a bit to get them to line up with the pencil marks. Once they are all lined up, place a couple of clamps to hold it all together while the glue dries and you nail the rungs into place.

Now, one head/foot board is done! Repeat the glue and nails for the other three.


Repeat the entire process for the ladder, starting with making grooves in the railings with the table saw. Note that the ladder railings are a different size than the head/foot board railings, so you just want to create the grooves along the length of the center. Since the sides of the ladder are 1" wide, I started by cutting at 1/2" and then adjusted a little at a time to widen the groove.

To space out the rungs, I made a mark in the center ( at 12") and then marks every two inches apart: 

Glue each rung and place in the groove of one railing, with the pencil marks lined up at the center of each rung. Finish with the pin nailer.

Then add a little glue to the other sides of the ladder rungs and carefully slide the other ladder railing on top, pushing the rungs into the groove. It can take some maneuvering, but it'll work out! (I don't have a picture of the finished ladder at this point, unfortunately.)


Next, you'll work on building the base for the bunk beds with the 6 support boards and the 4 side railings. For these, I used pocket holes to screw them together and give them more support. I chose to put the pocket holes on the side that faces upward, because they will be covered with the bunk board.

I made one pocket hole on each end of the support boards. When you screw the support boards to the side railings, you want the support board to be flush with the railings on bottom. Then the side railings will stick up higher than the support boards. (See photo--it explains it better)

Note: The support boards are 3/4" by 1"... when you screw them into the railings, you want the 1" side to be flat on your work station. They should only stick up 3/4" from the work station, allowing enough room to place the bunk board for mattresses.

Next, you're going to attach the head/foot board railings to the base of each bed. Measure and mark the center of the ends of each base as well as the railings. See photo below:

Place a line of glue along the end of the base and then place the railing on top--lining up the two marks so that the railing is perfectly centered. Note: the railing is not going to stretch across the entire base--you still have to attach the posts later.


Next, I attached the posts to that side. (You could always glue other end first and then work on the posts--I don't know why I did it in this order!)

Note: The posts aren't square. They are 1" x 1-1/8". The wider side will be facing you when you look directly at the side of the bed. See photo below.

To attach the posts, mark a line 1" down from the top of the post and another like 12" down from the top of the post. (Do this to all four posts.) These marks are going to be where the TOP of each head/foot board is attached.

To attach the posts, I first lined up the top of one of the head/foot board railings with the 12" mark on the post. I used some wood glue and my 18-gauge trim nailer to attach it. Then I attached the post to the other side the same way.

I repeated the whole process for the other side of the bed--glueing and nailing the head/foot board to the support, then attaching the posts. Now you should have four railings holding up the support with the head/foot boards at each end.


Next, you're going to build another base support and attach the head/foot boards, just like before. Then, line up the top of the head/foot boards with the marks you made 1" from the top of each post. It can be tricky to hold everything in place while you glue and nail or screw it to the posts--but just make sure that the head/foot boards are 1" from the top, and then attach those to the posts as well as the base support. I used glue and 16-gauge trim nails to do this. It should look like the photos below:

Next is the easy part. Just take the bunk boards and set them on the support bases. I used my pin nailer to secure them in place.


Fill in the nail holes with wood filler and sand any spots that need sanding.

Painting this was a bitch, I'm not going to lie! I first primed it with a brush and primer, but getting into those grooves was impossible and messy. I sanded off as much primer as I could and then chose to use spray paint instead. I should've thought of that in the first place!

Spray the whole thing with primer and then paint (do the ladder separately). Finally, attach the ladder using a nailer. Fill in those holes and touch up the paint.


If you're familiar with sewing, you can certainly wing this part. I cut four pieces of fabric (for the "mattresses") to be about 22" x 11-1/2" (allowing room for batting and seams). Then I cut out some batting to be the size of the bunk board (20-1/2" x 9-1/2"). I put two pieces of the fabric, right sides together, and sewed three sides, then turned right side out.

I placed the batting inside, straightening it out. Then I folded the raw edge sides under and sewed that fourth side closed. The mattress fit pretty perfectly on the bunk boards.

To make the pillows, I just cut rectangular scraps of fabric and sewed three sides (with right sides together). I stuffed it with poly-fill stuffing and then folded the raw edges under, and finally sewing up the fourth side. I plumped them up a bit and they were done!

This is possibly the longest post I've ever done, but I wanted to make it as detailed as possible. Now, if only I could get my cats to sleep on the bed so I can get good photos, I'd be thrilled! Hahaha, but you know cats ;) The only way I grabbed these photos was with a little catnip.

To make them into doll beds, you can also make a little blanket to go on top of the mattress so your child can tuck the dolls in :)

I had to borrow those dolls from my mom's house (they are Riley's).

I happened to have the toy Tuck and Roll dolls from Pixar's 'A Bug's Life' (I adored Tuck and Roll and Jerry bought these for me). So I had some fun taking pictures of those, too! ;)

Please let me know if you have any questions or need something cleared up! (Or if you should find a mistake in my directions--it certainly happens.) Also, if you use my tutorial, I would very much appreciate it if you would link back to my post and credit me for the work... it was a LOT of work!

Finally, if you found this tutorial helpful and want to donate a couple of bucks toward my DIY fund, I'd be so grateful! My PayPal is my usual email address: Katie (at) runsforcookies (dot) com. However, I hope you enjoy the tutorial, regardless! And if you do make the project, please email me photos! I'd love to see them :)


  1. I have 2 cats that would never use this, LOL, but this is AMAZING!!!

    1. My cats probably will now that I've already posted this *eye roll*. They take their time for sure! Haha.

  2. Awesome post! That’s an awesome project. I love diy stuff but haven’t gotten good with woodworking yet. I’ve only built shelves in my garage similar to yours. Long time blog reader even though I don’t comment ever.

    Anyways, just wanted to let you know that in your materials listing that you have only 4 end rails and 8 side rails, but in the pictures you have them correct. Thanks for taking the time to type this all out!

    1. THANK YOU for noticing that! I swear, I studied this for so long trying to find mistakes. I corrected it. Good eye! :)

  3. Ohmygosh, you are AMAZING, Katie! Love both the bunks and the mattresses/pillows! You are incredibly talented!

    1. Thank you! It doesn't surprise me that you like the paw print fabric ;) Hope you're doing well! xo

  4. Your talent amazes me to no end. I could never do what you do!

    1. Thank you, Karen! I never thought that one day I'd fall in love with woodworking. I just hope to keep getting better at it :)


I used to publish ALL comments (even the mean ones) but I recently chose not to publish those. I always welcome constructive comments/criticism, but there is no need for unnecessary rudeness/hate. But please--I love reading what you have to say! (This comment form is super finicky, so I apologize if you're unable to comment)

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