Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vintage Ruler-Look Growth Chart {Tutorial}

Everyone loves the sentimentality of watching their children grow and change over the years. I didn’t want to commit to using a paper growth chart, I was worried about it getting ripped, wet or ruined some other way. Apparently this idea was originally a Potty Barn knock-off, but I don’t ever shop there anyway. I stumbled across it on Pinterest (of course).

Supply List:
- 1 board 8” wide by 6’ long purchased from any home improvement store (mine is poplar from Lowe’s and cost about $9)
- Number Stencil (I ordered mine from Etsy, specifically here)
- Acrylic Paint (I used black craft paint)
- Foam Paint Brush
- Painter’s Tape (3/4” wide is best)
- Ruler
- Wood Stain (optional)

Step 1:
Stain your board if you choose to, I used Minwax in “Early American 230” it cost me under $7, and barely used any from the smallest available can (236mL). You can do a test swatch on the back of the board first to decide how much to use, I only did one coat. Make sure to do all the edges and ends, I even stained the back of the board in case you could see behind it, and I didn’t know where it might move to later on. Allow the stain to dry out of direct sunlight for as long as directed on the can, I left mine overnight. The grain might look different after staining, so you might want to pick which is front/back & top/bottom after everything is stained and dry.
Before staining...

Step 2:
Distress the board, if you choose to. I hit mine a few times randomly with a gardening trowel, a small crowbar, the can of stain, and I then I even threw it face down on the cement sidewalk once. Go easy on it; you can always add more distressing marks later on. You may want to touch up any spots where the stained wood chipped off and looks like light new wood.

Step 3:
Figure out how you want your measurements, it may be more common to use the metric system where you live. I chose to start my lines at 1 foot (not zero), so that I could hang it off the floor and didn’t have to worry about cleaning under/behind it or clearance for the baseboards. I could have started it at 6” but decided against it so it wouldn’t look like the bottom/top got broken or cut off somehow. Our family has a few resources of “tall genes”, including Lorne being 6’3” and the kids already being quite tall for their ages. I wanted to be able to have their final adult heights recorded on the chart, so it needed to go to at least 6’6”.
I'm going to touch up that light spot that chipped off.

Step 4:
Tape off each foot mark, making sure to use a hard surface (like a bone folder, butter knife or your finger nail) to rub the edge of the tape down that will be painted, if you don’t your paint will leak under and your line won’t be crisp. I decided to make these lines 6” long, and I eyeballed how thick – it's about 1/8". A quilting ruler works really great for this!

Step 5:
Using a sponge brush or stencilling paint applicator, pick up some paint, dab a little off and gently stamp in an up & down motion for each line. Don’t drag the sponge, otherwise it ends up taking the paint off and can leave streaks or encourage it to bleed under the tape.

Step 6:
Remove the tape, always pull at a 90 degree angle otherwise your paint could peel off with it. You can remove the tape when the paint is still wet, or wait until it has dried; the only thing that matters is that you’ll get paint on your hands from the tape. You can also reuse your tape, I had to near the end (ran out of tape around the house) just make sure to really rub the edge down.

Step 7:
Continue to measure out and tape off your lines. I did the 6” mark lines next, and they’re 4” long. If you are using 3/4” wide tape (you’re smart!), you could tape everything off at once, if not you’ll have to do every other line. I stopped after the 3” marks because I wasn’t sure if I wanted every inch marked out.
P.S. I decided to do every inch (obviously) for accurate measuring purposes, they are 1.5” long and I made them skinnier then the others (about 1mm) so it didn’t look like too much. I ran a piece of tape down the length of the board to mark the length of each inch mark, it saved time and tape.

Step 8:
Decide which side of the line you’d like your numbers on, and line up your stencil (mine are 1.5” from the edge of the board, and is about 1cm from the line). You don’t need to tape or use spray adhesive to hold the stencil in place as long as you can hold it still, but you can if you want. If you mess this up, you’ll probably have to sand it down and touch up the stain. This was the part I was most nervous about. I also started with the number 2, because I wasn’t sure where I would like the 1, if I used it at all.

Step 9:
Apply the paint as you did in step 5, but go slowly - you may even want to practice on paper first. If the stencil lifts up when you’re dabbing, paint can leak under, but you also don’t want to hold the brush down in one spot for too long. It helps to dab some paint off on your tray/plate before you take it to the stencil.

Step 10:
Continue with the numbers in sequence. If you don’t want to wash the stencil after every number, you can place a piece of tape on the back of the dirty numbers to make sure the paint doesn’t leak onto your board when you’re doing the next number. I washed and dried the stencil after every other number.

Step 11:
Once all your lines and numbers are on, you could distress it more or leave it as is. A small part of me wants to throw it on the sidewalk again, but I’m worried about scratching the black paint off, but maybe that would look good since right now it looks like an old board with new paint... We’ll see? You may also want to seal it with polyurethane, but I didn’t – the more worn and scuffed it gets, the better.

Step 12:
Hang it however you’d like, I screwed right through each end into a stud in the wall. I don’t want my surrounding walls (or kids) to get dented if this falls off the wall, it’s in a high traffic area and I know Ella will be leaning against it at least once a day… So a wimpy little picture frame holder won’t suffice.

When measuring, it’s best to use a straight stick like a ruler or paint stir-stick to get the measurement from the top of the head. I plan on reserving a very fine permanent marker specifically for this growth chart, because I don’t think I will like how it will look if a different colour or thickness is used throughout the years. I may even create a pen holder on the top/side of the chart for it.


  1. Super idea Ash ! I think I will make one too ,for recording all the grandchildren etc etc .thanks for the inspiration! lol Auntie Bonnie

  2. Awesome! I want this for my grandchildren.

  3. Where did you get the number stencil?

  4. The stencil I used was purchased from an Etsy shop that has apparently closed down. There are plenty of other stencils available on Etsy, you could just search "number stencil". I've also seen them at Micheal's craft store, and even some dollar stores.
    You could even try making your own with a sheet of plastic (from an overhead projector, recycled packaging or a craft store).