Magnetic Drawing Board - Adultified! (Quick and Dirty Clip-Board Edition)

Tired of constantly ripping pages out of notebooks, and getting ink on your fingers? I was, but I couldn't find anything online which fit my needs, and the closest do-it-yourself thing I found, was a post from this very website, 8 years ago! My needs are:

  • inexpensive (iPads / Android tablets are better, and if you really have money to burn, you can get a Remarkable tablet)
  • waterproof (otherwise, I'd just stick with paper, or get a tablet)
  • no batteries required (if you want electronics, a BoogieBoard, or again, tablets, are readily available)
  • not messy (mini whiteboards get stuff on my hands, as well as all pens and pencils I've ever tried, expensive or cheap; a small slate/chalk-board would be even worse)
  • looks respectable enough for an office

So, how do we make this, and how does it look and function? Let me show you!

Step 1: Purchase Children's Toy

You'll want to buy a magnetic drawing-board children's toy. The original was MagnaDoodle from Tyco, which after being purchased by Mattel and sold under their Fisher-Price brand, and some other sales and brandings, is now made by Cra-Z-Art, and sold in brick-and-mortar toy stores and online retailers. Ironically, Fisher-Price now offers a competing product, the Doodle Pro, which is what I purchased.

Step 2: Disassemble

You'll want to carefully disassemble the toy-board, to get only the most important pieces:

  • drawing surface
  • tiny magnet from the stylus

Everything else can be discarded / recycled, including the other magnets. (I found them to be too weak to use as "erasers", and just used some of those circular black magnets you can buy at craft stores, etc.)

To get the drawing surface free, you'll need to remove all the screws, then find some kind of solvent (I used Goo Gone, but you can use whatever they sell near you, or possibly just some WD-40.) You'll need to carefully pry off the drawing surface from the plastic housing. I was a bit rough at the start, and dented my surface. Luckily it's in a corner, and out of the way. It will take some work, as they use very strong adhesive - these things are meant to be thrown around by children, and have all manner of dirt and liquids spilled on them, after all! After you've got it physically detached, use the solvent to carefully clean off the remaining adhesive. The stuff I used seems to be gentle and/or a specific chemistry that doesn't melt most common plastics, but keep an eye on it all the same. Spread it on thinly, and check on it frequently, to see if it's already starting to work, and avoid it sitting too long and eating through the plastic of the drawing surface.

Step 3: Better Stylus

This part's optional, if you want a different stylus to use to draw with. The stylus that comes with the toy is fairly servicable, although a bit bulkier than a normal pen; It might work for you depending on your hand / finger size. The same string attaching it to the toy can be used to attach it to the finished product.

I chose to take apart the existing stylus to get the magnet, and put it into a normal click-pen. You can see in the picture that the magnet (right - it's auto-cropped funny; click for the full image) is about the same size as the ball-point (left), which allowed it to easily fit into the tip of the pen. To secure it, I removed the spring from the ink-stick, and used it to hold the magnet in place - it's just a long rod, pushing from the cap to the magnet, providing a physical fit. With the magnet in place, the ink-stick is a bit too long, so you'll need to trim a bit off of the end that's open / after the ink. To get the final fit, I jammed a small rubber O-ring / gasket into the pen, between the magnet and the ink-stick. It's not a perfect fit, and it wiggles a bit side-to-side, but it's good enough for me. You might have better luck, trying to glue it into place instead!

Step 4: New Housing

I originally had plans to laser-cut some sheets of plastic, or thin sheets of wood, into a housing for the drawing surface, and the eraser-bar from the original toy. This would have required:

  1. a lot more time
  2. me not being lazy
  3. getting a membership at my local hackerspace / tinker-workshop
  4. precise measurements to
    • fit the drawing surface, but
    • not be overly bulky like the original toy, and
    • maintain the required pressure on the eraser-bar, for a smooth erasure

On the other hand, there's a much simpler solution. The drawing surface is approximately 8.5" x 11.5" - nearly the same size as normal paper. (Sorry, I'm a Canadian, and my country uses a mix of every metric and American; They're our closest and largest international trading partners.) That makes this part easy - just buy a clip-board from your local office / school-supply store, and you're in business!

Step 5: Finished Product?

You can see here, that I've abandoned the orange magnet from the toy, that was in the previous picture. Although it worked OK to erase, it wasn't strong enough to stay magnetically attached to the clipboard. If you squint, you can see the circular magnets I use instead; I've got a stack of four of them, which seems strong enough for me. Replace this with whatever large-ish, strong-ish magnets you have readily available, or can find for purchase. You'll want something large enough to quickly erase (erasure just means making the entire surface black, then flipping it over - it's the same surface on both sides), but small enough to do partial-erasures, so you don't need to re-write or re-draw everything all the time.

Note that this isn't high enough resolution, to do small writing or drawings, but works well enough for quick sketches with annotations. If they manufactured it with a smaller cell-size (if you zoom in your eyeballs, you can see that the board is composed of small hexagons sandwiched between the two sides, which keeps the oily-white-stuff base-material, and the magnetic iron filings (or whatever the black stuff is), evenly distributed throughout the product), it would be much better for adults, since you could draw smaller details. (There is an upper limit to the accuracy here, since the magnetic field will affect an area on the surface about 2mm wide.) Still, it's good enough for me, and hopefully for you!

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    Fun idea. There is no reason why adults shouldn't be able to enjoy toys too.