The nice thing about having a growth chart rather than using a door jamb or a wall, is that you can take the project with you when you move. Many times, these valuable marks are sold with the house. Other times, they are repaired before selling. All the memories are lost, but not if your chart can be taken with you.
The following instructions can be accomplished by anyone with a little patience, regardless of crafting ability. The wood does not need to be cut, and the only other tools needed are a tape measure, square, and hobby razor knife.
DIY Growth Chart Ruler Instructions
Purchase a board that is 6 feet long, 9-1/2 inches wide, and 3/4 inch thick. These will be sold as a 1×10, which is 6 feet long. You will only need one of these for the project.
If you decide to use a board that is narrower, do not go under 7-1/2 inches. Anything smaller will make it difficult to get all the numbers and hash marks placed without looking cluttered.
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Select a Pine board from a home improvement store, and decide on the look you desire. Some boards will have many knots, some completely clear, and some in the middle. The grain patterns and color variations will also make a difference, so dig through the bin and choose the board that makes you happy. The growth ruler will have a rustic look, so you really can’t go wrong with any board you choose.
Next, pick up the sprays and stains. For this project, I will be using Watco Danish Oil in the Dark Walnut color for the base coat. Then, Rust-Oleum 2X Gloss Black Paint and Primer for the markings. After that, Deft Clear Wood Finish Satin is used for the clear coat.
A roll of blue painters tape is also needed, make sure to get the narrower, one inch roll. An optional 2 inch roll can be purchased as well, but you will definitely need the narrow roll. Lastly, pick up a small amount of wood filler in the same color as your board. This is only if there are cracks that you would like to fill before finishing.
Step Two: Filling The Cracks
I really liked this board when I saw it, the only problem was that there were two cracks like the one in the picture to the left. Thankfully, they are easy to fill and conceal.
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Any wood filler product will do the job of filling smaller cracks very well, but the Mohawk two part filler is the best in the industry. This is a stick that is mixed together. The two parts react, and harden into wood filler. It dries quickly, and finishes just like wood.
Cut off a small amount from the end of the log. Make the cut like you are cutting a cookie from the end of a roll of dough. It is important to have the right amount of each part, and if you cut straight through, you will have the proper mixture.
It only takes about 15-30 seconds to mix the putty, and it will start to warm up slightly after a minute or so. Mix only until the coloring is even.
Using your index finger, smear some of the putty into the crack. At this point, you want to over fill the void. Press hard with your index finger, which ensures that the putty is driven deep into the crack.
Scrape/slice the excess off, and take a look at your fill. If you pulled some out of the crack, add a little more from the ball. Scrape again, and once the fill is complete, allow it to dry.
Step Three: Sanding the Board
While the fills are drying, sand the rest of the board to prepare it for the Danish Oil. Sand all the edges lightly with 150 grit paper to break the sharp corners. You do not want to round them very much, just remove the sharp edge.
Sand the corners, and then any dents or dings on the surfaces that you want to remove. If you like the worn look, leave the dents and dings in place. Then, once the filler is dry, lightly sand the surface to ensure that the filler material is the same height as the wood. The best tool to use for this is a sanding block with paper wrapped around it. I have instructions for making a sanding block here.
Step Four: Applying the Base Finish
The base finish for this DIY growth chart ruler is Dark Walnut Danish Oil, and it will give the ruler an aged look. This stuff is might as well be called 50 years in a can. It adds a nice warm glow, and instantly ages any wood.
There are a number of different colors that Danish Oil is mixed with, and feel free to grab something different if you like the look.
The best way to apply the finish is with a cotton cloth or rag. Look for something white, and free of stains. Old undershirts work well, just cut out sections from the chest and back, and avoid the arm pit and neck areas.
Dab some finish on the rag, and wipe it on the surface in sections. Make sure to wipe quickly, and work your way down the board.
Once you finish the entire board, you may have areas that are blotchy or colored a little different than the rest. This is ok. If you like the look, keep on going through the process. If you want it to look a little more even, go back over the light areas again.
With Pine especially, there are going to be areas where the finish leaves more color. What you want to look for are areas that do not look natural. If you can see wipe marks in the finish, this would be an area to address. Simply go over the lighter areas a second or third time, and they will blend well with the rest. Also, you do not need to wait to apply these coats, you can do it right after the first was applied.
With any finish, less is more. Apply the finish in sections, and resist the urge to flood the surface. Doing this will deeply color the area where the finish was over applied. It can be difficult to even out the coloring at that point, and you will not save any time.
When you are satisfied with the look, allow the finish to dry overnight before moving on to the next steps. If you have never applied finish before, my 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing gives you all the information you need to apply a great finish by hand.
Step Five: Marking The Layout
Now that the base coat is dry, it is time to mark the layout. The easiest way to do this is to use a tape measure, and extend it from end to end on the 6 foot side of the board. Use a pencil, and make a small mark at every full inch.
If you really press hard on the soft Pine, it will leave an indentation. These will be visible after spraying, and they will look like small shiny lines. Mark lightly, just enough to see.
Measure 12 inches up, and extend that mark to be 3 inches long as well. Repeat this until all the marks for 3, 4, 5, and 6 foot are marked 3 inches long.
The marks for the half foot lines are made the same way, and they are 2-1/2 inches long. Then, the marks for the quarter foot are made, and they need to be 2 inches long. Finally, make the rest of the marks that were not extended 1-1/2 inches long.
Here is what this looks like on the board. A ruler or tape measure has longer and shorter lines to make it easy to read the measurement. Making the lines on this ruler longer and shorter gives it the right look.
You can vary these dimensions if you like, just keep them consistent. This means all the one foot marks are the same, the half marks are the same, etc. Go back through and verify that your marks are correct, as it can be easy to get some of them mixed up. Once you are satisfied that they are all the correct length, move on to the next step.
Step Six: Taping Off the Ruler
Once the marks are made, the ruler can be taped off for painting. Almost all of the 1 inch painters tapes are actually a little smaller. For the Scotch Blue, it is really 0.94 inches. This is great, because it leaves a gap that is a little bigger than 1/10 of an inch between the pieces.
Place a piece of tape on the board, covering the edge, and extending 4-5 inches onto the face of the ruler. Eyeball this, and place each piece between your lines. Do not worry about getting them perfectly centered, just close. When the lines are a tiny bit imperfect, it will add to the rustic and handmade look. Press the tape down well each time you lay down another piece.
Next, tape around the edge of the bottom like you see in the picture. One of the 2-1/2 inch lines for the half foot marks will be right at the bottom. This mark needs to be visible, but you do not want to paint the entire bottom edge.
Apply a small piece of tape across the top of the 2-1/2 inch mark. Then, put another piece along the bottom edge, allowing about 1/10 inch of the line to be exposed.
Continue down the board, placing tape in between the lines that you marked out. Make sure that your tape goes around the edge of the board. You can wrap it under a little bit, which will help hold it in place.
This does take a little time, but the payoff is well worth it. Place the tape nicely, and again don’t worry too much if the gaps are not perfect.
Look at each line, and place a small piece of tape right at the top of each line. Some can be done two at a time, but most will have to be done one at a time. Continue this way down the entire length of the growth chart.
Now, the rest of the board face needs to be covered in tape. If you picked up the 2 inch roll, this will come in handy. Tape off literally every part of the surface with the exception of the lines for the inch marks.
Use smaller pieces until you get past the markings, then switch to 2 inch if you have it, and finish out the rest of the board.
Once they are painted, you will be able to see an incorrect line length from space, so take one last look. If any need to be adjusted, either add or remove tape to make them correct.
Step Seven: Numbering The Chart
The easiest way to do this is to buy or make some number cutouts. My wife has a Silhouette Cameo, so she cut out these numbers for me from thick paper. You can also use stickers from a craft store, or print out the numbers in a word processor and cut right through the paper.
The font size is really a personal preference. Try out a few very large font sizes, and see what looks nice on the ruler. My numbers are all 3-1/2 inches tall, so if you are following along exactly, use a font size that makes numbers that are the same height. Also, my font is Century, but there are several others that have a nice old fashioned look you can choose from. Look at a few before deciding which direction to go.
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All of the numbers will need to be cut out of the tape in order to expose the wood. The best tool for this is a hobby knife. Use a fresh blade, and barely any pressure will slice right through several layers of tape.
I like to place my numbers 2 inches from the edge, and centered between the one foot mark and the 1/4 foot mark below it. This has a nice look, and the numbers are not too far away from the markings.
Cut out the shape of the number, making sure to work slowly and carefully. A fresh blade on a hobby knife cuts very easily. It goes through the tape without hardly any pressure, and will go through fingers just as easily.
Work around the shape of the number, and then peel back the tape to expose the wood.
If you encounter any resistance as you are peeling the tape, stop. Run the blade over the tough area, and it will free up the piece. You want to have clean cuts when you spray the paint, because it will take the exact shape you cut out.
Continue down the ruler until all the numbers have been cut, taking your time as you work.
Now, go back over the numbers as well as the measurement lines and ensure that the tape is well secured to the wood. Press it down with your fingers, looking for any loose areas. If the tape is not pressed down well, paint will get underneath, and this will distort the look.
Cutting out the numbers is not difficult if you take your time. However, if you really would rather not cut them out, there are other options. You could always buy a set of peel and stick numbers online or from a craft store. Apply them where they need to go after the measurement markings have been sprayed, and the tape is removed.
Seal them following Step 10. If you have problems with them coming loose in the future, you can always Mod Podge the entire face of the ruler to trap them.
Step Eight: Painting the Surface
Place the growth chart ruler on a towel, or somewhere that the over spray will not ruin anything. Then, spray several light coats over the markings and the numbers. Make sure to get the front edge of the chart as well. This gives the lines a nice wrap around look on the edge.
It is important to use very light coats. You can coat the piece several times with just a few minutes in between. Spray light, because it will not run or pool. This reduces the chance that you will have paint sneak under any of the tape. Each coat will build upon the last, and it will be completely black in the end.
Continue painting until all the numbers and markings have a solid black layer. Allow the piece to dry completely, and then check again to make sure everything was coated. If there are areas that need more color, spray another layer. Once this is dry, inspect it again. Then, allow the piece to dry overnight to ensure that the paint is completely cured.
Step Nine: Removing the Tape
Take your time when removing tape near the numbers. Make sure to remove this tape carefully, because you do not want to smear or mar the look.
Also, check near the edges of the numbers, as sometimes very small slivers of blue tape will cling to the black paint. These can be hard to see unless you are really looking for them.
Once you know that all the tape has been removed, inspect the look and make sure that everything came out correct. If not, tape over what needs to be corrected and shoot it with black paint again. If you need to remove paint, it can be sanded, coated with Danish Oil again, then painted. There is no way to ruin this project, so do not worry if you made a mistake. Just go back, and correct it.
Step Ten: Spraying With Lacquer
Though you can use the growth chart ruler right away at this point, adding the lacquer helps keep it nicer looking for a longer time.
Make sure to invest in a better lacquer like Deft or Mohawk for this project, as it will lay down nicer, and provide a much more even look than lower priced lacquers. Deft can be found in most hardware stores, and it does not cost much more than the cheap stuff. Mohawk is found at painting supply stores or fine finishing stores.
Once sprayed, leave the board to dry overnight before handling, and your DIY growth chart ruler is complete.
Step Eleven: Hanging the Growth Chart
Since the markings on the chart start at 6 inches, the ruler must be hung 6 inches off the ground. The picture to the left is from my son’s room, and the chart is a little different. I started that growth chart at 8 inches.
For the example growth chart, measure six inches from the floor, and that is where the bottom needs to be placed. I like to use 3/4″ L-brackets for this job, as they are easy to install, and they conceal well. My brackets each have three screw locations that go into the wall, and three into the piece. You need one for the top and one for the bottom
Use a set of wall anchors when securing the chart to the wall. Then, paint them the same color as the wall, and they will blend in well.
This is a close up of my son’s growth chart, and we have a few entries for him already. We are about a month away from marking his height for 18 months, and the time has been flying by. I can remember bringing him home from the hospital like it was yesterday, and now it’s almost been a year and a half.
The best way to get these measurements as accurate as possible is to take them from the information you get from your regular pediatrician visits. The doctors will measure your child or toddler, and give you that information at each visit.
Mark the height on the growth chart from the doctor’s measurements rather than having your kid try and stand still for you to make the entry. The doctor is more accurate, and the measurement will look much cleaner and straighter too. I also put the age for each entry on the ruler. A black sharpie marker works perfectly for the job. Mark your memories on the growth chart, and take it with you when you move. It will always be nice to look at as the years go by.
If you have any questions about my diy growth chart ruler, please feel free to leave a comment and I will answer them. Happy building.
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