Intro: Magnetic Metal Wall Panel With French Cleats
I'm writing a story about people living in a space ship, so I've been thinking about using wall space in flexible ways. I also live in a small, oddly shaped environment, so I got to thinking of ways to implement those ways in my own living space. As you'll see in the pictures I don't mind an industrial look, so my options were wide open.
After some brainstorming, I came up with this wall panel idea. A previous bout of crafty motivation had me stocked with French cleat pieces from when I hung my TV on the wall. What if I could set up a versatile, movable surface for things like holding objects or tools, even a battery-powered LED for when I need more light in the places I'm most likely to be working?
I finally finished a working version of it, and I have the parts for a couple more. I didn't document the assembly of the panel itself, but I'll go over those components at least. It's a simple build, really.
I did document getting the wall sides mounted, so I'll go step by step with those.
Let's get started!
Step 1: The Wall Panel
I got everything I needed for this from your basic hardware stores. These pieces include:
- 8 inch by 24 inch weldable steel panel. Cost: About $13 USD. Galvanized steel won't work, unless you don't care if it's magnetic. If you go thicker than this thin sheet, it's more weight and more money, but might look better and be more durable.
- Thin plywood or hardboard, cut to match the steel sheet. Cost: $3 and $10, depending on where you are and how fancy you want to be.
I aimed for thin and simple, so I bought a 2 foot by 2 foot panel and cut it into thirds. Note: I forgot to compensate for the width of the blade so one of my panels ended up about a quarter inch smaller, but it doesn't make any difference for my stripped-down design. Just makes it extra invisible!
- 2 door handles of appropriate size for what you're looking for. Cost: Between $4 and $10, depending how fancy or large you want.
I wanted my panel to be tray-like, and these really appeal, the copper look contrasting against the steel. (Oh, and take a look sometimes at how expensive drawer and cabinet pulls can be. Wild stuff!)
- A hanging method of your choice. Cost: Depends.
I wanted this to be movable and for it to work either vertically or horizontally, so I went with a French cleat setup. I can mount small pieces of cleat on a wall, that I can make all sorts of add-ons for, when the panel is in use somewhere else. Or make multiple panels and leave them up in both places. I already had the cleat pieces on hand, but that's because a year or so ago I bought a 3/4 inch birch plywood and had the local Maker space help me cut it into pieces I could use.
- Plastic Spacers. Cost: Free
This is another cheat, actually. My favorite feeling is finding a use for some random thing I have, so I tend to save odds and ends. This is one of those magical times where it worked out. See, the total panel width is just about a quarter inch, and the hardware that came with the handles were longer than that. Thicker plywood would have compensated, or even trimming the screws or finding shorter ones would have worked. But I knew I had the spacers bouncing around. No idea what they were from, but four of them are now serving to fill spaces like they were made to do.
- Short Screws. Cost: Free, or $1-3
Again, I'm a salvager, so I was able to make use of all used screws on this project. I even did a happy-dance.
- Tools: A drill with a bit able to handle the thickness of metal you got, a countersink, and a screwdriver. A magnet to pick up the metal shavings, if you're not in a workshop proper. A marker or pencil, and a tape measure. I'll add adhesive here, if you want to meld the board and metal together. It would probably stiffen the whole project.
- Line up your wood panel and metal panel in whatever way you want the final version to be.
I went with making the wood completely hidden on this one, but I toyed with doing an offset design just to look cool. I might do that with the next one I make. If you're using adhesive, go ahead and stick them together, then let it dry according to your glue's instructions. I used ThisToThat.com to determine the right glue...then decided that the handle screws would be good enough for now. Instead I used masking tape to hold the two pieces together so that they wouldn't drift around during the next part.
- Drill the holes for your handles and/or mounting method.
I drilled the holes for the handles after carefully measuring and eyeballing how I wanted them to look, marked where I wanted to drill, then went outside and drilled through the metal and the wood, into another piece of wood. Since my plywood is so thin, the cleats have to be screwed on from the other side. I drilled pilot holes through both after I determined how I wanted it to go. I also used my countersink to allow my screw heads to sit flush without bowing out the metal panel. See pic 3 to see (?) the hidden-screw configuration. I actually don't care about seeing screws, but this is nice because it's less metal sitting directly against the wall where it might mark.
- Assemble the handles on the panel and attach your mounting method.
In reality this took a bunch of doing and undoing. Thankfully I was careful enough with my measuring that I didn't have to make any extra holes to make it fit, but I did have to bore one out a little more with my drill. And yeah, I actually assembled the whole thing before I remembered about the mounting holes, and had to take it apart again. This, incidentally, is why I don't use glue on prototypes.
If you're mounting it in any of the usual ways- picture hanger style, for instance- go ahead and do that! Stick some magnets up there and enjoy! If you want to learn more about French cleats and to see how this thing looks on a wall, continue on.
P.S. If anyone has advice for how to keep the steel clean or polish it somewhat, I'd love to hear it! I know rust is more likely than not thanks to local humidity, and I don't want this to look like crap in a year if I can help it.
Step 2: French Cleat, Theory and Practice.
I'm no carpenter, but the simplicity of this mounting method really appeals to me, and it's sturdy as heck, too. I first learned this trick at a job I had where our building manager had to mount a bunch of LCD monitors, back when they were still kind of heavy. He ripped a 2x4 at an angle, attached one side to the TV and one to the wall, and they just hang together, the object's own weight keeping it from being easily shifted.
There's a bunch of workshop Instructables for cleat walls, and that sort of thing was my original intention. That hasn't materialized yet, but that's okay. I've got enough up to play with for now, and three long bars still if I need more pieces to play with.
The thing to note about French cleats is that you'll need to leave enough space between them to allow the points to pass over each other. If you're doing like me and putting a horizontal AND a vertical option in place, you'll need to be aware of how much room you have to allow. For instance, because of the placement of the vertical cleat, I can't put the panel on a long horizontal, unless that part hangs off the end. I was planning to use small ones anyway, since that's what I had on hand, so it worked out.
Be aware that a French cleat is as strong as the hardware mounting it to the wall, and the wall itself. If your screws can hit a stud, so much the better. Otherwise, be wary of the weight load you intend, and mount to the wall accordingly. Use anchors, if you can't find a stud. And don't forget to countersink, or your screwheads will interfere with whatever you're hanging.
Continue on to see how I mounted them!
Step 3: Mounting the Cleats on the Wall
For an entirely unrelated project, I had some of that blue temporary adhesive, the kind I used on posters when I was a kid. I realized that these small wooden pieces were light enough to be held up by a couple thin pieces, and it worked wonderfully while I got my holes drilled. Basically I held the two pieces together and pressed it against the wall where I wanted it to go, then lifted the metal panel up and out. The cleat stayed up, in pic 2.
I picked a drill bit that matched the drywall screws I had, made sure the screws would be long enough to get through the cleat and go a useful amount into the wall, then drilled three holes. The blue stuff did make for a small gap, but pretty insignificant.
I took the cleat down and took the blue stuff off. Some stayed on the wall, but it came off nice and easy. On the outside of the cleat, I used my countersink to bore out the holes. Then, I run a screw all the way into the hole, making sure that the top will be below the surface, then I back it out enough to let the cleat sit flat on the table again. I do the same for the other two screws. Note: Trust the angle of the hole, since it ought to match whatever the angle of the wall hole is at.
I advanced the screws again just enough to have points. Using those, I can find the holes very easily. Zip, zip, zip, all three screws go in smoothly.
I repeated all of the above with the other place I wanted it. Boom, two more places to hold the board, one vertical and one horizontal.
Final shots on the next page.
Step 4: Final Product
I've got it up next to my door at the moment to hold my keys, but next time I'm drawing in my chair, I can move it behind me and put my USB light up there. The panel itself looks like it's floating unsupported, and the offset of the cleat means it goes over the wires I have on my wall. Next project, I can put it back up over my work table to hold tools. I've already attached magnets to some things like my glue gun.
The handles make it easier to grab with both hands, and good strong magnets mean I don't have to unload it when I move it if I don't want.
It's been so fun following this through from concept to object, but all told it was probably a year? I started with things as odd as a breadboard, basically a wall version of an electric tablecloth, to deciding to go battery operated for any devices I want to augment with, to boiling it down to a magnetic panel. When I realized the cleats I had sitting around would be perfect, I finally got out and bought supplies over a couple of trips. My favorite thing is to use things I already have on hand, so this was a tough step. So I bought enough metal and wood for three panels, but only one set of handles. I was thinking nuts and bolts for the next one, if I find I've got some on hand.
Anyway. The panel got assembled about a month ago, and I just got some other things out of the way to put the wall cleats up. I'm pretty happy with the end result, and I hope someone finds this interesting, or makes their own version. Thanks for reading!