January 16, 2012

School's in Session (make your own chalkboard)

The stuff I'm working on requires a LOT of planning. If you don't think a few steps ahead, you'll end up with a table riding the short bus or a rogue screw sticking out of the front of your brand-new cabinet, all because you chose to try and free-style your measurements from memory. So, in the midst of a project, I often find myself scribbling down dimensions and sketching out designs on whatever I can find...a paper towel, scrap piece of wood or even my hand. I thought about getting a dry-erase board, then I thought a) it costs money, but more importantly b) it looks crappy and c) the markers dry out and Knox likes to eat them (more on him and his contribution to this project in a bit). Then, I was bee-boppin' along in the shop and Alice Cooper's "School's Out" came on the radio and I had found my muse.

Chalkboard it is. But what would be the fun in just buying a chalkboard, you ask? Thank you imaginary person I just invented to make a point, I couldn't agree more. So I made one. And the whole thing cost me less than $1 in chalk from Office Depot.*

(*) While it technically did just cost me less than $1 for the whole project, that is only because I already had everything I needed leftover from other projects.

I already had a ton of paint, so me and my best friend Google took to the streets to poll the interwebs on how to go about making your own chalkboard paint. Thank you, Martha Stewart. Glad to see you kept busy whilst behind bars. Pre-mixed chalkboard paint at Lowe's will cost you $13 for a quart. So, if you already happen to have the paint (and grout), you're well on your way to completing the "Extreme Couponing" challenge of a zero balance at project checkout.

Extra Awesome Bonus Tip #1
: Mix some leftover saw dust and wood glue to make your own wood putty. Not only is it cheaper, but since it is made out of the same natural wood as the piece you're working on, paint and stain is more likely to match than on store-bought wood putty.

Now we're cookin'

I topped it off with a custom frame re-purposed from some 3 foot long garden stakes that have been holding up a protective fence for our back yard's flower bed. The fence was constructed a year ago to fend off our then-puppy Knox. When he finally outgrew the defensive capabilities of the fence, the stakes had already experienced a year's worth of sun and rain, giving them a great weathered, rustic look.

Devil dog's shenanigans paid off (for once)
Now I have a 2' x 2' chalkboard, made completely from scratch and re-purposed from stuff I already had. Simple, clean and fairly easy.

Per usual, stop reading now if you don't care how I did this and just enjoy the beautiful reveal (ta da!).

scrap wood for board (I used 1"x12")
nonsanded tile grout (1 lb. bag is about $5)
matte/flat finish paint (your choice of color)
(16) 1 1/4" wood screws
(3) 2" pocket hole screws
wood glue


electric saw (circular will do, but table or compound miter is better)
bar clamps
speed square
tape measure
paint brush
Kreg pocket hole jig

Start out with making the chalkboard base. I used two 2' scrap pieces of 1"x12" and stacked 'em on top of each other to make a 2' x 2' square Then I joined 'em together with three 2" pocket screws from the back. I guess if you dont mind the the gap between the boards, you could just leave it, but I mixed my own putty out of sawdust and wood glue, then sanded it down.

Next, I mixed my chalkboard paint at a 1 cup paint: 2 tbsp nonsanded grout ratio and applied it to my primed board surface with a mini roller and let it dry. Repeat with one more coat.Lightly sand the entire thing with 220 grit sandpaper and lightly rub the side of a piece of chalk all over the painted part.

I measured and cut my stakes to fit the board. ALWAYS measure and cut your frame first from the outside in. Since a 1"x12" is actually only about 11.5" wide, my overall surface is 24" x 23". So, I cut two of each then used my miter saw to but the 45 degree angles in from the outside. I did a dry fit on top of my board to make sure I didn't screw up and success! So, I clamped them in place, turned the whole thing over and started drilling my pilot screw holes then driving in the 1 1/4" screws, four per frame side.

Aaaaaannndddd, you're done.

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