Monday, January 30, 2012

Skinny chalkboard from full-length mirror

I decided recently that I needed a good-sized chalkboard for my work area, but my wall space was limited to a single skinny wall between a door and a window. To maximize the narrow space I needed a long, tall chalkboard, so I made this one from a full-length mirror and some chalkboard contact paper.

When we moved into our apartment, the previous tenants had left an over-the-door full length mirror. Noticing that it was just the right size for my sliver of a wall (and noticing also that it was free), I started researching how chalkboard-ify it. I was worried chalkboard paint would come off the glass too easily when scraped with chalk. Contact paper seemed like the ideal material, and it turned out that, yes, they do make one that has a chalkboard surface. Reviews on Amazon confirmed that as long as it’s mounted on a very smooth surface, it accepts chalk and erases pretty well. One review also gave a tip about prepping the surface which I'll explain below.

The most difficult thing about applying the contact paper was laying it down without any bubbles or dust specks underneath. Since the glass is so smooth, bubbles and other aberrations would be very noticeable. And since it’s not porous at all, you couldn’t work out the bubbles without peeling the paper all the way back to the bubble to let the air out (and then laying it back down without creating another bubble). On such a large surface, you could keep doing that for hours.

I developed a pretty good method for laying the contact paper down in sections so I could make sure one section was good and smooth before moving on to the next, minimizing the re-dos.

Here's a visual summary of the process from beginning to end, and I'll follow with instructions in case you want the details:

First I cut a piece of contact paper 1/8" larger than the inside dimensions of the frame. I wanted a tiny bit extra all the way around to tuck under the frame, leaving no slivers of exposed mirror around the edges.

Then, I sliced the backing only into sections so I could pull off only part at a time. (In order to do this without cutting the contact paper, you have to pull back part of the backing, cut it, lay it back down, and then do the other side—that keeps part of it anchored so you can lay it back down in the same place.)

I strategized how to divide the sections and came up with the plan in the top-right pic. I knew it would be easiest to keep the thing centered and straight if I worked from the inside out. I wanted that first center section to be small, so that I could easily reposition the contact paper until it was in the right place. I also wanted to lay the outside edges last so I could tuck them in as I went around.

Starting with the center strip, I pulled off the backing, positioned the contact paper, and smoothed out the section, working out any bubbles. Then I pulled off the backing to the next section over and laid it down slowly, a half-inch at a time, continuously rubbing back and forth to make sure there were no bubbles. Once I did all middle sections I moved on to the outside strips, using a paint scraper to tuck the edges under the mirror frame as I went.

Once I had a perfectly-applied chalkboard surface, I followed the Amazon customer's recommendation and prepped the board. All you have to do is color in the whole thing with the side of a piece of chalk, and then erase it. Having that base layer of chalk on the surface makes it easier to write on and erase later. It's a dusty process though, so you may want to do it outside or put down a sheet like I did.

Then I chalked my first design! (With the obvious inspiration of Dana Tanamachi...LOVE her.) Okay now, time for some ideas!


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