Tutorial: magnetic office board made out of bicycle chains

With all the moving, etc., I haven’t had time to sink my teeth into a good bike craft project lately—until this week, when I made Rob’s Christmas present.

(I know, Christmas was forever ago! *hangs head in shame*)

Do you like it?

message board made from recycled bicycle chains

As an outside rep, he’ll be working out of his car, and out of our house. Our new place has an extra room we’re using as an office, so I’d planned on getting him something interesting and office-y for Christmas.

I was still racking my brain for ideas when I walked into Arbor Lodge Coffee. It’s our closest neighborhood coffee joint here in Portland, and they have these fantastic boards up for people to post notes on.

They’re all different, but the one that caught my attention was similar to the photo above: strands of bike chains hanging from a board. Magnets are used to pin up colorful notes.

I just had to make one for Rob.

Aside from the elbow grease needed to clean the chains, it’s a really straightforward project.

Ingredients

You need:

  • Seven old bike chains
  • A sturdy board about 4 feet long
  • Small chain rings for decoration (optional)
  • Small screws
  • A scrub brush
  • Degreaser
  • Gloves
  • Strong magnets

Ask around at local bike shops for old chains and chain rings—I got mine at Second Ascent in Seattle. (Thanks, Dave, for letting me root around in the recycling!)

Clean the chains

This was actually my first bike chain project, despite my years of blogging about bikes and crafts. I looked up this guest post from Laura about making bike chain stars, and basically followed her instructions on how to clean the chains.

Bicycle chain board 4

I ended up using one of those green plastic pot scrubbers to polish them up after the degreaser bath, and then I used shop rags (AKA cut up T-shirts) to wipe them down really really good afterwards. The last thing I wanted was grease getting on the walls or Rob’s important papers.

Also—wear gloves! I still have grease under my fingernails.

Prepare your board

I got some gnarly old Douglas Fir fencing from a neighbor in Georgetown, which he promised would look beautiful once it was sanded down and oiled. He was right:

Bicycle chain board

I used a power sander to take of years of weathering and ancient kerf marks, then sanded it by hand with a sheet of fine sandpaper. Once it was to my liking, I applied a couple coats of tung oil to bring out the natural beauty.

Attach the chains

I used a pair of pliers to break apart the chain, popping out the little spacer so that both sides swing loose.

Bicycle chain board 5

I then tried to use a pair of wire cutters to chop off the back link, but to no avail. So I ignored it and screwed the top link on anyway, figuring that it wasn’t that noticeable.

Because you’re attaching the chain so close to the edge of the wood, be sure to pre-drill before putting the screws in.

(This was a fun project for me–years of theater shop class lessons and a funny stint working with a carpenter in Venezuela were all coming back to me.)

Break the chains to length

Or you could do this before you attach them, whichever you like. I did it this way because then as I broke them off I could get an idea of how they hung—I wanted them to be a little uneven, in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Use a chain breaker* to break the chains to about 3 feet—or whatever length you find desirable. I referred once more to Laura’s post on making chain star ornaments for instructions.

Finishing

Add decorative chain rings as desired, either by screwing them on or glueing, then attach it to your wall. Use magnets to post notes, and viola!

The finished unit will be pretty heavy, so you’ll want to screw it into a stud to attach it.

Enjoy!


* “Why do you need the chain breaker? What’s wrong?” Rob asked. My phone started ringing within seconds of sending a text to him asking where it was.

“I’m just playing around with those old chains I got. Making art,” I said. “Nothing important. I found a chain breaker in your tool box.”

“Oh. Good.” A pause. Then, worried: “Which one did you find?”

“One with a blue handle and green tape on it. There were two, but this one looks older so I figured I could use it.”

“It’s not one with a black handle? Because that one’s definitely off-limits to you.”

“Nope. Blue handle, green tape.”

“Good. You remember how to use it?”

“Yup!” Googlegooglegoogle…. “Love you! Bye!”

One thought on “Tutorial: magnetic office board made out of bicycle chains

  1. Ooh, I want a chain breaker! I got a chain checker a while ago I have yet to take out of the packaging. They could live next to each other on the shelf until I get around to figuring out degreasing.

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