Introduction: The Growth Chart Ruler

I don't currently have children ... but I do have several friend's whom have produced them. Aside from spending the majority of their time trying to keep the little kamikazes alive, they also like to document events within these early years. To some that means pictures and videos ... to others it's blobs of paint on paper veneering the fridge. When I was a kid, it was plaster hand casts and bronzed baby shoes ... those were not comfortable at all!

One exciting event as a child was getting my height measured and seeing how "big I was getting" and trying to stay taller than my younger brother ... a competition I would eventually lose. These records were archived on a door molding and were ultimately lost when the day came to move. In hindsight, I should've taken the molding, but I was 18, in college, and too cool for such things.

Nowadays you can buy all sorts of growth charts which aren't built into the house, which makes it very convenient if/when the time comes to move. Some are elaborately made using a CNC .. others handmade using paint and/or stickers. My method uses a trim router, spray paint, and a laser printer.

Step 1: The Router Template

I wanted the 1 inch increment lines of ruler to be recessed, but I don't have a CNC. I preferred this look to just using a marker or paint, as well as wood burning.

In order to have consistent spacing, line lengths, and repeatability, I needed a template. The time investment to make such a template would pay off in the long run, since it makes it possible to cut all the lines in a six foot board in under 10 minutes .. 5 if you are in the zone.

My first template was created using 3/16" hardboard. I marked lines at 1 inch increments and marked my lengths for the different divisions (1 foot, half inch, quarter inch, the remaining eighth inch positions). These positions were drilled out using a Forstner bit and then slots were cut using the table saw.
Problem: The slots were too narrow for any of my router guide bushings. Also, slots were too short by the time I would add a guide/fence. Don't worry .. this attempt won't go to waste.

My second template repeated this layout process, but used a 1/2" Forstner bit.
Problem: My guide bushings are deeper than the 3/16" hardboard. At least I checked before making all the table saw cuts.

My third template was made from 1/2" plywood, which turned out to be a way better choice than the hardboard. Again I made my on inch increment marks, made my distance marks (adding 1" to each for the upcoming guide/fence), and then cut out the slots using the table saw.

Note: I can't recommend cutting out the slots as I did. The blade was at maximum height and I used the fence to dial in all my measurements as accurately as possible. I did use a backer board to make the material deeper than it was wide, but that still isn't fool proof. If I had to do it again, I'd use a crosscut sled with a stop block and incremental spacers. I'm working on my parenting skills .. do as I say .. not as I do.

To finish my template, I attached a 1" width of 3/4" plywood to the edge with glue and pin nails. I used my table saw fence to keep them aligned during this process.

Step 2: Initial Template Alignment and Cutting

With the template finally done, it's time for the actual project. I currently use Pine 1 x 6 x 6 boards from the home center because they are cheap (around $6). I pick through them to find straight boards with interesting grain patterns. I'm a big fan of poplar, so that would work as well ... you can find some really cool looking poplar boards. Maple and Oak if a client wants to put out the extra cash.

The router template makes the layout process very easy .. just remember to offset the first run of cuts. This board is getting an offset of 6" because the baseboards in the home are around 5 1/2". Here in New England, the older homes range from 6" - 12" baseboards. You could always trim back this edge if you end up need more clearance for baseboard, but I prefer to keep the full 6' board intact when possible.

Align the template, add some clamps so it stays put, set your desired router bit depth, and use your trim router with bushing to run it and out of each slot.

Step 3: Realignment and Cutting

I'm sure you could make the future alignments by eye with acceptable success ... unless you are a perfectionist like myself. I may not achieve perfection, but I sure do strive for it. To that end .. I made a key for my template.

The top of the key fits snugly into the template's slots (1/2"), while the bottom of the key fits snugly into the routed slots (1/4"). I cut this on the table saw. I used a longer piece ... just making the cuts on the first few inches to keep my hands a safe distance from the blade. Then just cut your desired key length using a miter saw or whatever saw you prefer.

The key slides into the long, end slot, which is the point of overlap. Reapply the clamps and route out all the grooves. Repeat this process until you run out of board.

Step 4: First Sanding

Since I'm routing across the grain and using a cheap Skil 1/4" bit ... I'm left with hanging wood fibers. Not really tear out .. just fibers.

I quickly hit each slot with some 100-150 grit sand paper ... maybe a quick pass across the top with the orbital sander if I'm feeling frisky ... and call it a day. And yes ... someday I'll get a better bits for the trim router.

Step 5: Painting the Lines

You could paint the lines with a brush I suppose, but I'm using spray paint because it's a lot quicker to apply.

You could also spray the paint without any masking and just sand to top after. If I had a drum sander, I might just do that, but I don't ... yet. For now, I run a length of tape across the front edge and then use template attempt #1 and some shop rags to block the majority of over spray.

Repeat this process until you run out of board.

Step 6: Finish Sanding

The minimal amount of over spray is removed with the orbital sander, which works out because I sand the board up to 220 girt anyway.

Step 7: Toner Transfer

There are two easy ways to do toner transfer with the aid of a laser printer. The first step it to printer your desired transfer as a mirror image.

Acetone Method [learned from John Heisz]
1. Align your image (I use a piece of tape to keep it in place)
2. Wet a rag with Acetone
3. Take 2-3 passes over your transfer
Note: I make a steady pass in one direction. Multiple directions and/or too many passes seemed to dither out the image - maybe the paper was moving.
Another Note: This works the best on raw wood.


Hot Iron Method [learned from Jay Bates]
1. Align your image (I use a piece of tape to keep it in place)
2. Trace/rub your image with a wood burning iron (I use a Weller WSB25WB)
Note: Keep the iron moving or you will burn the wood.
Another Note: This method works on raw or oiled/shellac/stained wood, but burning that finish becomes more of a concern.

In my experience, Acetone is faster, but I get better control with the iron.

Step 8: Finishing

For finish, I used 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirit, followed by a coat of paste wax and then buffed out.

Step 9: Build Video

No glamour shots as I have yet to personally install one of these growth charts.

Comments

author
SamuelA5 (author)2015-07-30

Nice ible, my wife and I are entering the kid phase and the simplicity of this might push it to the top of my project list.

I have a different plan for darkening those recesses. You could use a propane torch rather than spray paint and then use that orbital sander to clean off any over burn. Saves time on making a masking template. Of course if you already have the masking template made you may as well just use the paint but this might be useful for anyone looking to make one of their own. But eh, might be worth trying with the next one you make, see how you like it. Worst case you can cover it with spray paint.

author
SamuelA5 (author)SamuelA52015-07-30

...Well the real worst case scenario is burning down your house.

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Bio: Desktop Support Technician by day. Rock Drummer by night. DIY Home Improvement Enthusiast. Maker of whatever I can imagine in between it all. Professional level ... More »
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