I receive at least 2 emails a day from people wanting to buy side rails for their antique bed. It’s unfortunate that people aren’t aware of how vital their side rails are. If they were, more people would take care not to misplace them when they move or disassemble their beds.
Because they look like simple metal side rails, you’d think they were easily replaceable . Once again……. that is not the case. Back in the 1800’s our government had yet to step in to the arena of private manufacturing to help instill a Bureau of Standards. So small independently owned businesses had to reinvent the wheel, pretty much, every time they wanted to build something. Today bed frames have a universal height, width and connection, that enable modern headboards to be attached to. This allows the consumer to have the same bed frame that will pretty much attach to whatever headboard or foot-board they buy, from whatever company they select a head and foot board from. Because of these universally acceptable frames that are made today, people don’t place the importance and value on their old set of side rails.
When iron beds became popular and the most widely used form of bed, a whole new frame work was needed to elevate a homeowners mattress off the floor. Wooden head and foot boards had a wooden side rail, that connect the two end pieces together. But this wooden side rail was not compatible with the metal headboards that were becoming so popular. Because the old wooden framework was no going to be usable with the metal beds, foundries needed to design side rails that would securely hold the head and foot-board of their tubular metal beds perpendicular to the floor. England had been making metal beds from back in the mid to late 1700’s. So when steel mills in Pittsburgh and Chicago started producing the raw materials to manufacture metal beds, it really wasn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. It was but to copy the rail system the British had established for their metal beds. It was a simple, yet brilliant , “drop in” self tightening system that required no screws or bolts to secure the rails. At the end of each of the angle iron side rails was a cast fitting in the shape of an ice cream cone that tapered from an approximate 1″ diameter down to point. There was a mould made for this shape and it was then poured around the end of the side rail, in the foundry. Because there were hundreds of small independently owned foundries, that didn’t have access to the moulds the larger foundries used. They needed to make their own moulds. But in so doing, even though the shape was very similar, the taper and conical size varied in size. Because an opposite mould had to be made to accommodate the exact end that was being poured on the side rail, most side rails were not universally interchangeable.
So when someone is looking to find a pair of rails for their antique iron bed today, they not only have the dilemma of finding someone with an extra set who’s willing to part with them……they also have the even greater dilemma of finding a pair that “fit’s” their bed.
Without the correct set of side rails for your bed, it’s going to be unstable. The head and foot-board are going to rock back and forth and destabilize any mattress that is set on top of them. An even greater risk, when using a pair of rails that wasn’t made for the bed, is the stress it’s going to place on the receiving “hitches” that are on the head and foot-board . If these break, you have more trouble than you’re prepared for. These “hitches” can’t be welded like normal steel. That’s because they’re cast iron and any welder who tells you they can be repaired, isn’t at the top of his game. They will always be too weak to support everything put on them.
So take care of those rails……… they’re as important as the head and foot-board.