Chalkboard in the Workshop?

Perfect for keeping track of key measurements

A few months ago while walking around in Home Depot, I noticed that they carry chalkboard, dry erase, and magnetic paint.  My wife and I had been doing a lot of work to our 4 year old daughters room and I thought it would be nice to have a wall in her room that she could draw on.  I have never been a fan of dry erase, specially with kids as they end up leaving the lids off the markers and residue is more prone to get on the carpet than chalk, which will just vacuum up.  And beside, I tend to get a little nostalgic remembering the chalkboards from school growing up.

I decided to paint a small 3′ wide wall on the side of a closet in her room. I used magnetic primer with chalkboard paint over top.  It worked great and she keep magnetic ABC letters to help in her spelling and loves to draw on the wall.

Dry fit of frame

Doing that little project made me start thinking about how useful a chalkboard would be in the shop.  I normally keep a notepad with my sketches and dimensions I am working with on it, but the problem is I am constantly moving it around the shop. I end up walking back and forth constantly checking dimensions.  The chalkboard would allow me to be able to see my notes from anywhere in the shop.  Also, by using the magnetic primer plans can be posted right next to my notes if needed.

For the base of the chalkboard I used a piece of 1/4″ x 2′ x 4′ MDF.  The MDF is perfect because you can buy it already cut to 2′x4′ and it is a really smooth and stable product.  The magnetic primer was applied with a smooth foam roller, I used 3 coats as recommended on the can.  The only negative I noticed with using the magnetic primer was that the paint is really thick and does not smooth out perfectly and leaves a slight texture.  I don’t think that it could be thinned out much because you need a heavy base in order to have enough metallic particles for the magnets to stick too. The chalkboard paint was applied with the same smooth foam roller but it is much thinner and tends to fill in and smooth out.  I sanded between coats to ensure that I had as smooth of a surface as possible and ended with four coats.

Half Lap Joint

Once, the chalkboard paint has dried there is no reason why you can’t just hang it on the wall of the shop and start using it.  I wanted to dress it up a little and it seemed like a good project for some impromptu design on.  I started with some left over maple, decided on the width I wanted for the rails and stiles and started ripping.  For the basic frame structure I used half lap joints to join the rails and stiles together.  Next, a rabbet was cut to recess the chalkboard into the frame.

At this point I had the basic structure of the frame together and just needed to decide on the length to cut the extended legs of the frame.  After playing around with a few ideas I ended with an Asian influenced design with curved ends on the top rail and longer bottom rail.

Close up of a figured section of the maple frame

Once the pieces were all cut I debated on how to join the half laps but in the end decided that gluing the face grains together would give me plenty of strength and would be reinforced by a back strip to hold the chalkboard into the frame.  The top strip on the back is also cut on a bevel so that the frame is attached to the wall as a french cleat.  The accent block over top of the half laps were added as an after though but I think add to the overall look.

Now that the chalkboard has been in the shop for a few weeks, I must say that I love it.  It was great this past weekend while working on the Roubo bench, I was able to make a quick sketch of critical dimensions and be able to reference from anywhere in the shop.  This was a fun little project to build and I highly recommend it for your shop.

As alway… be safe, learn something, and have fun!


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3 Responses to “Chalkboard in the Workshop?”

  1. April 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Nice Work Chris. I discovered these products a few years back, and made my daughter a chalkboard when she was 2 or 3. When we remodeled her bedroom (her gift when her baby sister arrived) We made a high chair-rail around the room (I think there’s another term for this) and covered the entire room under the rail with several coats of magnetic primer). Now she can use her magnets anywhere in the room for fun, or to hang pictures. My only tip for anyone wanting to do this too: Add many more coats than the minimum, or get strong magnets. Once you’ve added a latex overcoat, the weaker magnets (like those in many kids sets) have some trouble staying up.

    Thinning might work well for flattening the roughness, but again, you’d need more coats. I’ll likely try it that way when I make my shop chalkboard. Mine will undoubtedly not be as aesthetically pleasing, however. nice work!

  2. March 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Looks as good on the web as it did in person, Chris! Huh? Anyway…I’m a fan of white boards but totally agree that a large writing surface is handy in the shop. No matter how small a shop is, I think anyone could squeeze one in. I’ve got a white board behind the entry door, and have also covered the inside of my roll-up garage door so I have a huge surface to doodle on.

  3. March 31, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    That looks great, Chis. I tend to keep chalk lying around the shop for marking boards. I wish I had the wall space for a chalkboard too.

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