Sunday, November 29, 2015

Household Hacks: DIY magnet board

For years, I kept a 2-by-3 foot cork bulletin board over my desk. I kept all sorts of odds and ends on it, some for reference and some just for decoration. It had notes about the schedule for the public library, useful websites and phone numbers, cartoon clippings, fortune-cookie slips, amusing photos, a list of movies I wanted to watch, instructions for what to do if the Internet goes out, and a copy of the ecofrugal word cloud I made four years ago.

There were four items in particular on the bulletin board that I used and updated regularly:
  1. An ongoing list of all our expenses for the month, which I use for budgeting and general reference
  2. An envelope stuffed with credit card slips, which I save to check against my monthly statement before paying it
  3. My to-do list, which changes daily
  4. A list of article ideas for this blog
Since these four items were regularly pulled off the bulletin board to be amended, I kept them secured with easy-to-remove pushpins rather than thumbtacks, which need to be pried up with a fingernail. Repeatedly pulling out and replacing these pins gradually wore away the cork near the bottom of the board, but we just flipped the board over to expose a fresh area of cork for pinning, which we figured would hold up for another year or so.

Why then, you may ask, am I referring to this bulletin board in the past tense?

To which I respond: cats.

Our two new cats are adorable, soft, and playful, but they are also little troublemakers. They get into absolutely everything that isn't nailed down. I've already had to replace the flower vase on our kitchen table with a cat-proof version, and we've also had to remove or rearrange various decorations to either keep them out of the cats' reach or make them less appealing. And a couple of weeks ago, the cats—particularly Winnie—started setting their sights on my bulletin board. I think it was the shiny pushpins that caught her eye, because she kept hopping up on my desk and batting at them. I had to remove her several times, but I couldn't keep an eye on her every minute, and she eventually managed to knock one of the pins loose.

Since I didn't want sharp pointy objects rolling around loose where either we or the cats might step on them, I decided to try replacing them with thumbtacks, even though they were less convenient. Unfortunately, by this time Winnie had become obsessed with the objects on the bulletin board, and rather than mess with the thumbtacks, she simply grabbed the paper itself with her teeth and pulled it loose—sending the thumbtack flying in the process.

At this point, I came to the conclusion that there was no way to make the bulletin board cat-proof, and I would have to replace it with something else. Brian suggested a magnet-board, since the cats probably wouldn't be strong enough to dislodge a fairly strong magnet—and even if they managed it, a loose magnet wouldn't be nearly as much of a hazard to our feet as a loose pushpin. He'd seen something along those lines for around $10 at IKEA, but since our nearest IKEA is about 35 minutes away and costs $5 in tolls, we decided to try Staples instead. They had a selection of magnetic dry-erase boards in various sizes, but they were pretty pricey; to get one the size of my old cork board would have cost nearly $50, not counting the magnets.

So Brian's next idea was to stop by a home center and pick up a piece of plain sheet steel. He figured we could build a frame for it out of plain wood molding, bolt the whole assembly to the wall so the cats couldn't pull it down, and have ourselves a DIY magnet-board for much less than it would cost to buy one. Unfortunately, this plan didn't work out either. Home Depot, to our surprise, didn't actually have any sheet metal; Lowe's did, but it wasn't well labeled, so it took us a while to figure out the prices. Eventually we deduced that a 2-by-3 piece of thin sheet steel would cost around $30. Once you tacked on the cost of the wood molding and the magnets, it wouldn't actually be that much cheaper than the Staples model, and it would take a lot more work.

At this point, making the trip to IKEA was starting to look like a more reasonable option. So we headed home, where Brian, seized by a sudden inspiration, dove down into the shop and started rummaging through the piles of scrap material. There he unearthed a flat steel object, about 16 inches by 20, bearing the label "stove/counter mat." It had been down there when we first bought the house, and Brian squirreled it away thinking it might come in useful some day. And now, that day had come.

Brian located the wall studs, drilled a couple of holes, and bolted the mat securely to the wall. I then raided our stash of magnets and found enough to secure the most essential pieces from my old bulletin board to the new magnetic board. This new board is still mildly interesting to the cats, but not nearly as fascinating as the old cork board, and so far, they have had no success at all pulling anything off it.

This improvised magnetic board isn't nearly as large as my old cork board, so it doesn't have room to store all the items I used to keep on it. Some of the less useful items, and all of the decorative ones, have had to be stashed away. But since these aren't items that need to be taken down and put back up regularly, Brian has promised to find a way to fit them all into frames and hang them up next to the magnet board—which will also fill the awkward gap on the wall between this smaller board and my wall-mounted ukulele hanger.

Then all we'll have to do is figure out some way to keep the cats from sitting directly in front of my computer monitor while I'm trying to work, and we'll be all set.
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