Since my training, I’ve known that I have to build a bed of nails, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I live in a studio apartment with no garage. The idea of assembling this contraption had all of the appeal of catching chickenpox. Unfortunately, it also had the feeling of inevitability of chickenpox too. With the annual exodus of New Yorkers away from New York City, this seemed like the right time.
After the measurements, I realized that I’d need 637 nails. When I chose my nails for blockhead, I bought a pound and had about 30 floating around the apartment, so I decided to use 20d 4″ nails. The local hardware store had them in galvanized and “clear bright” versions, whatever that may mean. Initially I wanted to create a bed of nails with hexagons instead of squares, but the planning of that seemed too difficult to do without a paper guide. Instead, I went with staggered lines, similar to the stars in an American flag. Once I marked the wood (I used 1/2″ oak plywood), it was time to start the drilling!
It wasn’t intentional that I was making the same exact face in both of those photos, I guess it’s my “focusing” face.
While it took all day to drill and sand down the holes, there was a certain satisfaction knowing that I was building something elaborate and frightening that I’d be able to get some real mileage out of. Unlike my straitjacket, I built this from scratch. I’ve never been anything remotely close to handy. I’m not the type of person who builds things, and I rarely complete large projects. Spending hours drilling hole after hole after hole was monotonous, but once I slapped a few coats of cherry red latex paint onto the boards had me feeling like it was coming together well.
Red seemed like the right color for my bed of nails. My logo is black and white and red (all over), so red made sense. Had I been someone who heavily used pink or yellow, I’d have painted it pink or yellow. Next step was hammering the nails, which is pretty straight forward. I drilled the holes slightly smaller than the circumference of the nail, so the nails would be snug in a similar fashion to how Legos work.
I used a little bit too much paint at times, and the nails picked that paint up while they were being hammered through the holes. A few nails wound up with blobs of paint on the ends, but because the paint was latex the blobs came off easy. There are a few nails with streaks of paint on them. With a cursory glance, it might look like blood and I won’t argue that. Remember how I wanted to make hexagons? Using the right pattern of nails, I made hexagons with the different colors of the nails.
Once the bolts were on, I had myself a completed bed of nails! I don’t know how much it weighs yet, but it’s not light. Two sheets of 40″x24″ oak plywood, 637 4″ nails and 10 3/8″ nuts and bolts added together made me think that a throw pillow would do a good job without adding unnecessary weight. I’ve been using my Barbie Van Rumpy pillow in the apartment, but I’ll get something different for gigs.
So what did I learn? I’m not as helpless as I thought I was when it comes to using tools to build something. One of my grandfather’s last pieces of advice to me was “learn to make things,” but I don’t think that this is what he had in mind. He built things like pavilions for the World’s Fair. I’ll settle for a bed of nails for the moment. I should say that I had some help from Captain Dirge of the Royal Cutlass Sideshow in the form of a few conversations while I was sketching out the measurements and overall design. I hear her bed of nails is pretty badass.
While building the bed of nails, I spent a lot of time watching Cheer. I’d decided that I dislike Shelly Long’s Diane Chambers much more than Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe. I hardly think my contribution will end the Diane vs Rebecca debate, but I’ve made up my mind regardless.
I’ll say this about the nails. Not a single nail on this bed is filed down in any way. The way they came from out of their boxes is the way that they’ll stay on the bed. I’m fond of being truthful when I say that only one of the acts that I perform is a trick in any way shape or form, and my bed of nails isn’t it. As a result of my stubbornness to do the bed of nails the hard way, it’ll require some training before you see me bringing it to shows.