Previously, in my DIY Cat Tree post, I discussed hiding some of the uglier parts of the basement during the renovation. One of our glaringly hideous problems was the fuse box. It’s mounted on a piece of plywood attached to the cinderblock. We couldn’t figure out how to mount the drywall flush around it, so we just left it open between the studs.
I hid the eyesore at first by hanging a curtain rod over it and just leaving the curtains drawn constantly. This worked since the fuse box is on the wall that actually has windows, so if you didn’t look too closely you could actually think it was a window with the curtains drawn…
Except why the hell would I always draw back the curtains on the real windows to let in sunlight during the day, and leave that one closed off? That totally bugged me.
Also, my curtains? I don’t like them. I totally bought them too quickly and just settled for something affordable that didn’t look how I wanted. And when you have two tiny demon kittens, they may or may not develop a love for climbing up your curtains and constantly knocking them down.
So I took my curtains down, and installed room-darkening roller shades, and all was right in the window treatment world. But that left this gaping hole uncovered once again.
My first instinct was to buy a lightweight canvas to hang over the opening. It would be pretty art and would be easy to take down and remove. However, there was just one problem with that idea…
That opening is roughly 46×34″. Do you have any idea how ungodly expensive art that size is? And I could never find art at World Market or Hobby Lobby or anything like that to fit the opening. The prints I liked were all well within the $200 range, and I don’t have that to spend on something that’s only function is to be pretty.
So Plan B, I was considering buying a canvas at JoAnn Fabrics. I could get one half-off for around $35. My buddy Gwen kept trying to persuade me to build one myself, helpfully linking me to sites where I could buy canvas… and that’s what made me think, why don’t I just build something out of lightweight wood? I challenged myself to find materials at Lowes for $20.
Spoiler Alert: I spent $24.
I decided to build my cover at 48×36″ just to make it easier. I picked up a 6′ 3×1 as well as a 4′ 6×1. The helpful guys at Lowes lopped each of those in half for me (just so I didn’t have to set up my miter saw for two fast cuts). They also trimmed down my oak board to 48×36″. Of course, when I got home, I realized that I needed to lop a few inches off the shorter furring strips… I didn’t account for the butt joint at the store. Whoops!
I attached the side pieces in two ways – I countersunk a screw at the four corners, and used a combination of wood glue and finishing nails between them. I don’t actually have a countersink bit, so I just wiggled my drill a little as I bored the pilot hole to widen the outside edges. The screwhead fit down snugly into the hole, just a tad bit under the surface of the board, and I knew I could cover it easily with wood filler to make it seamless.
After getting everything put together, I took my smallest nail setter and knocked all of the nail heads under the surface of the wood. Then, I put wood filler in the holes. Or I would have put wood filler in the holes, but when I opened my can of it, it was full of mold. I know, WTF?! How does wood filler do that? I even googled “mold in wood filler” and couldn’t find anything…
So I just took some spackling and filled the holes with that. Whatever works.
I let the spackling dry overnight. While it was drying, Canadian Bacon and I devised a way to hang it on the wall. Are you ready for this amazing system?
We drove two long decking screws into the studs on either side of the fuse box, leaving enough room for the top part of the cover, and just slid it right on there. Revolutionary.
Originally we were thinking of hingeing the thing to the wall, but we figured that might be too damn complicated… and this way would be free because we have a ton of decking screws leftover, whereas we’d have to buy hinges.
Also, spoiler alert: it’s REALLY easy to take down and put back up. We had our first popped fuse today and we were able to get to it, no problem.
Oh, and when it was on the wall we realized that my AC cord hung down and kept the box from sitting flush. So I took my pencil and marked where the cord hung naturally, and I just notched out a triangle with my jigsaw. It was so simple that I forgot to take pictures of it. The cover sits perfectly flat with the wall now.
So I had plans for the cover. I’d been wanting to play with chalkboard paint for quite some time, and I figured this would be a good place for it. I decided to turn the fuse box cover into a combination chalkboard / corkboard. Since it’s right between the door and our office area, it’s in a good location for corralling important information.
I bought a quart of black chalkboard paint at Lowes for $10. When I was scoping out our new JoAnn’s with Ma, I discovered that I could get a ton of message board supply stuff for really cheap due to the grand opening and coupon stacking. I wound up also picking up a 36″ long corkboard for $7 and a dry erase calendar adhesive for $3. So that’s $20 in supplies to beautify this thing. That brings the grand total to $44 – not bad at all!
I did a little bit of reading on chalkboard paint since I’m pretty much the only person in the blogosphere who hadn’t used it yet. You’ve got to prime the wood first, and you’re supposed to sand between coats, and you’re supposed to let each coat dry for 24 hours. After the last coat dries, you’re supposed to let it dry for another 24 hours before “priming” by rubbing it with chalk.
Confession time: I only followed 3 of the 4 directions. Seriously? 24 hours between each coat? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
The first coat looked like hell. Fortunately I was also painting on a day that felt like hell, so it was dry in record time. I sanded it lightly with my sanding sponge and slapped a second coat on it. I only painted the front with chalkboard paint. Rather than wrap the sides in chalkboard paint, I decided to paint them with some of my leftover wall paint so that it would look more like a natural extension of the wall when mounted.
The second coat gave me some hope for the future, but it was still really streaky. So I hit it with another light sand and slapped a third coat on. At this point it started to get dark, and I was like screw it, I’m tired of taking pictures of marginally-changing paint. So after that dried, did another light sand and slapped on a fourth coat. It probably didn’t need the fourth coat, but I felt like being thorough when it came to painting for once in my life.
One thing I noticed is that the wood grain never disappeared. This is very much chalkboard paint on a piece of wood. It doesn’t have the slate-like texture of real chalkboard. That’s why waiting 24 hours and priming it with chalk is really important. That light dusting of chalk (you pretty much just rub the whole thing with the side of chalk) fills in all the little nooks and crannies and makes your actual writing eraseable. Supposedly if you don’t prime, your lettering might be permanent.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. This was never intended to be simply a chalkboard – I wanted it to serve multiple purposes. I took out my corkboard and laid it across the top, then tacked it down with finishing nails. This corkboard is “self healing” so the finishing nails actually disappeared into it – bonus!
After I got the corkboard attached, I had to figure out where I wanted to put the little dry erase calendar. Ultimately I decided to butt it up right against the corkboard, leaving part of the right side open for chalking and the whole bottom. I figured the dry erase calendar would be easier to access on the left, where it’s right by the door.
As you can see, I used the chalkboard to illustrate the differences in our 5 cats. It became a handy identification guide while CB’s parents visited. You can tell them all apart by size and tail shape.
That little black doohickey is a pushpin holder – cool, huh? It was like $2 at JoAnn’s. It just stabs into the corkboard and puts the pins in an easily-accessible location.
I like our new command center / fuse box cover WAY better than the curtains. It looks a lot more streamlined. It’s also far more useful… you know, for cat doodles, cute birthday cards, and …stuff.
If I ever find a giant piece of art that I love for a decent price, I’ll probably replace it… just because CB and I use Google Calendars pretty religiously, and our chalk art skills stretch to stick figures, cats, and penises. But until then, I’m quite happy with this as an intermediary. And I can definitely see how families could find this very useful – people with kids and all of their crazy schedules would get a lot more use out of this system than me and CB. Even in most houses, where the fuse box panel is flush with the wall, it’s still kind of ugly… this setup could cover that as well.
This was a super fast, super fun build. I threw the box together in less than a half hour – the longest time by far was waiting for spackling and paint to dry, and you can spend that time playing video games or watching tv. Win!
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