Hey everyone! Today I want to switch things up a little and offer you an easy thrift store DIY that is one of my top sellers in my Etsy shop—people LOVE these and they are so simple to make. I’ll give you the steps in an easy to follow format along with the tips I’ve discovered as I’ve redone over 60 of these in the past three years. I just went back through my shop to count how many I’ve sold there—I told you they were popular!
These three slot mail boxes don’t generate a lot of interest sitting on the thrift store shelf, but I am always super excited to find them because I have a simple redo that takes them from dated to farmhouse fresh. I usually find them at garage sales and thrift stores, priced anywhere from $0.25 to $3.99.
Step 1: Wash your piece. I use a mixture of hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean all the furniture and wood projects that I do. The mail boxes are kind of annoying to clean because of all the little crevices, but cleaning is an important step, especially when you’re about to use white paint. Dirt, grease, and other debris show up really easily under the white so I give these things an extra good scrub. Always let your piece dry completely before applying paint.
Step 2: Apply white paint. It might seem silly to use Chalk Paint on smaller pieces, but I like Annie Sloan’s paint so much that I literally use it on everything—I used to be a lot more open to trying new paints and products, but I’m so super in love with her brand that it takes a lot now for me to branch out and actually pick up a new product. I won’t say I don’t do it, but I will say that nothing comes close to her paint. I’ve even used it on the cupboards in my laundry room, and they still look amazing four years later.
If you haven’t tried AS Chalk Paint and you don’t want to buy a huge can for a small project like this, it does come in sample sizes, and those small guys will give you enough paint for 2-3 of these projects (at least). Sounds like a good excuse to open a bottle of wine and have a little DIY mailbox painting party with a couple of your friends! I buy mine at Nada and Co. in Royal Oak, but if you’re in Macomb County, you can also get it at Country Comforts in Romeo (at the Frontier Town shops).
Anyway, back to the project. I always start with a very light coat using a natural bristle brush for my projects, and these are no different. Chalk paint dries very quickly, so once you’re done with this coat, go watch an episode of Gilmore Girls and drink some more wine. By the time it’s over, you’ll be ready to check the progress. You should be good to go for your second coat (depending on the look you want and how dark the wood is, you may want to do three coats for full coverage—I find that AS Old White and Pure White often take 3 coats to make me perfectly happy, especially on dark wood).
Step 3: Wax the mailbox. Once the paint is dry, I wax the mailbox at this point. Wax helps to seal the paint and protect the finish against grease, moisture, and fingerprints. I use AS clear wax, but any clear furniture wax will do. Side note: “natural” is not the same as clear (Minwax has a “natural” shade)—it will yellow the paint a bit. It’s still a good look, and I sometimes use Minwax’s natural furniture wax, but just be aware that the paint will look slightly yellow.
Once upon a time I didn’t wax the mailboxes at this point—I used to do the chalkboard paint next—but waxing after the chalkboard paint is dry means having to be really careful to keep it off that chalkboard area so as to avoid gumming up that surface and making it impermeable to the chalk, which defeats the whole purpose. I probably did about 45 of these things before figuring out that waxing the mailbox first was way easier.
I let the wax sit overnight and then buff it with a brush or cotton cloth before moving on to the next step. The brush you see in the photos is my buffing brush—this is another product that it took me a long time to invest in, but it’s seriously so much easier than using a cotton cloth.
Step 4: Tape off the chalkboard squares. I put tape along the top edge and sides, and then usually use another small piece of tape or two to help me space the bottom piece, like so:
Press down hard on that tape—make sure you get out any bubbles around the edges!
I’m using pretty skinny tape here, so I used two pieces to help space the bottom edge. One of the reasons why I wait until the wax has cured slightly is that applying the tape to a freshly waxed mailbox tends to make the tape bubble, which will make the next step harder.
Step 5: Paint a square of white over the tape. Get that white paint on one more time, making sure to drag that brush along the edges very carefully.
This is my trick to avoid seepage of the chalkboard paint—the white paint acts as a seal, getting underneath the edges anywhere where a tiny bubble might be lurking, waiting to ruin your project with ragged edges. Once this layer of paint dries, you should be able to achieve crisp lines all the way around your chalkboard squares.
Step 6: Paint your chalkboard squares. Using a foam brush or roller (this helps the chalkboard paint lay a little more smoothly than the chip brushes do), get two coats of Rustoleum Chalkboard Paint on top of your squares (in this photo, the paint looks streaky because I’ve only done one coat so far). I’ve tried a couple of different chalkboard paints, and this one is my fave:
Step 7: Remove the tape. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but just be careful with it. I’ve tried to take all the tape off at once, and sometimes the edge of your chalkboard square can rip just a little bit—like so:
Then you have to get out your detail brush and practice straight lines, which could be really difficult, depending on how much wine you’ve had by this point. I slowly pull the tape away from the paint, trying not to drag away from or towards the chalkboard, but instead to pull straight up.
- Distress (if desired). Even though the wax has already been applied, you can still remove paint with a fine grit sandpaper along the edges if you like that look. I pretty much always do this—most of my shop has the shabby chic look going on.
- Prep the chalkboard squares. I rub the long side of the chalk stick against the squares and rub the chalk in with my fingers to “season” it—this helps to prevent the first word you write from leaving an imprint that’s basically un-erasable later.
- Label your slots. For my product photos, I usually write in things like “mail,” “bills,” “coupons,” “misc.,” or “invites.” My trick is to use a thick pencil sharpener to sharpen my chalk stick so that the letters look like an adult woman wrote them and not a six year old child.
You’re getting a sneak peek at the “studio” process behind my Etsy photos–I love using other vintage items to pair with my pieces, like the antique parts of speech art, skeleton keys, and letter bundles. I found an entire box of old, hand-written letters at an estate sale a few years ago, and there’s just something so romantic about them–I have no idea what to do with them except take beautiful photos!!
This project is one of my favorites because it’s so simple, the materials are readily available (it doesn’t usually take much hunting to find these wood letter organizers at the thrift stores around here), and the transformation looks amazing and fits perfectly with most farmhouse and shabby chic decor.
My customers have hung these in kitchens, offices, and pantries to help get the clutter off of their counters and into a more organized space, and they love the fact that this storage solution fits in wonderfully with a shabby chic or modern farmhouse look while being super practical at the same time.
If you’re not sold on the DIY version you can always take a peek in my Etsy shop (if you don’t see any there, just shoot me a convo and I’ll get working on one for you—I’m regularly sold out of these) and find this little guy (or one just like it). If you’re in metro Detroit, just let me know and I’ll give you a code for free shipping. You can sometimes get them at our shows, too—if you’re looking for one just send me a message letting me know which shows you’ll be attending and I can make sure to bring one or two along with me!
If this tutorial is helpful or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below, and post your farmhouse mailbox DIY on my Facebook page or on Instagram using the #metrodetroitmaker. I’d love to see all of the projects and where you decide to hang them in your homes!
Thanks for hanging out this week! Talk soon,