Here are answers to the most common questions I get about rope beds...
1) What size rope should I use? The bigger the rope, the more you will feel each place the ropes cross (over and under). It will feel like a lump or a knot. I use 1/4" sisal and have never had a problem with strength and it results in very small lumps. If the bed is made for two people who together weigh over 500 pounds, perhaps 3/8" rope is better. A simple solution to the lumps is to unfold a piece of cardboard on top of the ropes, and under any other padding you are using. The cardboard does not make it feel like a piece of wood, but smoothes the lumps. The lump issue is really dependent on the type of padding you use.
2) How far apart should I place the holes? The wider the space between ropes, the more sag the bed will seem to have. My ropes are about 6" apart.
3) How do I get the ropes tight enough so they don't sag? It seems very difficult to get the ropes tight enough with only one person. I use someone to help me (after the bed is laced). Each person sits on the ground on opposite sides of the bed. I start by sitting near the foot and bracing against the rail with my feet and pulling the first rope as tight as I can. I then hold the rope on the outside of the board with my thumb, and tell my partner to pull the next rope. (I hold with my thumb so I can get my fingers out of the way.) My partner pulls the rope, and then holds with his/her thumb and tells me it is OK to pull the next one. Normally, I am able to put enough pressure with my feet that by the 3rd or 4th rope I pull, the 2x6 rails of the bed are starting to bow inward (as shown in the photo above). We let them bow and continue working our way towards the head of the bed, alternating back and forth, pulling it as tight as we can. The bowed rails keep the bed tight, and even after two weeks at Pennsic, I have not had to tighten the bed once. In the picture of the bed, you can see some bow in the side rails. It takes about 5 minutes to tighten the bed after it is laced.
If you still have problems, then simple wedges between the ropes and the bed can be installed, and if each wedge is hammered down (taking up another inch of rope), then it is really easy to get the bed incredibly tight.
4) What kind of padding should I use? Obviously, the better the padding, the more comfy it will be. I have used the following:
My experience is that any padding that would be comfortable if you were sleeping on the ground, will be equally comfortable on my bed. Right now we use an air mattress, with a down comforter (for insulation) between the mattress and the sheet. A couple of layers of felt and a comforter were really nice, a thick foam pad was nice, as is the air mattress. We currently use an air mattress because it packs the smallest in our car.