DIY Magnetic Chalkboard

The past couple of weeks has seen a flurry of DIY activity around here.  We're full of renewed motivation and drive to get stuff done, and it's a good thing, too, with Jack's birthday right around the corner.  The DIY binge we started on the first is still going strong, so I should have some really fun updates to tell y'all about soon.  The first project we started on was a magnetic chalkboard for our kitchen, and today I'm going to tell you how we did it.  It was a super easy weekend project that I think most people would be able to accomplish, too.

Thanks to Pinterest, I now want to use chalkboard paint everywhere in the house, but for now (and to Den's relief), I'm limiting myself to one wall in the kitchen.  When I first mentioned the idea, he thought we were going to go out and find a giant piece of actual chalkboard, and then I told him about the wonder product that is chalkboard paint.  I also happened to mention the wonder product that is magnetic paint and we both agreed that the only thing better than a chalkboard in the kitchen would be a magnetic chalkboard in the kitchen.  Then Dennis, being Dennis, decided to take it to 11, and instead of using magnetic paint, he wanted to actually use a piece of steel so any magnets would really stick.  I guess that's what you get when your husband does blacksmithing/welding/metal art as a hobby.

Obviously, the first thing we needed to do was measure the wall where we wanted the magnetic chalkboard.  I knew I wanted as large of a chalkboard as we could fit next to the fridge.  Dennis said we could find a sheet of steel that was 4'x8' that would pretty much fit perfectly on the wall.  The steel would only run part of the way behind the fridge, and with our 8'6" ceilings, it should fit pretty close to perfectly height wise since we have 6" baseboards.  A win all around.  We bought our piece of steel from a local place, coincidentally called Steel Supply.  We have bought many things there and were already familiar with what is available there.  If you, like most people (I assume), are not already familiar with your local steel supply (and why wouldn't you be???), Google is always ready to answer your supply questions.  I can't remember what gauge steel we bought, but it was pretty thin as far as sheet metal is concerned.  When we put it in the bed of our pick-up truck, it easily curved instead of staying rigid.  I keep wanting to say 12-gauge, but that sounds too much like a shotgun.

The next thing Dennis had to do was take the measurements he had and make a few cuts to the steel to make sure it fit into the space properly.  He had to cut a notch out for the A/C duct and two openings for the light switch and a random electrical plug in the middle of the wall.  We decided to leave the plug, because, well, you never know when you might need an extra plug.  If you aren't sure how to cut a sheet of steel, you can always take your measurements with you when you go to your local steel supplier and most of the time they can make the cuts for you.  And trust me, it's well worth the effort for how well the magnet board works.  And, from our experience at least, having the steel supply place make the cuts for you usually doesn't cost much extra.  We were able to get our piece of steel for around $50, and we might have had our place go ahead and make the cuts for us, but we left the measurements at home.  D'oh!  If you decide to make the cuts yourself, make sure you know what you're doing, wear eye protection ('cause, seriously, who wants metal splinters in their eyes), and wear gloves.  Along with any other safety precautions you feel like taking.  Safety first, people!

As thin as the sheet of steel was, it was still crazy heavy.  Dennis wanted to make sure his cuts were accurate before prepping the steel for my paint job, so we carried it into the house.  After maneuvering it into place and verifying that his measurements were correct, I informed him that there was no way I was going to carry that steel out of the house, just to carry it back into the house, just so he could wash the steel with the garden hose.  I was overly paranoid of the steel slipping out of my grasp and either cutting off my fingers (I'm a massage therapist and kinda need those), or cutting off my toes (cause, naturally, I wasn't wearing any shoes--safety first!)  After complaining about how heavy the steel was making my case for just leaving the steel in the kitchen, he agreed!  In order to easily secure the steel to the wall, Dennis drilled pilot holes in the steel and the wall and then used screws to install everything.  Next up, paint prep, which was really pretty easy.  The sheet metal was really greasy, so we washed it really thoroughly with soap and water.  And were ready to paint.  I like easy.
first coat

Usually I will use primer on any unpainted surfaces to make sure my paint sticks and that I end up with a nice smooth finish.  I even bought primer for this project.  But the primer was oil based and I didn't really want to mess with the clean-up (ugh, paint thinner), and I really didn't want to deal with the fumes (ugh, baby lungs).  After reading the directions on the chalkboard paint for the millionth time, we finally believed what the paint can was saying:  that the paint could be applied directly to any metal or wood surface.  So I took the lazy easy way of painting directly on the steel.  We knew it would be a gamble, but we also knew I would be applying several coats of paint and figured everything would be okay.

I'm typically a good painter, and I take some pride in this fact.  Painting with chalkboard paint is a little tricky, but I think anyone can do it and end up with good results.  The directions say not to over roll, or paint over, the same section once it already has paint on it.  This makes it really difficult to get a nice even finish.  After I painted the first coat, I was panicking about how splotchy and uneven things were looking.  I was convinced we had made a horrible mistake and the whole project was a waste of time and money.  I decided not to freak out until after I had painted at least 3 coats.  Give it time, I told myself, and then went on about my day.  With chalkboard paint, you need to wait at least 4 hours between coats, as opposed to 30 minutes or so with regular wall paint.  The anticipation was killing me!!!  Four hours later, and I was applying the second coat of paint.  Which was just as splotchy as the first.  Don't panic.  Don't panic.  Don't panic.  I went back 4 hours after that with a third coat of paint and held my breath.  As I was painting, Dennis remarked at how all of a sudden everything was looking nice and smooth and even.  I let out the breath I had been holding for 8 hours.

By this time, it was late and we had already had a long day.  We were ready for bed!  The next day, Dennis put some trim around the edges of the magnetic chalkboard so it would look more finished.  The metal trim we picked is actually pieces of threshold for floors, but when used to trim out the chalkboard, the whole thing ends up looking like a built in old timey school house chalk board.

Chalkboard paint requires 3 full days to cure before you can write on it.  So I waited 3 long days.  You also need to condition the surface by rubbing chalk over the entire surface and then erasing everything before you can write on it.  On the morning of the third day, the first thing I did, even before coffee, was break out the chalk and start to condition the heck out of that board!  This part was actually pretty fun.  My chalk kept breaking and I had to make sure my nails didn't scrape the chalkboard surface.  I might not be here with you today if that had happened.  Once I had the chalkboard conditioned, all I had to do was decorate it and put some magnets on it.

This project was super easy to do, and other than waiting for the paint to cure only took a weekend to accomplish.  I really think anyone would be able to make their own magnetic chalkboard.  If Dennis and I can do it, so can you!

To sum up:

  1. Measure your space
  2. Buy a piece of thin sheet metal that fits your space
  3. Cut the sheet metal (or have it cut) to fit your space
  4. Attach the sheet metal to the wall with screws
  5. Paint with chalkboard paint
  6. Trim around edges for a finished look
  7. Condition the chalkboard
  8. Decorate and enjoy!

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