Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Project That Took Over My Life

Well . . . .

Ya see . . . .

I took on this project . . . . back in March . . . . and I promised to blog about it . . . . probably in April? . . . . and now it's October . . . . It's time.

When we first moved into our house six years ago, I needed to hang stuff on the walls really fast.  Long story for another day.  The end of the story is that I threw stuff on the wall by my kitchen table, and then I ignored it.

The wall would change a little every once in a while, but in March I decided that I wanted to change it permanently.  Here is a before shot:
The wall just never had the WHAM! that I wanted it to have.  While I was running on the treadmill one day, I read a build-your-own-frames ebook by Jamin and Ashley from The Handmade Home, and I fell in love with this large frame that they made:
 As I jogged along (I was on the treadmill, remember?), I realized that there was NO WAY I could make this cool frame.  They used scary words like kreg and jigsaw and  . . . . measuring, but I knew that something of this scale was exactly what my wall needed.  So I started thinking, as sweat dripped down my face, how I could copy it without all the hassle.

I decided that framed sheet metal would be cool, and I could drill holes through the metal and attach ready-made frames to it to replicate the look that Jamin and Ashley had achieved.

I went to our local scrap yard and asked them about sheets of metal.  They had 3'x7' perforated sheets of thin steel that looked brand new--two placed side by side would perfectly fit on my wall.  I was slightly disappointed that they didn't look a little more beat up vintage, but the man who helped me load them told me exactly how to age them--and age them fast. I bought a few panels (they were $20 apiece) and I was ready!

I spread the sheets out in the alley and sprayed them with diluted pool acid, just like the steel guy had told me.  I thought this would be an instantaneous transformation.  I waited and watched.  Nothing happened.

Ben had a rugby game that afternoon, and since I'm not that patient anyway and since I had a few extra panels to waste, I decided to douse two panels with undiluted acid and leave one just barely sprayed (as per the steel guy's directions), and leave them in the alley while I was at the rugby game.

I came home two hours later, and this is what I saw:
 I loved the one on the left (the doused panel).  That made the decision clear--douse the rest, Baby.
In a matter of minutes, the panels each developed their own personalities.  I picked my two favorites, wiped them with a wet rag to remove the rust dust (say that five times fast), then I wiped them with a mixture of baking soda and water to stop the rusting process and tried to seal them with polyurethane.
I'm going to tell you right now that the poly didn't work.  At all.  It was a useless step, so don't do it.

 For the framing around the metal sheets, I decided I wanted something that blended with the rusty finish, rather than contrasted with it.  What I really wanted was some old barn wood, but with none available, I made my own.
 If you combine gray stain with a topcoat of dark wax, you get this gorgeous aged color.  I love it. Can you see the difference between waxed and not waxed?
Now for the part that I really had no idea how to do, but it was so awesome in my head that I couldn't stop now.  I grabbed Brad (who was not that willing to help with such a hair-brained idea, let's be honest about it.), and we muddled through the process of hanging the metal on the wall.
Doesn't it look like fabulous modern art that I paid a ton for?  But we weren't done here.  After framing it out with our newly treated barn wood, Brad ducked out of the process, and it was my turn to decide how to get the frames to stick to the metal.

The initial plan was to drill holes through the metal and anchor the frames to the wall.  However, since the metal is perforated, the drill bit kept jumping around and refused to ever go through it. Time for plan B.

Magnets, my friends
Regular magnets worked great on the metal letters I mounted across the top, but when it came to the frames, the magnets weren't strong enough.
I went to Home Depot and bought some stronger magnets and tried every glue I could think of to affix them to the frames.  Nothing, not even Gorilla Glue, would hold them.  In desperation, I pulled out my glue gun, and you know what?  It worked.

Here is the project, halfway done.
And here is where everything fell apart.  Literally.  The magnets weren't strong enough to hold the frames, so one by one, the frames slid off the metal and crashed to the ground, leaving the magnets still attached to the wall.


Well, I gave up for a few days--okay, actually it was more than a month, truth be told.  I lived with my giant metal wall that smelled of rust and pool acid, and I knew it wasn't coming down, because the wall behind it is too scarred to remove it all anyway.

That's when I discovered neodymium magnets online.
Now these puppies are killer magnets.  If you don't remember the story of me almost losing my finger between two of these magnets, here's a link to remind you.

You're back? Good.

Funny story, right?  Stupid me, right?

I attached the magnets to the two upper corners of each frame, and that's when I found success.
They held, and all was well.  The wall was done just two days before Tucker returned home from his mission.  Hmm.  Started the project the end of March, and it was completed the middle of May.

Yeah.  That was forever.

But that is not the end of the story.

These magnets are so strong that they eventually force themselves loose from the hot glue and then, without warning the frames would start sliding off the wall and come crashing to the floor.  I would reglue the magnets, occasionally run to IKEA to replace a shattered frame, and I thought that this project would haunt me every few weeks for the rest of my life.

That is, until Tucker's wedding.

The wall was missing four frames at that point, and I decided enough was enough.  I ordered 32 more neodymium magnets and reglued all of the old ones to the top corners and added new ones to all of the bottom corners.  Since the frames were hanging at an angle to the wall when only held up by two magnets, the glue would come loose. With all four corners held securely, the frames NOW FINALLY stay up on the wall without sliding to their deaths.

Here it is, October, and I finally feel like I can share this project with you with full confidence that it is indeed complete and sturdy . . . . and so dang awesome. Was it easier than The Handmade Home frame?  Most certainly not.  Was it cheaper?  I don't think so.  But it fit within my skill set of limited woodworking skills and limited measuring patience.

Here are a few pictures of the complete wall.

It is virtually impossible to get a good photo of this space--glares from windows on two sides and a dark shadow to the right, plus the chandelier that hangs right in front of it.

In this picture, the frames are all a little wonky.  This was still in the two-magnet "reglue-every-few-days" stage
I had hoped that the baking soda bath would completely stop the oxidation process, but it never did.  It is still rusting, and that's fine.
 The magnets are tall, and I really like how they pop the frames out from the wall to give it a little more dimension.
 I ended up sticking my favorite photos on the glass of the frames instead of behind the glass for two reasons: 1) I kinda like how it looks, and 2) If the frames are removed, the magnets still stay on the wall.  In order to avoid regluing the frames every time I want to change the pictures, I figured the quickest way to swap them out would be for the frames to stay where they are.
This is the big statement piece that I had been searching for.  It still has the same overall feel that the inspiration photo has, but it is unique to us and to our family.
One of my favorite things about this wall is how my family will look at it during meals and comment about the pictures--what we were doing that day, how funny someone's face looks, how big they've gotten since the photo was taken.

It's time to change out the photos.

What do you think?  Was it worth MONTHS of agony to finally get it right?

Linking up to Tuesday's Treasures at My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia, and featured on The Handmade Home
My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia


  1. Love it! I was wondering when we'd see it on the blog. :)

  2. Looks great! I looked for the ebook you mentioned but couldn't find it, do you have a link?

  3. Julianne
    I added the link in the post.

  4. You never cease to amaze me. That think is amazing!

    So, so cool.


  5. OK, this is AWESOME!! I love how grand it is. Great job!

  6. It's really lovely - a great focal point and full of memories!

    I have to ask where you got your curtains or fabric to make them?

    This is my first visit to your blog. Enjoying it very much. :)

  7. Love the project, but what I REALLY want are those curtains!! Where did you get them? I LOVE them. They are the perfect colors for my home.

  8. SO worth the time. I love the rusty big wall, too! Way to go!

  9. SO very cool. I want to make something similar to this in my transition wall.