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Magnetic Chalkboard Doors

Updated on September 4, 2015

Not just chalkboard doors...MAGNETIC chalkboard doors!

My youngest daughter is a big fan of the color pink. It appears as a near constant in her wardrobe, even sneaking in via shoelaces when she wears her mandated school navy-and-khaki school uniform. There's no shortage of pink accents in her room, but she's was after my wife and I to paint her entire room pink after we painted her older sister's room a cool teal blue color.

However, my younger daughter got the bedroom with the higher ceilings and my wife and I were daunted by the thought of so...much...pink. We tried to strike a compromise and proposed that we paint a portion of some wall with pink chalkboard paint. My daughter agreed.

We hit a snag immediately, though. Because of the arrangement of furniture in the room, no particular portion of wall made good sense to be a writing surface. That's when my wife had the idea to convert the double-doors of the closet into chalkboard doors. Shortly thereafter came the additional idea of making them magnetic chalkboard doors. It sounded fantastic. It sounded doable. It sounded like fun.

Turns out, it was two of those things. Here's hoping my lessons learned will help you make this project all three when you do it.

Step One: Preparation

For our project, we decided to replace the existing two-panel doors with flat panel doors. The two-panel doors looked nice, but didn't provide enough flat surface area to be decent chalkboards. If you are going to replace existing doors, continue reading this section. If not, skip down to Step Two: Primer.

First and foremost, measure the existing doors. They should at least be close to a standard door size, but even with doors that started out as standard sized, there's a good chance they were shaved down to compensate for slight variances during construction. One of our doors had been shaved down 1/8th of an inch, which caused me significant rework (and almost caused me to have to trash an entire door and start over).

If you need to get a door shaved down to size, you'll either need a planer, a genuine carpenter, or maybe you'll get lucky and the seller of the door can shave it for you. If you want to plane it yourself, you can either use a manual planer or invest in a power planer. My advice: if the store or seller can't shave it for you, take it to a carpenter unless you have significant experience planing wood.

Learn from my mistakes: You may be tempted into thinking that you can just use your general-purpose jigsaw to shave a little off that door, and then sand down the rough parts. I just about ruined one of my doors like that and caused myself a significant amount of work with wood filler to even out the terrible cut. Again: use a planer or take it to a carpenter.

Once you have your properly-sized doors, take down the old doors and put them side-by-side with the new doors. You're looking to replicate the mortices, which are the little cut-out areas where the hinges sit. Mark the area for the mortices with a pencil. If the original mortices were a tight fit, you might give yourself a little wiggle room on the markings.

You really only have two practical choices for cutting the mortices: a router or a chisel. Again, an actual carpenter comes in handy here, as they likely have an electric router that can make short work of the mortices. It's more difficult to get good results with a wood chisel, but possible. I had wood chisels already, so I chose that route.

Your old doors likely had some sort of door stopping mechanism embedded in the top of the door. Take care to learn how it works before you disassemble it. Our doors used a spring-and-ball device that required me to drill holes in the tops of the doors with wood paddle bits. If yours are the same, then take a moment to see exactly which bit fits in the holes of the old doors. If you drill the holes too small with a paddle bit, it will be very difficult to enlarge them evenly. I speak from experience.

Now that your doors have been sized, prepared for hinges, and had door stoppers installed, hang them as a test. Make sure they swing and close as expected before you ever paint them.

Step Two: Magnetic Primer

There are many instructional videos on how to apply the primer, so I won't go into detail about that. Just check out the video at the end of this segment as an example. Instead, I'll list some important lessons I learned when using Rust Oleum Magnetic Primer.

The paint shaker at the store is not enough. The primer is made magnetic through a mass of iron filings that will clump together in the bottom of the container. You can ask the friendly person at the paint desk of your local home improvement store to shake for you. You can ask them to shake it again. You can ask them to shake it a third time. None of that shaking will matter. The magnetic goopy stuff simply does not mix with the oily primer agent by being shaken.

You will need a bucket that is larger than the primer can and that you don't mind sacrificing. Empty the contents of the primer container into that bucket and get to mixing. You can't do this in the primer container because there simply isn't enough space and you will slosh the stuff everywhere. Blend the primer until it has a smooth consistency. You will likely need to mix the primer up frequently as you go, as the goopy magnetic part tends to settle and separate pretty quickly.

Don't prime more than you need. This primer isn't cheap, so decide ahead of time which parts of the door need to be magnetic. In our case, only the sides facing "out" from the closet would need to be magnetic. Use a generic primer for the rest of the door surface.

You will need more coats than you think. Most instructions will say that you only need three coats to make the surface magnetic. I found that to be correct for very light things, like magnet-backed school portraits. Larger items, like little baskets for holding chalk, will need more to grab. I found that five coats of magnetic primer did the trick for those baskets.

Using magnetic primer

Step Three: Chalkboard paint

This part is actually pretty straightforward. We used Valspar tintable chalkboard paint and it went on like normal latex paint. The magnetic primer tended to leave a rougher surface behind, so I went with rollers that put on a lot of paint. Overall, each door got four coats.

Here's a lesson learned about chalk selection, though: don't use liquid chalk. We tried that initially and it took rubbing alcohol to get it completely off. Stick with plain old chalk like you'd find in a classroom.

Once you're done painting, go hang those doors and enjoy!

Pink magnetic doors you can write on!

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