Bed slats provide horizontal support for a box spring or mattress as it rests inside the bed frame. While box springs have a rigid frame that theoretically can be supported by the metal L-frame that holds headboard, footboard and sideboards of the bed frame together, all too many people have had the rude experience of a mattress box spring slipping into the gap in the frame and crashing to the floor in the middle of the night. When you install bed slats as cross pieces that fit across the gap, the box spring is fully supported.
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Bed slats can also be useful in a platform bed — either by offering additional support to the plywood platform or, when the slats are spaced close enough together, to form the actual platform upon which the mattress will rest. In fact, some mattress manufacturers recommend closely spaced slats instead of solid wood as the platform for a mattress, since this offers air circulation that isn't possible with a solid plywood platform.
There are a number of options you can consider for bed slats
- A commercial metal slat unit
- A commercial wood slat kit
- DIY slats made from lumber purchased from a home center.
Here's how to buy slats for your bed.
Step 1: Measure Your Bed Frame
With the bed frame assembled and mattress and/or box spring removed, measure from widthwise between the side edges of the frame. Use this measurement to purchase your slats — whether it is a commercial kit or boards you cut yourself.
Step 2: Choose the Type of Slats
Consider these three types of slats:
Metal Slat Kit: Metal bed slats have the advantage of being adjustable to match different bed dimensions, and most have a center support down the middle of the bed. The drawback is that these are generally more expensive — slightly more expensive than commercial wood slat kits, and a lot more expensive than DIY slats you cut yourself. Metal slats require some assembly, though this is not difficult. These kits usually sell for under $100 and include all the hardware required to attach them to the bed frames.
Wood Slat Kit: These kits come in a box with a series of lateral slats attached by webbing or cords.
They are installed by laying them across the bed frame and simply unrolling. Installation is very easy, but the kits are more expensive than cutting your own boards. Kits usually come with the necessary hardware for attaching the slats to the sides of the bed frame.
DIY Slats: By far the least expensive option, you can cut your own slats by simply buying 1 x 4 pine lumber and cutting the boards to the correct measurement. With a box spring, three or four cross boards will suffice; if they will serve as a platform that supports a mattress directly, space the slats no more than 3 inches apart.
Step 3: Install the Slats
Metal Slat Kit: Assemble the kit between the side frame members, and adjust it to fit the space between the bed frame. Attach it to the bed frame using the hardware included with the kit. If the kit is so equipped, adjust the center legs so they firmly support the center of the slat unit.
Wood Slat Kit: Unroll the slat kit onto the bed frame cleats or L-irons. If you wish, you can attached the ends of the slats to wooden side cleats by driving screws, although they can also be left to "loose-fit" within the frame to make future disassembly easier.
DIY Slats: Cut the slats to length, about 1/4 inch shorter than the distance between the sides of the bed frame. Lay the slats across the bed frame. If you wish, you can attach the ends of the slats to the wooden cleats or L-irons with screws or bolts. Or leave the slats "loose-fit" to make future disassembly easier.
Often you can get your bed slats cut for free by request at a lumberyard or big box home improvement center.