Chinese Chippendale Headboard and the Challenges of Geometry

Oh man, I’m really excited to write this post. This is yet another project for my niece Audrey’s room redecoration. This is an idea I’ve had percolating for a while, and although it didn’t go quite as smoothly as I expected, because math, I’m happy with how it turned out.

Source: thisiscarpentry.com

I’ve always really liked this style – sometimes it’s called Chinese Chippendale, or lattice-work, or woven – and I’ve been looking for a project I could try it out on. Audrey needed a new headboard for her new bedroom, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. After seeing this post on a Chinese Chippendale railing, I’d found the pattern I wanted to use as my template. The railing post is incredibly detailed and the craft that goes into his work is way beyond my current skill set, so I modified the idea to something I could feasibly do.

IMG_1069The first step was scaling the design to a size that would be appropriate for a twin headboard. (A twin bed is 39″ wide, but I prefer a slightly wider headboard so it looks the correct size when a comforter is on the bed.) In this design, the negative space is as important as the positive. The empty square in the middle of the design is a dimension that’s repeated over and over – using it as a constant is what makes the wood pieces look like they’re continuous even when separated. Starting from the central square, since only right angles are used, you can work out the math of the whole design. I knew I’d want to use 1″x2″ boards, so I worked out the math of the design with a 4″ central square – too wide for a twin bed – then a 3″ square – too small. 3 1/2″ seemed to be just right. It was a little on the small side, so I decided to frame out the whole pattern with 1″x3″s instead of 1″x2″s. This gave me a design that was 42″ wide x 26″ high.

IMG_1049Once I had my dimensions decided on, I could start cutting. The rational thing would have been to bribe my brother-in-law to let me borrow his miter saw, but that would’ve meant waiting a few extra days, and I’m incredibly impatient when I’m in the throes of a new project. So I busted out my miter box and hand saw and cut the pieces manually. 1″x2″s actually cut pretty quickly, but I think I’ll ask Santa for a power compound miter saw anyway. My brother-in-law will be so jealous.

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Nope.

With everything cut, I laid all my wood pieces out in the design and… they didn’t fit. Two of  the large diagonal pieces were too short. I tried every which way to make the pattern work, but eventually I came to terms with the fact that I had mathed wrong. I went back to my plan and realized I hadn’t added in the extra length from the width of the boards themselves in that part of the pattern. Oh well. I got another board from Home Depot and cut the correct sized pieces. This time, everything fit together just like I’d intended.

IMG_1064I joined the boards together using wood glue and picture frame fasteners (like these) – the headboard would be mounted on a wall, so the back didn’t have to be pretty. To give the frame some strength, I added corner brackets at each corner. To hang it, I added heavy duty D-ring picture hangers to the top two corners. These would hang on screws and drywall anchors mounted in the wall behind Audrey’s bed.

With everything joined together and dry, I painted the whole shebang gray (in accordance with her new bedding and her string art sign and jewelry box). I’d originally planned to do a color-wash with the gray (diluting the latex paint with equal parts water creates a cool faux-stain) to let the wood grain shine through, but with gray, the color-wash just made the wood look weathered. Audrey’s new room is all pretty clean and modern. Weathered just isn’t the look for her. So I added another coat of paint for a fully gray headboard. Et voila!

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Hung by my sister, who is very proud that she used the power tools like a big girl.


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