The rocking cradle

As soon as I got the news that I would become a father, I started to design a rocking cradle. The cradle will become a heirloom for my oldest daughter.

I decided to use a rather classic approach to the design, but did not want to go completely bananas with it. Not too classic, not to contemporary.

I chose birch as I wanted a light color. I also like the mother-of-pearl effect and the flames birch is so well known for.

I started out by using a small jointer/thicknesser to flatten one side, joint one side (making it 90 degrees to the flattened side) then thickness planing until the opposite wide face was flat. This makes the board uniform in thickness as well. I did not bother with the last side and left it rough.

I ripped thin strips on the table saw, which I glued up to form panels.

I used long clamps placed on a cardboard cored door; these doors are perfectly flat and pretty sturdy. As soon as the glue had dried enough to have solidified – but before curing – I scraped off the excess. This saves sanding afterwards.

The belt sander removed any glue and made the panel flat. If I were to do it again, the smoothing plane would be my weapon of choice. I applied two coats of lacquer, except for the edges. I wanted to get some finish on the side panels before I mounted them in their frames.

I then started construction of the frames.

With the sides done, it was time for the head- and foot board. I turned finials for the corner posts and cut a profile in the top of the post. The first iteration did not look good – it was way too thick and heavy, so I made a longer and slimmer taper to it. I used 5 degrees, so that the outsides ended up 90 degrees to the floor. I cut a cove down each corner from the top, fading the cove to zero. The end result was very nice. It is very comfortable to grip the corner post at the top when rocking the cradle.

Before I glued the headboard, I wanted to install an inlaid heart. I used a piece of teak which once was a part of the old kitchen cabinets in my parents kitchen; it was a post to hold up some cupboards over a sideboard of sorts. It became a part of my childhood home incorporated into the heirloom for my oldest daughter. I cut the heart from the teak stock, carved the cavity for it in the top rail of the headboard and epoxied it in place. Masking tape was used to prevent glue smears on the surface of the wood. I then glued the head- and footboards and started work on the rockers. I marked the middle and end points of the arch on a piece of birch, then used a thin MDF batten to trace the curvature. The underside of the rockers got a “bulb” to stop the rocking motion at a certain point – although I never expected the cradle to be rocked THAT hard. No need to play pinball with a baby…

When the glue had dried, I put the whole thing together to check my work. It was perfect. I glued two strips to the bottom of the side panels to hold the bed slats (also made from birch). I chamfered the bottom edge to keep them out of view. It proved to be unnecessary, though as my daughter got older she crawled underneath it. Good to get rid of any sharp edges.

I installed hardware in order to be able to dismantle the cradle, as I then knew I would have to move. I also considered the need for flat packed storage of the cradle. It is really not a small item you can just put away on a shelf…

I made a small drilling guide to get the correct angle for the screws that hold the sides (there are also some wooden plugs). The sides and the head/foot-board are angled 5 degrees outwards both side- and lengthwise.

I cut out the rockers and smoothed them with spoke shaves, files and sand paper. I decided to draw bore them in order to ensure they will never come apart. I made plugs from birch by whittle a small stick I then hammered through a piece of metal with a hole 1mm too big. I tapered and sanded the plug down to slightly bigger size than the hole I bored in the legs. The holes in the rockers are offset 1-2mm. Glue was applied and the pegs driven home and cut off close to the surface of the legs. I then planed and sanded the excess off. A small design item – a smiley – in one of the legs was cut with gouges.

I assembled the cradle for the first time and tested the rocking motion. It is very well balanced and returns to center every time. The rocking keeps going for a short while.

I then took the cradle home and showed it to my wife for the first time. Her reaction made all the work worth it right there and then!

I took the cradle apart again and applied four coats of water based lacquer. Between each coat, I used a card scraper and some sand paper to remove any raised grain and bumps. I used a very fine brush, and the end result was super smooth. I stapled some cotton banding to the slats (they are made from scraps from the build and are probably strong enough to hold me just fine!) After the finish had cured, I reassembled the cradle and made the bed ready for our first child.

Rosemine arrived 17. July 2016. Two years later, 17. August 2018, Lilly arrived, and the cradle was put to good use once more.

This has to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever made! I made the cradle for Rosemine, so now I need to figure out something of similar “value” to Lilly.

The cradle has stood up to the use absolutely perfect. The rocking motion is gentle and keeps going for a small while. The birch is beautiful, with some wild grain and lots of “mother-of-pearl -effect”. I did not want to use oil based products on it, as I wanted to keep the very light color of the birch wood. I was not too sure about using such products on something I would put a baby in, either!

The cradle measurements are based on the mattress I bought. I made the bottom of the cradle 5mm narrower and 5mm shorter than the mattress so that it would fit snugly. This worked out beautifully.

I angled the sides 5 degrees outwards in both directions. The side panels were made first, then the head- and foot boards were made to fit the side panels. I made sure the pairs matched each other perfectly and could be mounted any which way before deciding on which side should face outwards. The only exception is the headboard with the heart and the smiley. By ensuring the parts could be swapped around like that, I got a perfect end result.

The panels floats in their frames (they are glued in the middle of the bottom to keep them in place and to reduce rattling), and I left a good 10% tolerance for expansion. I put some cushion foam pieces inside the expansion cavity to eliminate any possibility for rattling. Might’ve overdone it, but the thing does absolutely not rattle…

If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll be happy to help. There are no plans for this cradle, as I made each piece to fit the others. For “one-off” projects like this, I find it easiest to stay away from rigid measurements as much as possible. This method also utilizes the wood you have on hand best. For this cradle, the only critical measurement was the size of the mattress. All the other decisions were made based on what looked nice, such as the distance from the bottom of the headboard to the rocker. By working to a set of given measurements, I would’ve used a lot more wood – and thus wasted materials. There were just a few small scraps left over from this project.

I did not think I would ever become a father. I got two daughters now. But only one cradle. What to do, what to do? (he thought, blithely contemplating the stack of wood)

My pile of oak, mostly quartersawn

3 thoughts on “The rocking cradle

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