DIY Chalkboard: From Trash to Treasure

Blog, Home, Kitchen, Woodworking / Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Most of the time I reject the notion that someone else’s trash could be my treasure. I need to reject this notion because if I didn’t I would have a collection of things that I don’t really need. Occasionally, I let myself grab some trash from the side of the road but only if I know I can use it. I also have some unwritten rules about how long I keep those things around before getting rid of them because I didn’t end up using them. This is a story of how two pieces of trash became a DIY chalkboard in our 1950s home.


Collecting Wood


Despite my loathing for collecting trash, I’m often on the free section of Craigslist because I’m hoping to find some treasure. A few months ago, I happened upon a post advertising a bunch of free wood being scrapped from a house renovation. Usually, I don’t act on these types of things but the photos of the piles of wood just looked so good. There were stacks of old roof beams waiting to be repurposed, not burned as the ad suggested. 


So that day, I hopped in my car on my lunch break and drove over to the pile of wood to load up my trunk. It was beautiful old fir. Rough and aged. The splintered pieces from the hasty demolition indicated a beautiful warm color beneath the age. I took the better pieces from the pile. When I got home that evening, I proudly showed my find to Ellie. She was unimpressed with my pile of old wood.


I’ll find something to use it on, I promised. And so it sat for the next few months.


Chalkboard Guts


A couple months back, Ellie found a salvage shop in Milwaukee she wanted to visit, WasteCap Salvage. Both Ellie and I love to go to antique stores and just dig around. We rarely buy anything though, usually, everything is out of our price range. However, at WasteCap there were many things that were in great condition and extremely affordable (but their stock of urban wood was much overpriced compared to my supplier). I loved walking their warehouse and seeing all of the old architectural pieces saved by them. Many of them I wish I had a reason to buy. Especially the old dentist’s cabinet. It was so cool, affordable, and in great condition. I just didn’t know what I’d use it for. Who needs that many small drawers?


Somewhere in the store, Ellie found a pile of old pieces of slate. I can’t remember if they came out of a school or a bar but there were maybe ten pieces of it in varying sizes. All of the pieces of slate were fairly priced. We saw it and thought DIY chalkboard. We picked out a nice one, 12″x20″ I believe, and bought it for $5. A hell of a steal.


Putting Together the DIY Chalkboard


On our refrigerator, we have a marker board we use for grocery lists. It’s small, old, falling apart, and pink. Plus, the markers are iffy depending on the day. We wanted to eventually replace this cheap marker board with the new chalkboard. It wouldn’t hang on the refrigerator, but we found a nice place next to the back door where we would see it when we left.


I knocked out the assembly of the DIY chalkboard frame in about an hour. I didn’t take my time to be too precise because the wood I was using actually could benefit from a sloppier joint (that’s what I tell myself because my miter cuts aren’t so great). The cuts were quite simple, just making sure the inner edge matched my 12″ and 20″ on the slate minus an on each piece so I could have a 1/2″ deep dado to insert the slate into. Outer edges of the frame were whatever the inner edges were plus the extra from a 45° miter on whatever width of wood I had. I’m going to guess it’s about 1 1/2″ thick, I just eyeballed what looked nice.


Okay, writing all of that out made it seem more complicated than it was. But really, I took a very simple approach for this frame.


Once I had the pieces cut to length, I took them over to the table saw and cut a 1/4″ dado in them. I didn’t want this dado to be centered because I wanted to have the slate deeper in the frame. This would allow me to have a notch for chalk on the bottom of the frame. Two cuts with the table saw were enough to snuggly fit the slate into the frame. I added some glue to the dadoes, inserted the slate, and clamped it together.


Now I have heard that a glued, mitered joint is not a strong joint so I wanted to add something extra in to support the corners. For this, I chose wooden dowels. I had some 3/8″ dowel in my shop, so I cut a 3/8″ hole through each corner. This wasn’t an easy task because I needed to cut 45° on something I had already glued up. I might have been able to leverage my ShopSmith for this to get precise angle cuts or I could have tried inserting the dowels at 90° to the corner, but I rushed this project so it would be done. The result was a bit sloppy, but after mixing sawdust and glue to fill the cracks before sanding, it actually cleaned up quite nicely.


Every chalkboard needs a chalk tray. For mine, I decided I wanted to carve out a groove on the bottom piece of the frame to keep the chalk from rolling off. For this, I took my smallest chisel and chipped away at the wood. It took about five minutes to get it roughly where I wanted it to be and with a little sanding, I had a functional chalkboard tray that fit the style of the frame.



All that I still needed to do was attach a couple D-rings and hang it on the wall.


And there it is, an antique and rustic DIY chalkboard.

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