On the back of a door in my childhood home are a plethora of scribbles and lines. Each marks the height of a kid—me and my sisters—as we grew from toddler to child to teen. My dad’s writing is next to each line, because measuring us on the door was his job.
After my parents’ divorce, we sold our house. The door—and all the memories it held—stayed behind. When I think about the home I grew up in, everything is forgettable except that door. I really, really wish we had thought to take it with us when we moved.
When it comes to preserving your kids’ height for posterity, you can use a piece of trim or some other permanent piece of your home, or you can build a wall-mounted wooden ruler height chart which can travel with you no matter where you live.
They sell for about $35-$45 on Etsy, but you can make your own for about $10-$20 plus a few supplies (which, once you have them, can be used to make more rulers as gifts or to sell).
- 1×6 wood plank, 8 feet long (most home centers sell them in 8′ length)
- A speed square ($5 on Amazon—trust me, for this project, you NEED this little doohickey. It’s super useful for lots of projects, so just get one.
- Fine- and medium-grit sandpaper (80-120 for medium, 120-200 grit for fine) or sanding sponges
- Wood stain in a shade of your choice—I like Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in the half-pint can. Any hardware store will carry this.
- A paint pen (get black if your stain will be light, or white if you’re using a dark stain) — These are about $3 apiece at Michaels which means they’re just $1.80 with their always-available 40% off coupon.
- Carbon tracing paper (don’t get the kind that’s specifically for wood; I bought some and it was total shit… get the normal old-school stuff that’s multi-surface.)
- Delicate surface Frog Tape (the ‘delicate surface’ part is important)
- Tape measure
- A small foam brush or piece of scrap fabric for staining
- Drill with drill bit (to make holes for the hardware to hang it)
- Access to a printer
Good options commonly found at home centers include:
- Select pine (not standard pine)
- Cedar (this is what I’ve used on my projects)
- Red Oak (most expensive)
Avoid standard pine (too many knots, doesn’t stain evenly), hickory (too tough), and maple (doesn’t stain evenly).
The wood at home centers usually comes in 8-foot lengths. Most charts will be a smidgen over 6′ long when finished, so 8′ is more than enough.
Look carefully at the boards and choose ones with few knots, no warping, and especially no splits or cracks on the ends. There’s a fantastic guide here to buying wood at home centers if you’re a noob.
Cutting the wood to size
If you don’t have a way to cut the wood at home—I used a jigsaw, but a circular saw or even a hacksaw and some elbow grease would work—you’ll want to do the measurements in this step BEFORE you go to the home center to buy wood. Most home centers will make basic cuts for free.
Distance from the floor
You want the bottom edge of your ruler to be no more than 10 inches from the ground. If you hang it any higher, your ruler’s number 1 will be too close the bottom.
Measure the height of the trim at the spot you’ll hang the ruler. Then add a few inches—it’s up to you how much, but remember that the total distance should be less than 10″—to get your bottom measurement.
Pro tip: Choose a bottom measurement that falls exactly on an inch mark, not a half-inch or any fraction of an inch. This will make things easier later on.
My trim was 3.5 inches tall; I added 2.5 inches and hung the ruler so the bottom measurement was 6″, or six inches off the ground. My friend Rachel’s trim was 6″ tall, so I created her ruler to hang 4″ above the trim, or 10″ off the ground.
That’s your bottom measurement.
Length of the board
This depends on how tall your kids will get.
Add Mom’s height in inches to Dad’s height in inches. Now tack on 5 inches for a boy, or subtract 5 inches for a girl. Divide by two. That’s “mid-parental height” and most children will reach an adult height that’s within two inches of that number.
Use the Boy number you came up with (unless you are done having kids and have only girls, in which case, use the Girl number). Take the Boy number, in inches, and add two (a little breathing room above the top measurement will be good). Then subtract the bottom measurement you computed earlier. That’s your board length.
Pro tip: Be sure your ceiling is high enough. If you’re too close to the ceiling, you can reduce the amount of space between the trim and the bottom edge of your ruler, or underfeed your kids to stunt their growth. 😉 Kidding, kidding.
Cut that puppy
Cut your board to the length you computed (or ask the nice home center employee to cut it). Keep the scrap; we’ll use it later.
Sand the rough edges
Using medium-grit sandpaper, smooth all edges of the wood until they’re smooth to touch. Next, with fine-grit sandpaper, gently sand the face of the board. Use a rag or tack cloth to remove the sawdust before moving on.
Stain it, baby
We’re ready to stain the board. Choosing a stain is really a matter of preference, but you can look at your home’s woodwork or the room’s furniture for inspiration. I used a dark stain (Minwax Jacobean, which on cedar looks like an espresso finish) in my daughter’s room, and for my friend Rachel’s board, I used a light stain (Minwax Ipswich Pine) to go with her lighter woodwork. I had two colors—Honey and Ipswich Pine—and tested them ahead of time to see which one I liked better. Test your stain on a scrap piece of the wood you’re using—stain looks different on various types of wood.
Using the foam brush or a small scrap of fabric, rub/brush the stain on evenly in the direction of the grain. Work quickly and do the entire board in one sitting; if you stop and come back later to finish, the overlaps will be super obvious. Do the face of the board and the sides. Don’t forget the top and bottom edges, too.
Take a break while the stain dries.
Mark and paint the lines at 1-foot, 2-foot, 3-foot etc.
Remember that bottom measurement from earlier? Here’s where it comes back into play. We need to mark the spot on the board that will be exactly 12″ from the floor.
Example: If your bottom measurement was 10″, you’ll mark two inches above the bottom edge of the board. If your bottom measurement was 6.5″, you’ll mark 5.5″ above the bottom edge.
Use your speed square or ruler to mark a line all the way across the board. (If you’re using a ruler make sure that it’s STRAIGHT before you draw your line! That’s why a speed square is so awesome for this—it uses the board’s natural straight edge to make perfectly perpendicular lines.)
Move up 12″ from your first line and mark the 24″ line, then 36″, and so on every 12 inches until you’ve marked the last ‘foot’ line at 72″.
Go back to your 12″ line and draw a second line, again using the speed square or ruler, about a quarter of an inch above the first line (I used a pencil eraser and just eyeballed it; see photo below right). Do this for all of the lines. These will become the thicker lines at the 1-foot, 2-foot, 3-foot marks, et cetera.
Next, using the delicate surface Frog Tape, tape off the outside edges of these lines for painting. In the photo below, I’m using blue painter’s tape, but when I pulled it off, it took some of the top layers of wood with it! ACK! That’s why I suggest delicate surface tape.
Using your fingers, press down hard on the edges of the Frog Tape that will be touching the paint. You want to make sure the tape doesn’t have any gaps under it that would cause paint to leak under and mess up your pretty lines.
Next, fill in the lines using your paint pen.
Mark and paint the inch lines
For the next step, we will be drawing lines at every inch of the board. These lines, the “inch marks,” will be exactly 3 inches long.
Before we do the big 3-inch lines, let’s get the measuring out of the way. Start by making a small tick mark every inch. Measure one inch from the bottom edge and make your first tick mark. Proceed from there, marking every inch. It shouldn’t be big—just visible for later on, maybe an eighth of an inch. Don’t make any marks at the 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 inch points.
Next, it’s time to make the lines the proper length—exactly 3 inches. Your speed square is ideal for this. Just go slow and be careful—don’t rush. I lined up my laser level to make sure I stayed on track.
Next up: time to use that paint marker to darken up the inch-marks. There are two ways to do this next part:
- Free-hand trace on the pencil lines you’ve already made, or
- Tape off the lines so your edges can’t bleed
I’ve tried #1, and I wasn’t happy with the results. Option 2 just looks so much crisper and more professional.
If you’re not sure which to use, start at the very bottom of your ruler and give it a try freehand, then assess your work. You can always start taping them from that point if you prefer.
I used delicate surface Frog Tape to tape off a very thin line—about one-sixteenth of an inch. You can tape in either of the methods below, but because the tape itself is almost exactly an inch wide, you can only do a few inches in a row on Method #1 before you’ll start getting off track. Don’t get impatient on this part! Go slow and get it right. If you screw up, there’s no going back.
Fill in all of the inch marks on the board. If you have a small helper, this is a good part for them to help with! Peanut, who is six, had fun helping with this part.
Print, trace, and fill in the numbers
I chose Adobe Caslon Pro in 330pt font for my numbers, because Adobe Caslon is really close to the font used on an actual ruler, but if you want something more modern, go for it.
ROUGHLY cut out each number (see below). If you have a half-inch on either side of one number you cut out, then shoot for a half-inch on the sides of all of the other numbers, too.
Lay out the numbers along the edge without the inch marks. Adjust the pieces of paper so that each number is equidistant from the left edge of the ruler and the same distance above its foot-mark line.
Tape them in place with delicate surface Frog Tape.
Cut out a small piece of carbon paper and place it under your taped-down number. Using a pencil and firm pressure, trace carefully around the number. Repeat with all of the numbers on your ruler. You can use the same piece of carbon paper for all of them.
When you’ve traced all six numbers, remove the paper carefully. Then, using your paint marker, fill in each of the numbers. You may need to go over some areas twice to get full coverage.
Drill holes for hanging
Using a ruler or tape measure, locate the exact middle of the height chart about 2-3 inches from the top edge and about 2-3 inches from the bottom edge; select a third spot in the middle of the chart for the third hole. Mark all three with a small pencil dot.
The size of hole you’ll drill depends on what medium you’re hanging on. If it’s hollow drywall, use a 1/2″ drill bit, since hollow wall toggle bolt anchors require a 1/2″ hole. If you’re hanging on a wood surface, you only need a hole as wide as your screw or bolt.
I do recommend three holes—my first height chart had only two, and over time it started to bow outward through the middle.
After drilling your holes, use a small piece of sandpaper to sand any rough edges around the hole you drilled.
Admire your work
Congrats! You’ve made a wooden wall-mounted height chart! Feels pretty awesome, eh?
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