Wish I had a buck for every phone call I’ve got from a distressed iron bed owner who tells me they just bought a bed, only to find out when they got it home and tried to set it up, that the side rails they got with the bed are “upside down”. As anyone who has assembled an old antique iron bed knows….. there is only one way the cast iron ends of the side rail will fit in to the “hitches” , that’s the cast iron receptacle that was poured around the outer post of the head and footboard, that the end of the side rail goes in to. The tapered conical shape on the end of the side rail makes it impossible to go down in to the hitch except for one way.
What most people aren’t aware is that there were literally hundreds and maybe even thousands of small independently owned “foundries” that produced iron beds back in the 1800’s. Each one of those “foundries” made their own moulds for the end of the side rails. So although the ends on side rails look very familiar, they are not universally usable among all iron beds. The slope and tapered can be just slightly different, which makes it unusable on most other beds. So it’s first very important to be sure you have the correct side rails for your individual bed.
Nearly 50% of all the foundries making iron beds, made their side rails so they fit with the flat side of the side of the rail being on the top ( upside down). Back then they had metal spring units that use to attach with “clips” and sat on top of the side rail. The other 50% made their rails so the side rail was “L” shaped and would receive wooden bed slat’s to hold the springs, mattress etc.
When we have an “L” shaped side rail, we simply cut new wooden 2″ x 4″ bed slats and let them rest inside the “L” shaped side rail. We normally only do 3 slats. But…… when a bed has “flat top ” side rails, we cut the same wooden 2″ x 4″, but instead of going on top of the flat top rail, we place them under the side rail and drill 1/4″ holes through the iron side rail and directly through the wooden slat that is under it. Then we attach the wooden slat with a 1/4 x 20 bolt that is 2″ long. Then secure the bolt with a washer and nut. I’v attached a photo, so you can see what this looks like. If you do this in 3 or 4 places along the side rails, you won’t have to worry about your box spring falling through the rails.