I think pretty much everyone has a story about where in their childhood home they marked their height as a kid. I always loved the idea of having a visual representation of a kid’s growth in the home, but I never loved the permanence of it all. I grew up in one house, and then moved to another when I was 11—and with that move, my growth marks stayed behind. I was always a little sad that part of my childhood didn’t get to come along with me. And of course, moving isn’t the only way the marks can disappear—maybe you want to paint a wall or remodel a room. Once those marks are gone, they’re gone forever.
So when I was flipping through Pottery Barn a few years back and saw their ruler growth charts, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go when we eventually decided to grow our family. Not only were they adorable and quirky, but, most importantly, they were transferable. While Craig and I don’t plan on moving out of this house until we’re old and gray, the truth is, you never know where life will take you, and I love that wherever we go in life, we can take this growth chart ruler with us.
Of course, I couldn’t stomach the $90 price tag on the Pottery Barn version. I mean, after all, it’s pretty much just a piece of wood with some tick marks and numbers painted on it! So when it was time to start working on Baby J’s nursery, I decided I was going to make my own. And I did, for about $15.
Here’s what you’ll need to make your own version:
- 1-1” x 8” x 6’ pine board
- Fine-grit sandpaper
- Stain and rags/brushes for application (optional)
- Printer and paper (for the number stencils)
- Black acrylic paint (or white if you’re going with a dark stain)
- Thin paint brush
- Spray polyurethane
- Hanging method—sawtooth hanger, heavy duty mounting tape, anchors and screws, etc.
We had nearly everything to make this at home, except the board. A quick trip to Home Depot and we had ourselves a 1” x 8” x 6’ premium board for less than $10. Make sure to look for one that isn’t warped and has a texture and grain you like.
We went back and forth about staining the board (after all, most new rulers have that light, pine board color to them), but decided we’d rather darken up the color a bit to match the rest of the wood in the room and help make it feel a bit rustic and old. We knew we wanted black numbers and tick marks, so we didn’t want to go so dark those didn’t show. So we landed on this oak stain. A small can for $3 was plenty—we could probably make 10 more growth chart rulers with how much stain we had leftover!
Before staining, per the instructions on the can, I lightly sanded the wood using a fine-grit sandpaper going in the direction of the grain.
I wiped off the sanding dust and let it dry completely. Then, I used an old cloth and applied the stain.
I let the first coat dry per the instructions, and then applied a second for just a slightly darker tone. Like I said, we still wanted to use black lettering, so I didn’t want it to go too dark. All done!
I let it dry outside for a few hours until it was dry to the touch, and then I brought it inside to start putting on the marks. I used a ruler (this clear grid ruler worked really well for me, but a regular ruler would work, too). I decided that I wanted to hang the ruler 8” up from the floor in the nursery, so I started my first hash mark at the 9” spot. There, I just drew a pencil line. To keep the ruler looking authentic, I made the 1/8 marks 1-1/2” long, the 1/4 marks 2” long, the 1/2 marks 2-1/2” long, and then the foot marks 3” long. You can play with it to see what lengths feel right.
I made my way all the way down the ruler making marks with the pencil. It sounds tedious, but it really only took about 30 minutes. Then, I came back with a thin paint brush, black acrylic paint and a steady hand. I just painted right over top of the lines.
It definitely isn’t perfect, but I kinda enjoy the wiggly, handmade quality of my lines. And from two or more feet back, you can barely tell the lines aren’t perfectly straight.
The next step was to put the numbers on. I headed to my computer and found what I thought was a ruler-y looking font—Century Schoolbook—and printed out the numbers 1-6 at 200pt. Honestly, you could go with whatever font makes you happy, I just like the traditional look.
Then, I lined up the numbers with the foot hash marks. I did a little research about how “traditional” rulers do this, and they usually actually put the number directly before the corresponding hashmark, instead of below it. So that’s what I did.
And then I used a mechanical pencil (with the lead retracted), to burnish around the outline of the number. Because the wood was soft, this transferred an indentation to the wood.
And then I used a pencil to define the edge a little more on the actual wood.
I transferred the stencil for all the numbers, and then came back with my paint brush and black paint and filled in the lines. I love that the numbers are a little bit debossed.
Once all the acrylic paint was dry, I took the board back outside and gave it two nice coats of satin polyurethane. I went with satin because (a) it’s what we had on hand and (b) I feel like the satin will protect the board, but still allow us to write over it with a permanent marker or paint marker (whereas a gloss might not).
I left the board outside for the evening to off-gas and finish drying, and the next morning, we put heavy duty mounting tape on the back and hung it up on the wall (making sure to measure up 8” from the floor). You could also use a sawtooth picture hanger or screws and anchors. We like the mounting tape because it’s crazy secure (we used enough to hold 20 pounds, but the board is less than 5), doesn’t require any holes in the wall, and the board is completely flat against the wall—no wobbling or bobbling.
Just to make sure all is right, I then took a tape measure to verify that the ruler was going to measure correctly—and it does! Spot on, in fact.
I am absolutely in love with this little project. Not only do I think it’s adorable, but I love that it’s functional and portable. I can’t wait to start marking Baby J’s progress as she gets bigger and bigger.