Doll Cribs

Our grand-daughters are at the age where they love to play with dolls. They are infatuated with the American Girl style 20″ dolls, now adding the American Girl Bitty Baby 15″ dolls. To go with them, they want additional “furnishings” beyond the cases I built last year. A couple of them have their hearts set on a baby crib. This project started with a picture and another “can you make this” request from one of my daughters. With the girl’s triple birthday party coming up, I said yes.

I did a search for plans and dimensions, and suggested designs /& pictures for their review. My daughters emphasized a “modern design” so no curves, arches, or other ornamentation (darn). As I looked for examples and dimensions, I noticed that a lot of the American Girl cribs on Ebay had the side rails bowed and bottoms drooping. I was determined to use more rugged construction without substantially bulking up the construction and ending up with a “clunky” design. I still wanted to apply some ornamentation. This is another time where the laser can help out with engraving or cutting the stencil for painting. So, I sent the girls on a search for SVG files to use (as I am not an artist). They wanted the cribs to be painted so this lead to the use of MDF for the end panels and hard maple for the side rails. Both paint well and I had some already on hand.

Dimensions and choices

For dimensions, I sort of averaged what I found on line:

  • Interior length 18″. This also works well for the spindle spacing – 8 spindles will then have an even 2″ center spacing. Interior width 11.25″
  • Side rails: 0 .75″ thick x 1.75″ high x18″ long.
  • Spindles: 3/8″ dowels
  • End panels: 12.75″ wide x 10″ high
  • Legs: 1″ dowels cut to 2.5″ length

The side rails are fastened to the end panels with knock down fasteners. I have used them on a number of projects but the commonly available barrel nuts are 15-18mm long which would be a problem for hiding them from being visible in the 3/4″ – 19mm thick side rails especially when using a brad point bit for the holes. I had a 10mm brad point bit from prior projects which matches the diameter of the M6 barrel nuts.

Like many of my projects, this one turned into making multiple pieces – 3 doll cribs. This drove a production methodology with work stops and setups to ensure accuracy and repeatability. There are a lot of holes to drill: 52 per crib .

Stock prep

The bottom panel is .24″ maple MDF core plywood. This fits into a 1/4″ deep dado cut into the side rails and end panels. Given that this is a painted project, I cut the dados all the way across the end panels and then added 1/4″ wide plugs to hide the gaps due to the dado where the rails meet the end panels. Overall this is easier than cutting stopped dadoes which would be required if this was stained or had a clear finish.

For the drilling of the side rails for the spindles, a machinists vise is used, to allow the rail to be slid for each cut while maintaining the centering. A fence on the drill press could work just as well but it was faster to set up on the milling machine.

To drill the rail side holes for the barrel nuts the same vise was used but with a stop block added. The stop block is a scrap piece of the side rails form when they were cut. It is shimmed as it is inserted in the vise with paper to allow a sliding fit as the rail ends are inserted. This provides a few thousandths of an inch clearance and still provides accurate positioning of the hole.

Drilling the side rail holes for the dowel nuts. Note the slightly wider stop block in the vise.

For the end holes on the rails, into which the screws are inserted, I needed another fixture. Drilling holes in the ends of boards is not one of my favorite tasks due to it being so easy to go awry and not meet the cross dowel hole center or even pop out of a side. For this I used a couple of angle plates bolted together and bolted to the table of the drill press. This was quicker than assembling a new wood fixture. Drilling these holes did require all of the height of my 14″ bench top drill press to fit the rail over the base of the drill press and still also fit under the drill bit prior to plunging it down.

Drilling the end holes for the bolts in the side rails to intercept the dowel nut hole
2 angle plates are mounted to the drill press table to securely position the piece.

The holes in the end panels are relatively easy. They are marked and drilled on the drill press from the outer side. A wood backup is needed for the holes due to the propensity of the MDF to flake out as the drill bit exits the hole, even with a sharp bit and light pressure.


The rails are sanded to 120 grit and the corners are broken. The edges of the MDF panels are sanded and edges broken as well. The dowels are lightly sanded to 220 grit.

The dowels were laid out across a couple of saw horses and the ends taped together about 1/2″ apart. The tape was needed as the dowels are not perfectly straight and keep rotating so the bow side is down. 2-3 coats of finish were needed. For this I used Rustoleum 2x Ultra Cover maroon satin spray paint. This does have a narrow 1 hour re-coat window so I had to keep flipping and spraying the sets of dowels.

For the rails and end pieces, I sprayed on 3 coats of Insl-x Cabinet Coat satin finish. This is a urethane-acrylic enamel that I had used previously for my daughter’s kitchen cabinets and is extremely durable. It does need to be thinned for spraying and I used the Benjamin Moore Extend acrylic mix for this at 3 oz Extend to 24 oz Insl-x (yes, this is more than the recommended amount). I uses a gravity feed HVLP spray gun Asturomec / Walmec 9011 – with a 1.9mm tip. This works reasonably well, but the fan width is limited, due to the thick paint, leading to a lot of overlapping passes. The edges of the rails are hit at about a 45 degree angle on each coat from both sides. After the first 2 coats the pieces are sanded to 320 grit to remove any nibs, and ripples. Then the final coat is sprayed on.

Crib parts drying

For the heart patterns, the end panels are covered with a single layer of masking tape which is worked hard with a plastic squeegee to get good adhesion. The outlines are then engraved using the laser. This leaves a thin black burn line at the edges and the masking tape edges are securely stuck down. The areas to fill are pulled off and then then more of the magenta paint is sprayed on. Only one coat is needed on top of the base that is there. I think the outline engraving looks better than a filled engraving where the entire area to be painted is etched away with the laser. The pieces are then set aside to dry.

End panel masked, engraved and the tape in the area to be painted removed
Comparison test of the filled engraving (top) and the line only engraving (bottom).
Note that the top also had problems with the tape lifting / blowing away and getting both smoke and paint under the top / trailing edge of the cut.
Top required 3 coats of paint and still looked dark
End panels with the painted hearts drying

The spindles are cut to length and the ends are slightly tapered with a pencil sharpener. It is amazing how much easier it is to get the spindles started with the slight taper on the ends. The rails are carefully tapped with a mallet to get them to the proper height to match the end panels. Be sure to not go too far as it is VERY hard to get them apart again even though no glue is used.

Beveling the end of the spindles with a lumber pencil sharpener (only 1-2 turns is needed for the bevel).
Completed doll crib

The legs have the bottom end tapered and then are finished with Endurovar water based polyurethane that is wiped on. They are fastened through the bottom panels with #8×1″ flat head wood screws with finish / cup washers.


M6x13mm Dowel nuts –

M6 x40mm SS bolts –

#8 SS finishing washers –