Shaker Rope Beds and Rope Tightening
Shaker Workshops rope beds are faithful reproductions of Shaker rope beds made in the 19th century. Because they differ in some ways from modern beds, we want to be sure that our customers are aware of their unique characteristics. We offer our rope beds in twin and full sizes. These are the sizes the Shakers made and used in their Villages.
Our Shaker rope beds are made with massive wooden side rails to withstand the tension of the ropes. They are also proportioned, with respect to the mattress, the way antique beds are. A standard size mattress will not fit in between the rope side rails exactly, but will overhang onto the top of the rails. The mattress covers a portion of the wide side rails, so that there is less wood exposed. This reduces the danger of banging your legs on the rails as you climb into or out of the bed.
The rope surface is about 1” lower that the top surface of the side rails. This means that the mattress will “sag” slightly in toward the ropes. Most mattresses will, after a short period of use, conform to this difference in height between the level of the side rails and the level of the ropes. A futon is a good choice for use with a rope bed. Because it is similar to the type of mattress originally used on rope beds, a futon conforms more easily to the transition between the ropes and side rails. Some people who object to this “sag”, remedy it by installing a sheet of 3/4” or 1” plywood on top of the ropes. There are three benefits that result from installing plywood. 1.) It evens out the surfaces so that there is little or no difference in height between the plywood and side rails. 2.) It provides firmer support for those who like a firm bed. 3.) Plywood spreads a person’s weight more evenly over the ropes, thus reducing the need to tighten the bed ropes as often.
The ropes on a rope bed need to be tightened periodically. This is especially true when the bed is first set up and the ropes are new. The expression “Sleep tight!” refers to the benefits (from the standpoint of comfort) of a recently tightened rope bed. In the “old days” this chore usually fell to the older boys in the household. They used a tool called a bed key. Each boy worked on the opposite side of the bed. They worked their way around the bed tightening the ropes. Rope tightening is just a fact of life when using a rope bed. An effective technique for tightening ropes without a bed key is described below.
To tighten the bed ropes without a key, you will need two people (if possible) and two 3/8” diameter x 8” – 10” dowels. Taper each dowel on one end. Begin with a person on each side of the bed. One person pulls the rope tight through the hole on his/her side of the bed rail and then jams the tapered end of the dowel into the hole, binding the rope in place. This keeps the rope taught by preventing it from slipping back through the hole. The other person then pulls the rope tight from the other side of the bed and jams a dowel into that hole. The first person then pulls the rope tight through the next hole along the rail, removes the dowel from the first hole and inserts it into the next. The two people work their way around the bed tightening the rope in this fashion.
14 South Pleasant Street
Ashburnham, MA 01430-1649