Make Your Own Chalkboard

I’ve been itching to make a chalkboard for the dining room for purely decorative reasons.  Hand- lettering has become quite the fashion these days, and what better way to make your mark (pun intended) than with a framed chalkboard.  But lets be honest, who really has enough money to afford the cute ones? I loved the size of this one at Pottery Barn.  But it needed some jazz.  Nothing a colored frame couldn't fix.

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It was time to OM it.   Let me explain.  I don’t have a clue how widespread Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is, but for me it was the highlight of 5th grade.  Let me paint the picture: a few kids from my class, homemade Aladdin costumes, a kid-constructed balsa wood structure with a ping pong ball inside.  The goal was to place as many weights on it to see how much it could hold before the ball was “set free” <like the genie…get it?  We were smart kids>.  Throw in a sweet skit as part of the performance and that my friends, is what memories are made of.  Long-story short, Jafar was evil, the ball was released, we went to the state championships and lost to a bunch of 3rd graders whose parents worked for NASA.  Not that I think they cheated, or that I’m bitter.  I’ve totally gotten over that in the last 18 years or so.  Totally.

It's all about creativity and problem-solving.  Hence my need to OM the chalkboard idea.  My first chalkboard venture was a store-bought whiteboard that was in a black frame that I had a few years back in an old apartment.  It worked fine – that is until it fell off the wall and bent a corner of the frame.  Plus the frame was black with black chalkboard paint and I wanted more contrast.  It was functional, but not beautiful.  And I’m that needy – I want both.  It was also magnetic which helped to keep invitations, coupons, and other essential items by the front door where I couldn't forget them.  I don't include this step in the tutorial, but you can certainly use magnetic paint prior to chalkboard paint to get a dual use board - just be sure you check the labeling & let everything dry the appropriate time between coats.

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My second chalkboard was created for my wedding.  I didn’t plan to use it long-term, so I bought a white canvas from Michael’s, painted it, and displayed it on an easel.  My perfectionist flaws wouldn't let the back of the canvas show, so I covered with with fabric.  The flaw with this method is that the canvas has too much give to be practical for continued use.  Plus I’m looking to do more detailed designs, so this was a no go.

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After hours of brainstorming and driving in circles, attempt three was in progress.  I bought a 16 x 20 unfinished wood frame from AC Moore.  I liked the simple frame - I think it gives it a more modern edge with clean lines.

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The next stop was Lowe’s in search of something to use as my canvas.  My first attempt was to use a solid oak plank.   Plywood cut to size would work, but I wanted the paint to take evenly and not put the grain on parade.  IMG_0895

Problem #1: I made a bad cut and I ended up with a wood insert too short on one side leaving a lovely gap.  And that's just not acceptable.  Measure twice cut once is right.  Lesson officially learned.

Problem #2: That first board was way too thick.  I couldn't come up with a way to attach it to the frame that would allow it to sit flush with the back of the frame.  Good thing I made that bad cut right?

For attempt #2, I found another board at Lowe's in the plywood section that was actually pressboard with an veneer on the top and bottom, much thinner and would clearly not exceed the depth of the frame.  It was much cheaper, though I had a sneaking suspicion the grain would likely show through on the board.  But at this point I was desperate.  Committed to the project, but out of ideas.  So this was the board for me, and thankfully Lowe's will cut the board to size for you (for a minimal fee of course).  It saves me in fingers and in money in tools I am too afraid to use.  Safety first right?  My plank splintered when they cut it, so I was starting to have my doubts.  If only I could have found the right dimensions from the start.  Or had a workshop full of expensive tools that Bob Villa would be proud of.

IMG_0914Whatever wood you choose, make sure you fill in any knots in the wood with wood filler and let it set before you start painting.  I chose to paint the frame 'Sweet Mint' in Satin from Valspar.  Sample size containers of the Pantone colors of the season are easy to get your hands on at Lowe's.  They are the perfect size for a quick project and cost just a few dollars.  {Side note: This month's "All You" magazine has a coupon inside for a FREE  one of these small containers in one of the seasonal colors.  If you won't use it for this project, pick it up for something in the future in your favorite shade!}  I did two coats on the frame, as well as on the “chalkboard”.  The grain became less noticeable after the second coat of chalkboard paint, but I just embraced it as part of the the charm of being homemade.

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Once you have the final product, be sure to prepare the chalkboard before the first time you use it.  Take a piece of chalk on its side and rub it all over, covering the whole surface.  This helps to prevent lines or marks being left behind after you erase.  I did this step before I attached the frame to be sure I had prepped every inch and had the board clean before I put it all together.

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As you can see, the grain most definitely shows.  But you know what?  I love it.  It's different.  It's an original.  And it writes just fine.  What else matters?  When cleaning off the chalk, some does get stuck down into the grains, but it does clean up some with a bit more scrubbing.

I attached the chalkboard to the frame using  3/4 inch wire nails to hold the board snug against the frame.  You can see they each aren't in too deep, only about a 1/4 inch.

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The final product is a perfect canvas for for me to practicing hand-lettering.  I'll share in the next few weeks how I did the typography.IMG_0956 Have you tried your hand at making a chalkboard?  I'm open for tips and solutions.....since this is the third time (and it wasn't a charm), I'm sure I'll take another stab at it one day!  Happy painting!