Build a Menu Board
Home Project: Weekday evenings can be busy. Planning your meals for the week will make shopping easier and reduce the stress of deciding what to make for dinner each night at the last minute.
A good friend of mine is a professional chef, and while visiting his home kitchen I noticed he had a menu board. He caught me admiring it, and he mentioned how valuable it was for keeping track of what he needed to do in the kitchen for the week. Inspiration took hold and I set off to make one for my own kitchen.
You can also make essentially the same project, but instead of writing “MENU” on the board, you can use it as a vision board to post pictures and notes to help you maintain focus on any major life goals you have.
Nicholson applied four layers of quality paint to the writing surface of his menu board to ensure good, even coverage.
Nicholson used two Dominos at both of the bottom joints, and a single Domino at each of the upper joints to keep the frame secured together. You can also see he labelled the parts while working in order to keep them organized in his mind.
Festool Dominos are quick and easy to machine, but a mortise and tenon, or even a bridle or half lap joint would work in this situation.
Dry Fit, Then Glue
To ensure the joints fit together properly dry fit the entire frame. Once you're confident it will fit together apply glue to the joints and bring the parts together for good.
Rout a Rabbet
With the glue dry, flip the frame upside down and use a router equipped with a rabbet bit to machine a rabbet around the inside, back edge of the frame. This rabbet will accept the writing panel.
After you've machined a piece of solid wood to size, rip it on an angle. One half will be attached to the wall, while the mating half will be attached to the back of the top rail.
Create a writing surface
Begin by having your local home center cut down a full sheet of 1/4″ MDF into four pieces. Set three of the pieces aside for future use, or simply buy a precut 1/4 sheet. Prime your oversize piece with a high quality primer. After allowing the primer to dry overnight, lightly hand sand with a 220 grit sandpaper block. Vacuum the dust, and lay down your first coat of paint with a 4″ foam roller. Again, let dry overnight, sand with 220, vacuum, and apply another coat. Multiple coats are needed for a uniform writing surface, so don’t panic if your first coat looks blotchy. I applied four coats before I was confident I had excellent coverage.
Make a frame
Next, mill your lumber to 3/4″ and rough out the four oversize parts. Set your table saw fence to 2-1/4″, and rip the sides and top rail to final width. Next, move your fence over to 4″ and rip the bottom rail.
At the mitre saw, square one end of each piece, and then set up a stop block to cut the two rails to their final length of 48″ (it’s important to use a stop block for repeatability). The bottom and top rail should follow the same procedure, but the block should be set to 19-1/2″.
This frame uses simple butt joints, so strong joinery is needed. I used a Domino machine, which excels at loose tenon joinery. If you don’t have a Domino machine, there are plenty of other options. An inexpensive doweling jig would work great, as would traditional mortise and tenon. Pocket holes are a speedy third option, but if you use pocket holes ensure that the accompanying screws will not interfere with the rabbet we will be cutting in the next step. Avoid biscuits, as they will not have enough strength for this application.
To lay out your joinery, clamp up the frame without glue. Line up all the edges so they are flush, and make a small mark across the joints where the mortises are to be cut. Clearly label all your parts for reassembly later. Using a combination square, strike a line through each mark. Disassemble, align the tool with your lines, and cut your mortises (I cut twelve 25mm deep mortises, to accept six 50mm tenons).
With the joinery cut, prepare for the glue-up. Do a second dry fit to avoid any surprises, and then disassemble for the last time. Apply glue to all the joints, assemble the frame, and clamp it up. Remove any glue squeeze-out before it fully hardens, then leave it to set overnight.
Cutting a rabbet
After removing the clamps, sand the frame to 150 grit, or until the joints are flush and the project is smooth. Chuck up a bearing guided, 1-1/4″ rabbet bit in your router (set for a 1/8″ cut). Clamp the frame securely to your workbench (face down). Following a left to right path, take the first pass. You will have to move the clamps a few times to finish a full round of routing – this is to be expected. Don’t attempt to rout the rabbet without clamping, or you risk damaging your work piece, or worse, injuring yourself. Lower the bit another 1/8″, and repeat. After four rounds, your rabbet will be 1/2″ deep. Make sure to raise your project up on scrap runners to avoid bottoming out your bit on the workbench. Finally, sand everything up to 220 and break all the edges with a sanding block.
Fit the chalk board
Measuring from the center, double-check the length and width of your opening (the corners will be round). Take your panel to the table saw, and carefully rip it to final width. Cut it to final length with a circular saw and guide, a table saw sled, or a track saw.
The corners of the insert will need to be rounded to match the rabbet. Mark them with a pencil, and sand to your lines using a 100 grit sanding block. You could square off the corners of the rabbet instead, but rounding off 1/4″ MDF is much more efficient.
Make a mounting cleat
To hang the board securely, make a simple French cleat. To start, mill up a hardwood blank 5/8″ thick, 2-1/2″ wide, and 8″ long. Tilt your table saw blade to 45 degrees, and rip the piece in half using a gripper block (never do this operation without a gripper style push block). The bottom half attaches to the wall, and the top half to the frame. The parts will nest into each other perfectly, and create a very strong and level mount for your heavy menu board.
I applied four coats of wipe-on polyurethane over three days. After the finish cured, I inserted the panel and used glazing points to secure it. Attach the top half of your cleat to the back of the top rail, ensuring it’s centered and level. I used two 1″ countersunk drywall screws. Add a small 5/8″ piece to the back of the bottom rail to act as a standoff. Attach the bottom portion of the cleat to the wall using construction adhesive, and drive in two 2-1/2″ screws, ensuring to hit a stud behind the drywall. Hang up your board, check for level, and paint on the word “menu” using a craft store stencil and some white paint. Now all that’s left to do is plan your meals, and get cooking.