Wooden Growth Ruler

Kids grow so darn fast, don’t they? Our little guy is only 2 but he’s already over 3 feet tall and continuing up the ladder quickly. Pretty soon, I’ll be looking up to him (he just better remember who carried him for 9 months, birthed him, and then carried him for even longer than 9 months!).

I can easily recall his birth statistics. 8 pounds, 9 ounces, and 21.5 inches long. But as he is getting older (and taller), I love having something tangible to compare that length to. And I love being able to see how he grows through the years. And, Lord willing, should we add to our family, I would love to see how all of our children grow throughout the years. Should we ever move, I also want a way to take those memories with us, rather than leave them behind on a door frame or a wall.

I have seen growth rulers in stores costing upwards of $100 (and that’s the least expensive I’ve seen…yikes!) and these projects are plentiful on Pinterest (a dangerous but oh-so-fun hole that I can get lost in for hours!). Putting together what I’ve seen in these various places and mixing in my own ideas, I came up with my very own growth ruler. I’m going to share with you the first way that I did this project and then I will share a few variations I have done or that you can incorporate into making your very own growth ruler.

Before we begin, we need to gather all the supplies we’re going to need. Some of these you may have around your house if you’re a crafter, DIY-er, or if you (or your husband) enjoy woodworking. But you will more than likely still need to make a trip to your local home improvement store and your local craft store for a few items.

  • 1″x8″x6′ Common Board
  • Stain: I use the Minwax Polyshades in the “mission oak” color; 1/2 pint will work for one board
  • Plastic tarp
  • Oil paint brush: 2″
  • Painter’s tape
  • Rafter square
  • Acrylic paint: White, a small bottle will work for 1 board
  • Oil-based paint pen: I use Craft Smart Premium fine point in Silver
  • Stencil numbers: 5″
  • Flexible tape measure: I call it a “sewing ruler” because you’ll find it in the sewing section, 5/8-inch wide, 60-inches long
  • Stencil brush pack: You can usually find a value pack that will have stencil brushes and some paint brushes; if it does not have paint brushes, you will need to get a small pack of paint brushes (and the ones on the kids’ aisle work just as well as anything else for this project)
  • A pencil

The first thing you need to do is find a work space that is well ventilated, free from curious fingers (if you’re doing this project, you probably have small children so that will be easier said than done), somewhere the board can be left to dry for several hours undisturbed, and somewhere that is big enough to hold the 6-foot long board. For me, since we do not have a garage or outdoor work space, that is our kitchen table. I typically set up after our little one has gone to bed and this will give time for it to completely dry overnight; I will clean up anything I do not want him to get before he gets up in the morning.

Unfold your tarp, only as much as you need to cover your space with 6-8 inches of border (your tarp will be much bigger than you need; cut off what you need and save the rest for another project). You will need to find something to prop up your board so it does not rest directly on the tarp. You could use baby food jars, some other kinds of tins. I suggest you don’t elevate it too high or you risk knocking it over. I also suggest not using something you would be upset if it got stain on it, like books.

Take a slightly damp cloth and give your board a wipe down on both sides and the edges to remove any loose dirt or dust. As you’re doing this, look to see what side is the “prettiest.” Does one side have edges with nicks in them that you didn’t notice at the store, Staining processor maybe it got bumped coming in the house? You’ll want that side against the wall and not where everyone can see it. As you’re laying your board down to be stained, I always start with the wall side down. So, the pretty side will get stained first.

Follow the instructions on your container of stain. Stain the top and all the edges. Remember that these edges encompass all of what will be the sides as well as the top and the bottom once the ruler is finished. Don’t worry about any drips that may go onto the backside, that will be up against the wall and won’t be seen. Just make sure the top and the sides look good. Once you finish this staining, let it set according to the directions on your stain. (As I mentioned earlier, I allow it to sit overnight before moving it.)

Once the stain has set on the top, flip the board and stain the reverse. Pay close attention not to let the stain drip down the edges (the sides). You will want to have a cloth you don’t mind ruining or a paper towel handy. Stain according to the directions per your container and allow to set.

Once the stain has set, the real fun begins!

The 8-inch mark on the ruler straddles the bottom left edge of the board
The 8-inch mark on the ruler straddles the bottom left edge of the board

One of the first things that you need to do is figure out where you would like your measurements to begin on your board. You don’t want to begin at 0-inches because it won’t allow you to accurately hang in on the wall; you have at least the height of the baseboard to account for. I have chosen to begin my board at 8-inches, but you may start higher or lower

Pull measuring tape taut along side of the board, but do not stretch, and secure
Pull measuring tape taut along side of the board, but do not stretch, and secure

if you choose (just think about those baseboards). I take my flexible tape measure (I call it a sewing ruler only because that’s where you can find these tape measures) and put the 8-inch mark at the bottom left-hand corner of the board. I take some of my painter’s tape (to be gentle with my still-fresh stain) and make sure it is secure at that point. I then run the ruler up the side of the board, making sure it is taut but not stretched, and securing it on the other end with additional painter’s tape.

The next thing you need to decide is how long you want your lines. I chose that for each inch mark, the line would be 1-inch. For each 6-inch mark, the line would be 1.5-inches. And when we reached the foot milestone, the mark would be 2-inches.

Pencil markings on the board
Pencil markings on the board

For this process, you can use a simple ruler or your could eyeball it (although I highly recommend against the latter). I have chosen to use a rafter square. It makes the process so quick and easy. I simply slide it along the edge of the board, lining it up with the tape measure I have taped to the edge and stopping at each inch mark to make the appropriate length mark using a pencil. Make sure as you go that you can see the pencil lines clearly. You will need to make sure you know where to paint during the next step. (Sometimes the boards will not receive the pencil well in some areas, particularly over knots. In these areas, indentations…drawing hard…will work well. It won’t show up when you’re finished so long as you don’t make gigantic gashes.) Once I get to the 60-inch mark on the tape measure (the highest it goes), I remove the tape measure, slide it up to finish off the board, and continue on with the rafter square and marking the lines. Once you’re finished with all the lines, remove all the tape and the tape measures.

My choice of brush (flat), white paint, and palette, all ready to paint lines!
My choice of brush (flat), white paint, and palette, all ready to paint lines!

Now, we get to start painting! You can purchase an inexpensive palette at the store or you may use a plastic plate or something similar you may have lying around your home. Work in small amounts of paint (on the plate or palette) at a time so you don’t waste what you don’t use or need.

Painted lines! You may want to do 2 coats; just make sure to let the first coat dry before applying the second coat
Painted lines! You may want to do 2 coats; just make sure to let the first coat dry before applying the second coat

It’s time to dig out your paint brushes. For this project, you need a small brush. It can be round or flat, whatever your preference. However, whatever you pick, you need to stick with it through the duration of painting these lines. You may want to do two coats of paint on the lines; however, allow the first coat to dry before applying a second coat. Because I’m right handed, I typically start with the last lines I drew and work my way to the bottom of the board (this way I don’t get paint all over my hand). If you’re a lefty, you may want to start with the lines you first drew and work you’re way up from there.

 

Notice the small border around the stencil so that it is easy to work with, but not so small that I will get paint everywhere
Notice the small border around the stencil so that it is easy to work with, but not so small that I will get paint everywhere

The numbers are your next step. I recommend waiting until your lines are dry before proceeding to this step just to avoid smearing any paint.

Stencil is taped and ready to go
Stencil is taped and ready to go

If the stencils are fresh out of the package, they may be in long strips with other numbers. Make sure you trim them down so all the numbers are by themselves (at least the ones you need; you can worry with the others later). Leave about 2-3 inches of border around the number, but trim off the excess stencil to make it easier to work with. Line the numbers up with the corresponding foot marks. Make sure they are centered, straight, and lined up with one another. Use painter’s tape to secure the numbers to the board (you only need a little in each corner, or a strip on top and bottom).

This will probably be the most challenging aspect of the project. Everything else has required a wet brush. Stenciling requires as dry a brush as you can get. If it is wet, paint will bleed under the stencil. Stenciling is meant to be built with several layers of dry brushing.

So…

Only the start of the dabbing
Only the start of the dabbing

On your plate or palette, pour a small amount of paint. Get out one of your stenciling brushes and dab it into the paint. BEFORE you go to your board, dab it multiple time on your plate or palette to get off excess paint you want it to look like there’s just about nothing coming off the brush and then you go to the board. Dab carefully (don’t press hard like your trying to get as much paint as you can out of the brush) in the stencil, going back and forth between the plate/palette and the stencil, repeating the same process each time.

This is what the first layer should look like. A lot of empty space. Each layer will build on the next.
This is what the first layer should look like. A lot of empty space. Each layer will build on the next.

When the stenciling is complete and all the layers are done, this is what it will look like

When the stenciling is complete and all the layers are done, this is what it will look like

You will want to hold the stencil down as you get to more delicate parts, like the points in the 2, 3, 4, and 5, just to prevent them from coming up. This part will take some time and patience. There is a lot of area to cover and several layers you’ll need to do. If you need to take a break, please do. Rinse your brush if you do take a break and use a fresh stencil brush if the first has not completely dried. You do not want water getting into this as it will cause your paint to bleed under the stencil (which is what we’re trying to avoid).

Once the stencil is removed, this is what the finished product looks like
Once the stencil is removed, this is what the finished product looks like

When you’ve finished, carefully, remove the stencil. Clean your stencils promptly in warm, soapy water. Your brushes need to be cleaned promptly after being used as well; water is all they need and air dry on a paper towel will suffice.

Completed ruler
Completed ruler

For me, I like the stencil look on my board, but you can choose to fill it in using a brush and paint. That’s up to you.

Now, you have a completed board! You can use your paint pen to mark your kids’ heights. I write the name, date, and height, and a line to signify the height as well. There are a few ways you can hang up the board. You can put some hooks onto it and hang it that way. It’s less secure (i.e.: might easily be pulled off the wall by a toddler) but it doesn’t “damage” the board in any way. The other way, and the way we will do it once we finish painting our living room, is to drill through the board and into the wall. There’s no chance our little guy can bring it down that way, which is what we want. I don’t want to see the board “damaged” but I would hate even more to see our sweet boy hurt in any way by it.

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Here are a few alternative ways you can complete your board:

Instead of staining your board, you can paint it. Choose two colors that will stand apart from each other. One will be the base color, or your board color. The other will be used to paint your lines and numbers.

Instead of free-handing the lines along the edge of the board, you can use tape to make crisp, clean edges. I recommend getting a painter’s tape with an edge-lock (0.94-inch wide) for extra protection. This will take longer and a lot of patience as you set up the tape, but the results are beautiful!

Here are a few ideas that can replace the stencils:

  • While at the craft store, take a trip to the wood section. You’ll find some wooden numbers. Paint them, either by hand or with spray paint, making sure all visible surfaces are covered, and secure them at the appropriate foot marks on the board.
  • If you have access to a vinyl cutting machine, such as a Silhouette, make your own numbers! Cut them and adhere them to the board at the appropriate places.
  • Using Microsoft word, or another similar program, find a font you like and print out numbers in an adequate size for your board (the font size will vary based on the font you choose, so you will need to play with it). Place the print out number in the appropriate place and trace over it, pressing hard. Ensure you can see the indentation being made. Using your paint brush, outline and fill in the number in your chosen color of acrylic paint.
  • You can choose to use smaller numbers that will fit closer to, or nestle in, the lines. These numbers could be vertical, like I have on my board, or they could be horizontal, like you would find on most rulers in a student’s desk. This would allow you to put your child’s name or your family’s last name in big letters where I have chosen to put the numbers.

 

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for mentioning any of these products.