Cannon balls. You’ve seen them. You may even have some in your own home! Not necessarily the iron ones, but maybe spherical wooden ones, sitting atop bedposts and newel posts. The cannon ball as a design element became popular in America in the late 18th century. The cannon, and its shot, were the most significant of armaments used during the American Revolutionary War. Colonists came to believe the cannon ball symbolized victory and freedom from the tyranny imposed by Great Britain.
From their first appearance after the Revolutionary War to this day, bedposts "topped out" with a wooden sphere, or "cannon ball," are one of the most popular bedpost styles in America. The cannon ball bed design at tablelegs.com features simple country styling reminiscent of the early part of the Empire Period (1830 to 1860). Early in this period the furniture styling was lighter, with more human scale to the proportions. As the period progressed, designs became more massive, more masculine in their proportions and often, darker in wood tone.
Like its historic brethren, our bed is held together with bed bolts. This system of assembly came into common use at the beginning of the industrial revolution, replacing the rope system. The alignment of headboard, bedposts and bed rails is done with mortise and tenon joinery. Once the bed bolts are tightened, the posts and rails become a rock solid assembly. A bonus of this type of construction is ease in transporting your big bed frame. There is no glue used, and all parts disassemble for easy transport. Depending on the move you can either leave the head and footboard assemblies together or break them down into individual parts. Completely broken down your bed frame can be moved in most any hatchback with the seats folded down.
If you have purchased your turned bedposts it only takes basic milling equipment to make the rest of the parts. Individually, each part that makes up the bed frame is pretty simple.
The most challenging part of construction is getting the holes for the bed bolts drilled accurately. You will need a 3/8" size drill bit for the bolt holes, and a 1" Forstner bit for the counterbore that captures the nut. Taking your time, and getting the layout for the bolt hole locations correct is critical. I have gotten this wrong a few times over the years, and paid dearly for the mistake.
Mattresses come in a multitude of thicknesses. In laying out our rail and headboard elevations we used what we felt was the most common mattress thickness.
You have two options to support the mattress. One is where a mattress alone sits on a simple wood deck. The other is where a box spring is suspended from bed irons, with the mattress on top of the box spring. I have made beds both ways for customers and they both work. For my own beds I’ve always used the deck system because I prefer the more period look of the mattress alone. Some thicker box springs may hang below the bed rail, and I like the space clear under the bed. Many customers will want to use a box spring, and bedding comes in different thicknesses. Accordingly, bed irons come in different lengths allowing you to adjust the bedding height. And, you can hide the box spring from view by installing a bed skirt that hangs to the floor.
One final thought. I try to plan the bed so there is only a very small gap between the top of the mattress and the bottom of the headboard. No gap is fine, too. If the gap is any more than two inches, pillows can inadvertently slip through and fall to the floor.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of our cannonball bedpost design. As you can see from the photos, it makes a handsome bed!