What do you expect to pay for a tape measure? Less than $10? Probably. Well, this is the story of a tape measure that cost $150. But it’s a really, really cool one. And as Chris mentions to me over and over – having kids for me is like one extra giant art project. And I can’t really entirely disagree with him on that one…
When I was younger, like a lot of families, my dad and Wendy had a spot on the inside of a closet door where my brother and I measured our height as we grew. And even though I didn’t grow much (because I was always a total shorty till I hit high school) I LOVED when it was time to measure ourselves and I loved tracking it. It was in the house that I lived in the longest when I was little, but that was only about 7 years. I was SO SAD when we moved and that closet door stayed there. For our girls I resolved that I would get a height chart that was mobile so that wherever we moved that height chart would stay with us.
Naturally, I went to Pinterest 🙂 But I didn’t really find anything I liked. I’m not super into overtly “kiddie” stuff, and most of them were a bit toooooo much for me
I’m not knocking that these aren’t done super well, they just weren’t my style. I found myself more drawn to these wooden, clean looks
Chris liked the idea too – or at least thought it was entertaining enough to indulge me 🙂 – so we went to our local hardwood store. I, of course, could not make this out of standard lumber, no, I had to make it difficult and expensive for myself. While at MacBeath we wandered around their selection. They have SO MANY different kinds of hardwood. When we first told the guy who was helping us what we were using it for I could tell he thought I was a little crazy for being so specific about what kind of wood I wanted for a height chart, but as he wandered down the aisles with us I could tell he got a little bit into suggesting what kind of wood might work 🙂 Chris and I wanted a more rare species of wood – we were investing in making this a fun piece of art, so we wanted it to stand out a little more. I’ve always liked the look of zebra wood, but it is really pricey per board foot, so we’ve never found an excuse good enough to use it. This seemed like the perfect time 🙂 Would you like to know how expensive it is per board foot? Well, I can’t remember the price off the top of my head, but we paid over $100 for about 9 board feet of wood. Yes, crazy pants. But it was really, really cool looking. And I’m going to love this height chart damnit! 🙂
We brought the wood home – IN OCTOBER. Yes, that’s right, we bought this wood 8 MONTHS AGO. Don’t believe me? Oh, here it is propped up against all of our CDs when we were working on our laundry room floor
My goal was to get this thing finished by Zoe’s 18 month mark. I figured 2 months was enough time. Well, that didn’t happen AT ALL. Life – as always – just seemed to keep moving and I completely forgot about it. I did work in little pieces here and there about every 6 weeks to 2 months.
The first task: sanding it.
Zebra wood is slightly more difficult to work with. It is a REALLY hard hard wood, and the grain actually goes in two directions – the light color in one direction and the darker color in the other – which makes sanding it and doing other wood working projects a little more challenging
A palm sander is WAY better than a belt sander (even though it is super rough at first) and you’ve got to work in pretty high grit so as not to gouge it and make awful markings on it. The wood also smells like crap when you sand it and is NOT GOOD for you, so it’s a good idea to wear a mask. And as extra precaution because I was pregnant I made sure to wear my respirator while I sanded it.
After it was sanded it sat around for about 3 months without me doing anything to it. Then in April I picked it up again. Clearly I missed the 18 month mark, so I resolved I’d complete it before Zoe was 2.
In honor of continuing to make this the most expensive tape measure ever, I declared that average foot height markers would not do, so I bought house address numbers at HD that were too expensive, for a total of over $30 with tax (for the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – I didn’t want a 1 because no one is that short and it won’t be hung starting from the floor, but a bit higher up on the wall)
The next stage was making the inch and foot markers on the board. If you look REALLY close you can see the little pencil marks I made
But, again, Chris and I really wanted to make this project more difficult on ourselves, so we decided that making the markings for each foot and inch in sharpie just would not do. We wanted to burn it into the wood.
So I made the inch markers, and then the tape measure sat around the house for another 6 weeks or so. In that time Chris took a scrap piece of the wood we had and attempted to use his torch and a piece of metal to burn the inch markers into the wood. And it completely didn’t work at all. It turns out, because Zebra wood is so hard, it takes the metal getting REALLY hot to make any mark at all. And that took holding the torch to the metal a really long time. And for every inch marker….that would take FOREVER. So we tried to think of other ideas – again, because a sharpie just wasn’t good enough for us because we’re elitist assholes 🙂
I thought of maybe using a router to make the markers, but that would take a lot of fine tuning, a really narrow bit, and a risk of a lot of splintering (again, with Zebra wood not being super easy to work with), and the wood is expensive so we didn’t want to waste any. Then Chris found a wood burner online for the cost of about $20, raising the price of this tape measure to about $150. But who doesn’t love a new, cool tool 🙂
We tested out the various tips it came with on our scrap piece to see how much pressure had to be applied, how large of a mark it made, how accurate you could be, etc.
We picked out the tip we liked, Chris got the spacing with the square down and he took a couple more practice runs
Then he got to work. We made the foot markers the largest, and the 6″ markers and 1″ markers 1/4″ in difference. It looked pretty cool as he went
The wood burner worked really well and once Chris was done I took it out to the garage to seal it. There were various ways I researched that wood workers like to seal Zebra wood, but because this isn’t getting a ton of handling (Zebra wood is sometimes used for knife handles, so you’d need a really good seal on that because of frequent use), we resolved that several coats of wipe on semi-gloss poly would do the trick
So I put on 5 coats 🙂 Making sure to lightly side and clean between each one.
But we STILL weren’t done. The last task was attaching the height numbers. I told you, this project was way more difficult than we needed to make it.
I brought out the numbers and Chris and I set about attaching them to the board. These aren’t supposed to normally be used to attach to wood, so the template and instructions weren’t very applicable. And because we didn’t want the numbers floating proud of the wood, we resolved to simply use clear adhesive to attach them. So I got some out of Chris’ truck, he applied it to the back of each number, and I attached it to the board
Once we were sure of the placement we used painters tape to hold them in place
And there, 16 hours before we left for the hospital before we had Merritt we FINALLY finished the most expensive tape measure ever: about $150. Oy. But I love it
I still have to figure out where we’re going to hang it, and how we’re going to do it (I think we might router the back to make it hang flush with the wall), but it’s wonderful to have this project done. Sure, I may have missed the 18 month mark and the 2 year mark – but I FINALLY made it before the baby came! Victory 🙂
I love the contrast of the nickel numbers against the zebra wood. Normally I’m an ORB girl, but I really wanted to play up the zebra wood and going nickel I think really highlighted that
And I absolutely LOVE the subtle inch markers. It’s not glaring and in your face. It’s a nice, sophisticated measuring chart 🙂
Okay, one more look at that gorgeous – and much too expensive – tape measure 🙂
It's beautiful!!!! Just one question after all this hard work — how are you going to record/mark the girls' individual heights at various ages on it? Will you use the wood burning tool to make a permanent record and just write on it very neatly? Will you use pin markers? I cannot wait to see it after you have recorded their heights!
meryl rose says
I still haven't thought about how we're going to mark their height on it, ah! That's another big debate in my head, but I totally didn't think about burning it in and I LOVE that idea. I think that's the front runner at the moment…thanks! 🙂
Sara @ Russet Street Reno says
I have a 6 foot section of cedar I wanted to use for this….but there it sits, not done. Sigh. Yours is awesome and worth that moola!
I love everything about this – it's GORGEOUS and totally worth all that time, money and energy. Can't wait to see how you figure out the actual measurement markers. I was thinking maybe a silver sharpie so they stand out or maybe even measuring on the side/edge of it when burning it in?
meryl rose says
Thanks you guys 🙂 **BLUSH**
And yes, Anon, I think the silver sharpie is the front runner right now!
TheKimSix Fix says
It came out beautifully.. I've never heard of Zebra wood, but it definitely was worth the investment!
meryl rose says
Thanks Kim! I'd been wanting to use some for a while after I'd seen it used before, and I LOVE the way it turned out. Definitely super hard, and stinky. But an interesting new experience for woodworking.