Male worker's hand in glove assembling bed, connecting slats to bed frame. Frames or boxsprings?

Frames Or Boxsprings?: The Right And The Wrong Ways To Achieve A Better Sleep

September 28, 2021
bed framesFoundations / Box Springs

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Regardless of the type of mattress you own, it must have the correct base system underneath. Without a more properly supported mattress, discomfort is inevitable. It will lack the all-important back support we all need and ultimately fail in more ways than you can dream of. When failures like these occur, one consequence you are likely to find yourself in is an unnatural sleeping position. A worn mattress that forces you to sleep in unusual positions and places can bring on muscle tension that leaves you achy and stiff or worse in pain. 

Everyone wants good sleep, excellent support and this all starts with a stable footing. This footing for most any bed system starts with the bed frame. Next, it should include a solid foundation or box spring to help support your mattress. There are other ways to support a mattress that can be very effective also. These examples of support can be platform beds, slat packs, and even bunkie boards. Whatever you are using it must be done right.

What Kind Of Steel Bed Frames Use Slats?

Starting with the most common steel bed frame, we will discuss is the Hollywood steel bed frame. This frame comes in 3 different configurations:

  • Stand Alone (Free stands by itself with no head and footboard).
  • Bolt or Hook In Head attachment only.
  • Bolt or Hook In Head and Foot connections.

Bed slats for all 3 types of beds are an extremely important part of supporting your mattress and box spring /foundation which we will be using these words interchangeably. The important thing to note is that while certain sizes like twin and full may not require slats for extra support, every bed should have them.

That extra support usually consists of 3 steel slats.  One steel brace/slat spanning the bed’s width at the head, one spanning the width at the foot end of the bed, and finally the all-important mid-body support once again spanning the bed’s width running east to west. Ideally, you want each bar to be securely fastened either by a rivet or nuts and bolts. This keeps the crossbar locked securely into position. 

Close up of hands Assembling a bed frame using a screwdriver. Frames or boxsprings?
Close up of hands Assembling a bed frame using a screwdriver

Most importantly, mattress manufacturers prefer and sometimes even require vertical legs that go down and touch the floor to support those angle iron L-shaped steel braces/slats spanning the bed’s width. Eastern King, California King, and Queen size beds nearly always require at least one leg in the middle at the head, mid-body, and foot regions of the bed frame.

Wooden Slats: The Good, Bad, And Broken

The Good

At one time wide strips of wood were the most widely common way to support a mattress set. It was common to find this kind of support including mom’s and grandma’s old beds but frankly was used everywhere. The norm was up to six hardwood slats spanning the bed’s width. Each slat was typically 1 x 3 or 1 x 4 pieces of lumber: Each board rests upon the wooden lip or ledge running the inside length of each wooden side rail. Then they were securely fastened into place using wood screws. Bed slats act as a bed carriage and hold the boxspring in place by keeping it from falling through the frame.

The Bad

The problem with a wooden, slat-supported design is that it places the total combined weight: mattress, foundation, and the sleeper upon the side rails. Sadly, old beds had no middle legs extending to the floor/ground. With all the weight on the side rails, they often cracked, bowed, and even broke making this design notorious for failure and accident waiting to happen.

Today FREE slat packs with a couple of cheap peg legs are given away with beds to act as a minimal support system and barely warranty compliant. These are not the preferred bed frame supports for today’s well know mattress brands: Sealy, Serta, Simmons, etc. So, if they are not desired why do furniture companies use them? Frankly, it has become more about profits than bed quality and wood slats are a cheap alternative to steel slats.

Using Steel Bed Slats With Plywood Instead Of A Boxspring 

Many people come to us looking for replacement slats. The rolled slat packs that come with most platform beds from stores like Ikea, Amazon, and Wayfair leave much to be desired. People often find themselves in the position of having to reinforce and beef up their already costly initial purchase. The question is, is there a stronger solution for a slatted platform bed without the need for a boxspring, that is long-term and most importantly a permanent solution instead of a quick fix? 

Can I Use Wood And Steel Slats Together?

The Answer Has 2 Parts To It

Part 1

How can I make wood slats stronger? The fact is if you are not handy and your floor is not level, you are on course to witness the crashing down of your bed after another support system collapse. Mixed combinations of bed braces don’t get mixed results. In fact, they rarely if ever work.

Planning to install the steel bar left to right (side to side) in the same direction as the wooden slats? You will want to take note that first and foremost steel beds slats are not meant to shore up the wooden slats. While they could easily be installed between the wooden slats for extra strength, this too will not work.  You will notice right away that the slats are different thicknesses. The angle iron slats are much thinner. Placing 1-3 steel slats amongst the wood slats will render them useless as the box spring or mattress will not touch the much thinner steel slat. So don’t waste your money.

Part 2

A possible solution our customers have had some success with is running the steel bracing perpendicular to the wooden slats. The steel bracing will need to be installed running head to toe. Whereas the wood slats will be mounted running side to side. The steel brace would need to be securely fastened to the bottom of the wood slats using nuts and bolts. Finally, the steel support needs to have at least two feet that are solidly touching the floor. 

Frames Or Boxsprings? Male worker's hand in glove assembling bed, connecting slats to bed frame.
Male worker’s hand in glove assembling bed, connecting slats to the bed frame.

Sitting A Mattress On Metal Bed Frame Slats

If you choose a Hollywood-style frame or bed that includes steel side rails and 3 to 4 steel slats spanning the width, there is NOT have enough support to place a mattress directly on the steel slat system. The mattress will simply fall through. Mattresses need a solid supportive surface. Results are just as mixed if a steel slat system is substituted for a wooden one.

Can adding extra supports give the necessary support? The addition of inserting more steel slats is typically not enough to support. To put a mattress on a bed made up entirely of steel slats, they will need to be closely spaced. The specific spacing will depend on the manufacturer’s warranty requirements of your mattress. Most high-end mattress producers require spacing of the braces whether they be steel or wood laths to be no more than 2-3 inches apart.

Not only is this is significantly closer spacing than typically found on even the best metal bed slats but the cost would be prohibitive for most buyers since there would need to be between 14- 20 slats to achieve such close spacing. 

When using a bed frame that is made from a metal type design support bracing it will necessitate that you use a box spring/ foundation.

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