By Susan Beal and Ryan Tinsel
My daughter Pearl loves drawing with chalk, and when we were planning her second birthday party, I thought mini chalkboards would be the perfect toddler-friendly favor! My friend Ryan teamed up with me on the project and beautifully cut and prepared the wood for 25 mini-boards, and I did the painting and chalk-wrangling. The favors were a huge hit with the guests (including Ryan’s daughter Gigi), and I’ve gotten to see them in heavy rotation with Pearl’s buddies all summer!
This is a fun and easy project, perfect for making a few (or a few dozen) for your own kids, nieces, or nephews, or for back to school, a party or birthday, and holiday gifts.
10″x12″ pieces of wood Mine ended up being 11 3/4″ by 10 1/4″. The wood should be flat and smooth enough to write on. (If you’re making lots of chalkboards, see further wood instructions below.)
Hand saw, circular saw, or table saw depending on availability and what you’re personally comfortable with
Coarse sandpaper, a rasp, a hand plane, or a router with a 1/8″ roundover bit to round over the wood edges
Chalkboard paint I used 1 quart of Rustoleum brand in green, which was more than enough for 25 boards this size.
Larger flat-bottomed container
Small bristle brush (optional)
Paper towels or cloth rags
Plastic wrap (optional)
Vertical furniture or bins for drying surfaces
Chalk I used Ikea Mala chalk. We gave a bundle of 4 sticks per board for party favors.
Step 1: Cut and prepare your wood according to the number of mini-chalkboards you want to make. I’ll let Ryan take over this part. Divide up Ryan’s advice depending on whether you’re making just one or two chalkboards, or a lot.
One or Two Chalkboards
1. Find pieces of wood that are, or could be cut down to, about 10″ high by 12″ wide. I made ours 10 1/4″ high and 11 3/4″ wide to maximize yield from the 1/2″-thick plywood scraps I was using, and because it looked nice to my eye. The wood you use should be thick and large enough to write or draw on, but thin and small enough to be easily carried by a child.
2. Use your saw to cut the piece of wood (if you need to) down to a 10 1/4″ by 11 3/4″ rectangle (or thereabouts). Seek out woodworking advice if you need it, or trade favors with a friend who knows about such things.
3. Also with the saw, cut small diagonals (about 3/8″) across each corner so there are no sharp points.
4. Using your tool to round over, soften the sharp wood edges all around both sides. Holding the chalkboard should feel nice.
Making Lots of Chalkboards
1. It’s probably easier to use plywood if you’re making lots of chalkboards. I used 1/2″-thick “shop” maple plywood because I had scraps of it lying around (one of the advantages of being a cabinetmaker). “Shop,” when describing plywood, means “not quite as nice, but nicer to the pocketbook.” It’s used for many paint-grade projects.
2. Rip the plywood to long 10 1/4″ strips. (“Rip” means to cut with the grain.)
3. Then crosscut the strips to 11 3/4″ pieces. If you use these dimensions, you could get 32 chalkboards out of one 4×8 sheet of plywood.
4. Cut small diagonals (about 3/8″) across each corner so there aren’t sharp points for kids to fall on.
5. Round over and smooth the sharp wood edges all around both sides of each chalkboard. Holding the chalkboard should feel nice.
Your chalkboards are now ready for paint!
Step 2: Arrange your boards on overlapping sheets of newspaper, at least 1″ apart, for painting the first side. Shake your can of chalkboard paint well and pour it into a larger flat-bottomed container. Using a roller brush, apply a single coat to the top side of the boards, using the roller or a bristle brush to wipe up any excess from the edges. Let this coat dry completely (in sunlight, this will not take long at all). Cover your paint container with plastic wrap or a lid between coats so it won’t dry out.
Step 3: Pick up your first board and paint 3 of the edges with a single coat, while adding another partial coat to the back of the board. Prop it against a larger bin or piece of furniture (I used my daughter’s outdoor toy box and a recycling bin) with the newly painted side facing out and the unpainted edge down. Finish painting any areas on the second side. Repeat with the rest of your boards and let them dry completely.
Step 4: Pick up your first board again, rotate it 90°, and paint the fourth edge, catching any drips or excess with a brush, and repaint any uneven areas. One good coat per surface was plenty for my boards. Repeat with the rest of your boards and let them dry completely.
Note: The paint directions suggested letting the paint cure for several days but ours were ready to go the same afternoon after drying in warm sunlight.
Step 5: If you are giving your boards as favors or gifts, pairing them with little bundles of chalk is a nice extra! I bought boxes of Ikea Mala colored chalk and bundled 4 sticks in different color combinations together with rubber bands, one for each chalkboard.
Step 6: For party favors and decorating, you can stack the boards into piles of 5 or so and arrange them on a table, with the chalks in wide-mouth containers, as I did. I wrote a happy birthday message for Pearl on 4 of the chalkboards at the front of the table, too.
Step 7: Let each child know that the boards are their party favors and they can grab them to draw on at the party, or on the way out to bring home. I loved seeing the kids drawing up a storm all afternoon, and friends have mentioned that they’re great for car rides or throwing in the diaper bag for an all-day outing. We just flew cross-country, and brought Pearl’s chalkboard and a zip-lock bag of chalk along in our carry-on. She had a great time drawing all kinds of things on the flights, and a quick wipe later, she had a blank slate to start on all over again.
About the Authors:
Susan Beal is a crafter and writer in Portland, Ore., and the author of Button It Up and Bead Simple (and the co-author of Super Crafty!). She loves to make things with her daughter, Pearl, and her craft blog is at westcoastcrafty.com.
Ryan Tinsel is a cabinetmaker, musician, and writer in Portland, Ore. See his work at sweetwoodfinewoodwork.com.