Are my antique bed frame rails too short? Can I get longer ones

crazytonyiAugust 9, 2011

My girlfriend has been using an antique bed frame that she bought a few years ago. It has four main pieces: The front, the back, and the rails along the side.

The rails fit into the front and back with a molded shape, kind of like a baby bottle nipple.

I had noticed before that the bed frame was slightly shorter than the bed and chalked that up to the way things used to be (a large soda in the 50s is now a small, etc).

But now that we've replaced the mattress, box spring, and slats, I'm convinced that the warped feeling is due to the frame being too short. The back of the box spring rests inside the molded curve of the back two corners, but the front of the box spring sits on top of the frame, about an inch over.

So I guess my questions are:

1. Did they make mattresses shorter then? Or did we have irregular rails (perhaps custom sized for a foreign mattress)?

2. Are these interlocking rails still made today but to current mattress sizes? Could I get new ones online or at a local mattress dealer? What are they keywords I need to know?

3. If they don't make them this way anymore, but they did make them recently enough to fit a modern bed, are they hard to find? Again, I can't even start without knowing the lingo.

4. If rails of this type were never made for today's bed, are adapters available?

5. Is it possible that we just haven't tried hard enough to make it fit? Is there a trick to these curved bed frames to get the box spring in?

6. Finally, if worst comes to worst, if the bed frame is irregular, could we find standard but still-antique rails out there that will do the trick?

Thanks so much for reading. If this gets fixed, our backs will thank you too.

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I may just be too slow to understand what you're describing, but I can't quite visualize it without a photo. It would help me if you could post one. There is a post at the top of this forum to explain how.

Until then, I can contribute the following: I think beds were once non-standard (and people were shorter too). But our antique bed dates from about 1920 perhaps, and fits a standard double box spring and mattress.

If you can't fit the box spring, could you make a solid platform and just use the mattress?

If you are looking for new bed rails, you could check with some used furniture dealers. Even if you have to buy a bed frame to get the rails, it might be a cheap solution.

If you do a search for "bed hardware," you might find some sites that sell what you need to make new rails - check Lee Valley, among other suppliers.

Other than that, I'd need to see a photo to help me not feel like a complete idiot for not getting what you're trying to describe!


    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:15PM
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Yes, its possible that it took a shorter mattress. I have a 19th century bed that takes a "antique" sized mattress which is 48" by 72" and there is a 3/4 size, and some other sizes.

I also had at one time a 19th century bed that could fit a queen in length but not width.

Many of these old beds did not take a box spring. My oldest bed is a rope bed and the longer bed probably had some kind of open coil spring that fit on the slats.

If they are metal rails you could probably get them lengthened by having the fitting cut off and a new angle iron welded in place.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:21PM
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If I understand correctly, your side rails are metal, rather than wood with metal ends -- is this right? And either the head or the foot of the box spring foul out against the interior curve at the end of the rail, so one or the other has to sit on top of the rail, instead of inside the L-shaped channel -- okay so far?

If so, you could try using bed slats that run the width of the bed, fitting inside the rails. The slats are usually 1x2s or whatever thickness is closest to the height of the rails, and you will need at least 5 of them. The box spring will lie on top of these, bringing it up to the top of the rails, and it should rest level. It might have a tendency to slip sideways, so you can either screw small L brackes, pointed up, to a couple of the rails to keep the boox spring in place, or apply small strips of Velcro to the top of a few rails and the bottom of the springs.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:40PM
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Hey Karinl,

I found someone selling a bed with a similar interlocking rail:



I didn't realize getting it lengthened was an option. Is that a fairly standard procedure? I googled the keywords, but no one is advertising that they'll do it. Do I take it to any-old-body that does handy work, or should I take it to an antiques restorer? Does the weld hold up over time? I'd hate to wake up to the bed crashing into our cat.

Thanks for all of the great feedback, everyone. Let me know if the picture sparks any more.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 12:20AM
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You can take it to a good welder who can cut it in the middle and insert a piece to bring it to the proper length. You would not have do do anything to the ends. They would fit just like they do now.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 12:47PM
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I bought an antique bed for my daughter and it was shorter than conventional beds, so we had to have a mattress made for it.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 8:07PM
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Do you see how the side rails sit lower then the key (baby bottle thingie)? Your slats should be as deep as that indentation so that the surfaces of slats are level with the key. If they aren't then your box spring frame will not be seating properly. If they are, but it still won't fit, then what palimpsest says. It's a relatively cheap fix.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 6:55PM
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I disagree with altering the ends from the "nipple ends" to angle iron. That changes the character of the bed. Adding a piece of iron to match the rails somewhere along the sides is easier and, done by a qualified welder will be just as strong as the existing metal. Having a mattress made to fit the existing length creates an ongoing problem. Mattresses do not last forever and replacements are expensive. JMO

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 8:26PM
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I just paid $22.87 for an iPad2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $675 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from,

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 8:33PM
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calliope are right. The ammendments should not be made at the ends, they are the weakest part of the rail and would be most likely to fail. I didn't catch that palimpsest said that until you mentioned it. The picture the OP used to illustrate the locking joint it looks like that rail isn't even angle iron but flat. I thought that unusual as it would allow the slats to shift. The ones on my old iron bed are really angle iron. I also thought it was sort of funny because my daughter complained about that bed always feeling like the rails were warped, even when the mattress fit it well. This post was almost deju vu.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 12:50AM
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The rails appeared flat to me also. IMO, this would make slats or even just putting the box spring on top more likely to shift and fall thru to the floor.

Could the rails possibly have been made for a rope bed originally? Placing just the mattress on top?

I know they make a clip type of thing to replace slats that go on the angle iron rail and the box spring sits on that. I found them online years ago while searching for something else. Could be an option after the length problem is fixed. These changes would have minimal impact on the original design of the bed. Also, if it was a rope bed, it would help to determine the age.

(I'm not an antique expert, so don't ask me. lol)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 11:59AM
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Here is the siderail of the bed I sleep on every night. You can make out the diagonal extention which gave us about an extra 4 1/2" This is a pretty common practice with Victorian beds.
Word to the wise, before shopping for and hauling home mattresses for antique beds do some very careful measuring. Not only L X W but also consider height if you are going to use a boxspring. That's going to mean some considerable alterations if you plan to use an old rope bed with the original rails.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 6:35PM
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I've not seen rope suspensions on iron beds, but I don't claim to have seen everything. There were all sorts of mattresses in that era, including metal framed spring ones. Those are the origina rails I'd be pretty sure.

Yes, it is wise to do some careful measurements on replacement mattresses for old beds. I have been lucky in that I've not had a problem but the fancy new mattresses can be overkill and a very tight squeeze. I sent one of our old 1930s sets to my step daughter and she wanted a new mattress and it didn't fit. Period. The one I had did and it was not original. Yes also to the height if you are using a box spring. They can end up being so high, you need a ladder to climb into the sack.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 9:09PM
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i have an antique brass bed, in a guest room, with the same kind of side rails. i think they might be put in upside down (in the photo) and, therefore, are on the wrong side of the bed. my bed was put together like that by my last mover and was recently discovered by my daughter when she was here visiting. she wasn't able to get the mattress and springs off so just put short boards at the corners to keep them from falling off.

i got new carpet since then and i asked the installers to put the rails on correctly when they reassembled the bed. sorry this is so long!..... i don't know if that was done or not and the bedroom is on a different level of the house than i am on and i am in a wheelchair so i can't go check.

regarding the length of the mattress, yes, today's mattresses are too long. i bought a used one about 25 years ago, when i bought the bed, since it was shorter than new mattresses at that time.

i hope this makes some sense!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 10:00PM
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If the bed is dear to you, I'd recommend not trying to splice and weld the rails. The quality and alloy of old metal is unknown, so getting a good weld may not be easy. It's not the kind of thing you want to take a chance on, either.

I'd suggest getting a good machinist/welder/fabricator to make an extension, which would consist of short length of rail with a male and female wedge fitting on the ends. That would be just as strong and rigid as the original, and you wouldn't have made any irreversible modification to the frame.

That's the advice from my DH, who's an engineer, welder, fabricator, and machinist.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 8:18AM
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It's entirely possible the rails are installed upside down. Only the one picture doesn't give much info. If they are installed incorrectly then the head (or foot) rail is also upside down. Is that at all possible?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 10:31AM
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I wondered the same thing. The key may be the same on both sides. Mine isn't, it tapers down so that it can only be put in one way....the proper way. It almost has to be tapered down like that, or the rail would just slide through to the floor. But there may be a stop or something underneath on that frame. Who knows.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 11:17AM
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