January 16, 2009

So I Finished The Juddy Crib


Long-time readers of Daddy Types might remember my grand plan to make a sweet, minimalist toddler bed for the kid out of thick slabs of plywood. The design was an adaptation of a Donald Judd daybed [which is visible in the photo Andy posted of Judd's kitchen in SoHo]. I even called it the Juddy Crib as I was working on it, as a tribute.

Anyway, the original plan was to make the kid's bed as a prototype for a bed that anyone could build himself--or with another dad (or mom), since the design was optimized so that two beds could be cut on a CNC table from five sheets of 60x60 baltic birch ply. It was going to be the Holy Grail of children's furniture, a sweet modernist/minimalist crib you could build yourself for a couple hundred bucks, or you could assemble it yourself after having the wood cut and finished for around $500

The design is extremely simple, and you could hammer one together in a weekend. So why did this thing take three years to finish? Because it was going to go in our NYC apartment, we had to be able to build and take the crib apart. Then I decided that all the joinery had to be invisible. Anyone who works with wood will tell you how much this complicates things.

Then there was the toddler bed safety rail, which couldn't be attached in any way that would leave a mark on the pristine surfaces of the bed. It was eventually made of plexiglass slabs that slide under and are held in place by the mattress, but it didn't get finished before the kid outgrew the bed [which is regulation crib size]. So it sat in the Brooklyn cabinet shop where it had been built. Until we found out K2 was on the way.


The fire was lit again, and I just needed to get a crib front made by the time K2 outgrew her Bugaboo bassinet. It was originally going to be a glorious mosaic of colored plexiglass tiles, fused together like Gerhard Richter's just-unveiled stained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral. Only my plexiglass guy was going through a divorce or something, and three months of phone tag and messages in the middle of an upstate domestic situation later, K2 was popping out of the stroller. So I jury-rigged [not a term you like to see applied to a newborn's sleeping place] a canvas crib front, essentially a fitted, inside out painting canvas on stretchers. We were confident with it as long as K2 couldn't pull herself up.


So that bought me another three months, which I used to burn through a whole range of handymen, carpenters, cabinetmakers, and craigslist losers who either couldn't manage to produce the ply-and-plexi frame design I'd come up with. Or they took the job, only to start making all sorts of point-missing design change suggestions like using pine strips instead of ply, or using Home Depot ply instead of the cabinet grade Russian birch, or just screwing the whole thing together instead of dowelling it. Or they said sure, they could do it, and then would come back with estimates ranging from $1000-1400, give or take, and since they charge $100/hr, it'd be mostly take.


Flash forward a couple of Pack 'n Play-equipped months, and we're at my mom's house for Christmas, where my brother-in-law Anthony offhandedly mentions his dad has a woodshop, built it so the kids could do projects. He could help me knock that thing out, easy. So I bought a single sheet of the ply from an exotic wood dealer on Christmas Eve afternoon, then had to have it cut in half to fit into my mom's MDX. On Boxing Day, Anthony and I headed up Hobble Creek Canyon to his parents', where we spent the day teaching each other various woodworking tools. His dad and brother would stop in to make project-saving suggestions. The afternoon alternated between a lacquer haze and a hand-carved jade chess set someone had brought back from his mission to Central America. I saved the last sanding and rub-on coat for after the insanely heavy box of unassuming plywood sticks was delivered to our door in DC.

And then I tried to find three giant clamps so I could glue the thing together. It turns out to be a challenge to do a large furniture-making project in the city with no space or tools. Fortunately, the clamps I borrowed were too short, and I had to go to the woodshop at the Arlington County Community Center Wednesday night, because when I pieced it all together, I realized I had to redrill four dowel holes and cut down the plexiglass panes on a table saw, since they were almost a whole half inch off what I'd ordered. I barely got the glue, sealant, and clamps in place before the woodshop closed for the night. Now K2 and I just got back from picking it up. It needs a bit of steel wool and mineral spirits touchup, but it's done.

I figure K2 has maybe 8-9 months with the cribfront before we swap it out for the toddler rail. But by then, we'll be able to swap out the firm, smooth mattress for the slightly softer, much nicer crib futon.

Sunday update: hahaha, it doesn't fit. I just tried putting the new 2-in. wide cribfront onto the bed, and it's about an inch too wide at the bottom. Or rather, our firm, rigid, framed up mattress doesn't give enough for the crib front to stay on. It's the kind of thing I should have expected from a project that was designed after the fact, and not as part of the original process. I guess we'll wait until we get the futon mattress from NYC.


Sweet. So what did you use to assemble it, cam locks? And where's the pic with the plexi end installed?

not quite that fancy. there are double L-shaped brackets set flush into the ends of the bed sides, and you just tap them in with a mallet.

Then we cheated a bit, and drilled screws into brackets along the inside/underside, which you can only see when you turn the thing on its back.

The kicker, of course, is that early on, but after we'd started down the "no hardware visible, period!" path, I took the guy who helped me build it to a Donald Judd exhibition, and what do we see? bolts and screws everywhere. the screwheads weren't even all lined up the same direction. We were shocked.

Anyway, I'll put up some install pics tomorrow. Oh wait, do you mean cam locks to install the cribfront? Yeah, I'm using Jorgenson clamps. I figure they're honest, but definitely sub-optimal. And unmarketable.

As Scott said: Sweet.

I was going to pooh-pooh the toddler bed rail entirely, and tell you that because the Juddy looks pretty low to the ground, you could just do what we did, and put a couple of pillows on the floor, and sort of leave them there for a long time, and hear your kid fall out of bed onto them a few times, or maybe miss. Suddenly I am wishing we had used a toddler bed rail.

Just get the height right so you don't create an entrapment hazard.


yeah, the toddler rail is based on the ASTM standard, if I recall correctly. It's freakin' sweet, actually, because it's this 1-inch slab of plexi with rounded edges. When the kid used it with her futon, on the floor, though, we had to throw a blanket over it; she couldn't see it well enough and would bump into it. Like a bird flying into the window.

I have half a mind to put some plant and rock decals on the outside of the crib plexi, to complete the terrarium look.

So what's someone got to do to get a copy of the as-built plans?

Hi, props for ingenuity, but I have to be a party pooper. If I understand it right, the crib has 3 solid wood sides, and 1 plexiglas / wood side? So there isn't a lot of air flow at the surface of the mattress? Well, recently they found that an excellent preventative for SIDS is having a fan in the room, reduces it 72%!(and the usual advice to avoid blankets, pillows, soft things is still good). Well, the reason they think these work is because the SIDS babies are rebreathing their own CO2, which is heavier than air and can pool near their face. I'm sorry, but the design as-is looks really dangerous to me. Even with a fan in the room, how much CO2 is going to pool down near the mattress by the baby's face? I'd at least switch to a traditional front with rails. Plus, a smaller point but with our baby, he keeps standing up in the crib and falling back against the sides. I'm very grateful that the sides ARE crappy, thin rails because they at least give a little when his head hits them.

Nice bilibo you got under the bed there.

thanks, and don't worry, air circulation and temperature were one of our biggest concerns with the crib, from the outset to the final design. Based on the CPSC and ASTM standards, the longtime presence of comparable solid-walled cribs in the market [at least in EU], the SIDS science and risk factors, and K2's own behavior, age, and situation, we decided that it was safe. Not just "safe enough," either, and certainly not "really dangerous."

The fan study came out last October, long after the crib and cribfront were settled, and we felt it validated our concern about air flow and temperature in the crib. [The kid's room already had two fans, a ceiling fan and a window A/C.] But the details of the study conclusion showed no statitstical benefit for kids who sleep on their back and/or use a pacifier. The dramatic benefits of a fan in the study--which you mentioned, 72% decrease in SIDS risk--was only when it's hot, in co-sleeping situations, or where the kid sleeps face-down.

The other concerns we had/have are about the invisibility of the plexi and the edges. K2's in this hilarious phase where she walks into plate glass windows a lot. I joked about the terrarium stickers, but we may put something on the windows just to keep her from smacking into it too much. As for the edges, we'll watch and see. We rounded them a bit, but not nearly as much as is typical. [Check out David Netto's CUB crib, which was also inspired by Judd's daybed, but is an actual product made in a factory that people buy, and which has rounder edges.] If necessary, we won't wait for K2 to get a bed-shaped dent in her forehead before we sand them down a bit more.

As for the head smacking crib side issue you mention, you're right. When K2's head bounced off the solid wood walls, they made a startlingly resonant thunk [she was fine.] Assuming you can tell what your crib's made from, you can usually spend your way out of the significant risk that comes from cribmakers using cheaper, flimsier wood, like the hundreds of thousands of Jardine cribs that were recalled last summer. I don't think that over-engineering and using extremely strong, solid materials is over-compensating for this risk, but I can understand the point.

Why you no buy CUB 1? That's what I based the design on, a Judd daybed. I always admired your taste...And, congratulations on your upcoming addition...

Very nice design! It's beautiful.

why you no launch CUB 1 a year earlier, before I got fixated on the Juddian ideal in my head and started building it? Thanks, and unless Jean told you before me, the only addition to the family at the moment is the crib itself.

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