A magnetic menu board is a really great way to plan meals and avoid a repetitive dinner loop. All of your favorite dishes are right there in plain site, not trapped in the far recesses of your brain under everything that’s more pressing at the moment, and as a DIY project you can customize it to look great with your decor.
I made one a long time ago, inspired by the magnetic poetry craze (remember that?) but, well, time passed and we no longer have it. First, the magnetic board got appropriated for a Scouts project, then there was the mishap with the blender that stained everything on the fridge a shocking shade of orange, then we moved again…you get the idea.
I didn’t realize that we missed the magnetic menu board so much until I started finding my husband staring wistfully at the fridge, hoping menu options would appear. Somehow we keep forgetting about those delicious-but-not-every-day dishes unless we’re staring at them. Since I must confess to being a bit tired of the same dinner items on repeat every few weeks as well, it seems like it’s time to make a new magnetic menu board.
Of course the first step is always a trip to the local hardware store to check out the DIY options. I got a few curious glances as I tested the magnetism of various metal sheets with a wooden strawberry magnet, but eventually found the perfect product: galvanized steel flashing. It is by far the most economical, it’s easy to cut (with tin snips), is lightweight, and is sold by the foot in a variety of convenient widths (8″, 14″, 20″, etc.). The edges can be a little rough, though, and it tends to curl because it is stored in rolls, so that means using some sort of backing board.
After considering a lot of very difficult ideas to address the rough edges, like curling them into some sort of elaborate pattern (ridiculously difficult), the simplest idea won: use a frame. This would also solve the problem of the backing board. I did a brief calculation while still at the hardware store of the cost (and effort) of making my own frame, and decided that I would rather recycle one. You can definitely use a new frame and skip this part, but recycling an old one is fun and easy, too.
I found a great frame at the local thrift store that was a little worn, but sturdy, and just the right size and simplicity for my decor:
Supplies in hand, I headed home to make the new magnetic menu board.
Here’s what you need:
- A frame in the size and style that you like
- Galvanized steel flashing, large enough to fill the entire frame
- Tin snips (or ask if the hardware store will cut the flashing for you)
- Sandpaper, paint, brushes, etc. necessary to refinish the frame as you like
- Backing board for the frame (or re-use the one that came with it)
- Framer’s points
- Drop cloth
- Printable magnetic sheets
- Scissors and/or x-acto knife, steel ruler, and cutting mat
- Safety equipment as appropriate, such as goggles, gloves, and dust mask
- Hardware as necessary to hang the finished menu board
Step one: prepping the frame for reuse:
- First, find a clean, flat work surface that is big enough to hold your frame with room to spare.
- If you are using the floor, the dining table, or anything else that is not actually intended for projects, then put a drop cloth down first to protect both the surface and your project.
- Next, take all of the backing paper, framer’s points (the little metal things holding everything in), the backing board, glass, and anything else out of the inside of the frame.
- Set the backing board aside to use later, and recycle (or keep for reuse) everything else.
- If there is hanging hardware, like a hook or wire, keep it in place to use later.
Now here is where you can get really creative:
Take a look at different finishing options and techniques, and also at your decor, and find one that you think will work well in your home. This website (click here) from True Value has a quick explanation of a few finishes, just to start. The menu board can be a fun accent piece, or something more subtle, so be as creative as you like. You can always redo the finish later if you change your mind, so don’t let the stress of selection keep you from doing the project. Pick what you like best and go for it.
I wanted something simple, like the plain wooden frame I chose, so I sanded the frame to smooth-out some of the nicks and scratches, and to prep the surface for a new coat of paint: Since I’m trying to be more eco-friendly with my projects, I decided to use milk paint instead of laytex paint, with a brush-stroke texture in different shades. A stiff brush, like one that someone wrecked by not washing it properly after a previous project (ahem), is actually perfect for this kind of texture:
Maybe don’t tell the perpetrator that their poor clean-up skills actually helped you out in this case, though, since you don’t need all of your brushes ruined.
Moving on to the magnetic part of the menu board:
You will notice that the galvanized steel flashing has some lines, possibly some scratches, and some differences in tone, especially when you look at it from different angles: While it’s fine to leave it as-is, the magnetic menu board will look more polished and professional if you do something to give the flashing a consistent finish.
There are many options for doing this. Some of the simplest include painting, using contact paper, or sanding/brushing a texture onto the surface. I still have some of the black vinyl contact paper left from the Upcycled Cork Organization Board project (click here to see it), but I wanted something a little busier for this project to contrast with the simple frame. I decided to go with brushing a pattern onto the metal sheet, which is really fun to do, although it does take longer than spray painting or contact-papering.
To give a sheet of metal a textured finish:
- First, you may need to roll the flashing sheet slightly in the opposite direction of the curl to flatten it out. Try to do this gently, without denting the sheet. It doesn’t need to be absolutely flat, but it should be mostly-flat.
- If you want to splash-out a bit for this project and have a way to cut a thicker piece of steel sheeting, which will be completely flat, then that’s an option instead of the galvanized flashing.
- Next, figure out which is the back of your metal sheet. You want to use the convex (curves up in the middle) side as the back because the backing board will press the flashing sheet flat against the frame.
- If you have an electric drill or a Dremel tool, then a wire brush is a great option to add texture.
- Use one that is fairly soft because you are trying to scratch the metal to give it texture, not remove metal.
- If you want to use sandpaper for the texture, use a grit that is at least 300 or finer to start with.
- Do some practice patterns on the back. You have the entire back surface as a practice sheet, so really have some fun and see where it takes you:
- Once you have the pattern you like, try it with the frame. Make any necessary adjustments until you get your perfect look.
- Last, flip the flashing sheet over so the front side is facing up and sand or brush the selected finish pattern onto it.
- If you find yourself getting bored, stop and take a break. Changing the rhythm of your pattern will likely be obvious so get a snack, put on a good podcast, and give this project the love and attention it deserves.
- Be sure to texture the entire surface of the flashing sheet evenly, including near the edges.
Tip: A spinning wire brush may catch or skip a bit at the edges, so just be careful near them.
- Check the finish by holding it up to the light at different angles, then touch-up as necessary.
Putting it all together:
Once you have both the frame and your flashing sheet finished to your satisfaction, it’s time to put them together.
- On a soft surface, like the drop cloth, turn the frame upside-down.
- Fit the flashing sheet into the frame with the right/finished side facing down.
- Put the backing board on top, within the frame:
- The picture, mat, and backing board were glued together in my frame, so I just flipped the whole thing over to put the backing board flat against the flashing sheet. It looks a little funny with the picture in backwards, though!
- Holding everything together, carefully flip the assembly over, but don’t let go. Check that you have the correct side of the flashing sheet facing out, and that it is in the right orientation, if there is one.
- Once everything is correct, lay the assembly face-down again and start adding framer’s points.
- The back of the package may show a helpful installation tool, but they are generally easy to install with a pair of pliers and a cloth (to protect the frame). Just put the framer’s point into position and squeeze gently with the pliers until they’re about half-way into the frame:
- You need to press down on the backing board while you do this, and insert the framer’s points as close to it as possible so that it really holds everything in place. This will also help to flatten the flashing sheet further, if necessary:
- Once the framer’s points are in, use the pliers to press them down (gently) against the backing board for an even more snug fit.
There is no uniform answer as to how many framer’s points you need. Just use enough to hold everything nice and firmly. Since my backing board is made of thick card stock, which could warp, I used quite a few, just in case:
Now it’s time to make the magnetic menu items:
This part is easy because all you need to do is fill a spreadsheet with the dishes you want on your magnetic menu board, print it, and cut the items out.
Magnetic paper is available at most stationary stores, and can be cut easily with either sharp scissors or an x-acto knife. Save your scraps so you can use them to add more items later, before you have enough to print an entire additional sheet. This is also helpful if items like ‘broccoli’ keep disappearing.
Here is the menu spreadsheet I put together, just to get your started. It’s a live file in Libre Office (similar to Excel, but free), so you can make changes as you like:
Have fun with the fonts, colors, borders, whatever. You can give your magnetic menu items any look you like. Now put them on the menu board, hang it up, and start enjoying easy menu planning and all those dishes you’d forgotten about for years!
Feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or send pictures of your magnetic menu board. I hope it helps make dinner planning easier and more fun. Don’t forget to follow Creatorvox on Facebook and Twitter for more tips and tricks between posts. Thanks for reading, and happy making!