Build your own story structuring board? Sure!

August 4, 2009

I’ve had a couple of writers who, intrigued by the deconstruction process I’ve employed with this screenplay, ask me about the board itself – where did I get it? How much did it cost? So, here’s the scoop.

First, about the board itself . . .

You can read more about why I built rather than bought this story structuring board in the post “Fertile ground for story structure visualization.” If your situation and reasons are similar to mine and you want therefore to build a board to do your own story structuring, here’s how. 

I threw this together in my workshop, spending less than $20 in supplies and less than five hours of labor.  You can make it for even less time and cost if you skip the frame. It may not hold up beyond the one-time use though, so build the frame if you plan to use it more than once. Here’s what the finished board looks like:

 4x8 Board

The mock corkboard material:

A sheet of real cork big enough to fit my plans would have been a bit costly.  Instead, I chose a 4’ x 8’ slab of half-inch sound dampening insulation sheet material, which I picked up at my local home center for just $11.  This spongy material is normally used in wall or floor construction, attached behind the outer wall board (or under the flooring) to reduce sounds from passing through from adjacent rooms. But it has worked beautifully as a cheap alternative to cork, holding pushpins as firmly as cork, and is just as easy to pull the pins back out of.

Building the frame:

The wood frame is simple 1” x 3” pine, sometimes called furring strips. Cheap and sturdy stuff. 🙂 In fact, the better-grade pine boards in stock at my local home store were all warped or twisted, so I ended up buying the $.99 1 x 3 furring strips, which, strangely, were more “true” than the more expensive pine stock.  So, I’ll get no awards for the design, but it was delightfully cheap. You could get a higher grade of pine for about four times as much – or spend considerably more for a hardwood material if you want to get real fancy. But the cheapest stuff in stock has worked just fine for my purposes.

  1. Saw the stiles (the upright frame pieces) to 4 feet (since the board you’re framing is 4’ by 8’). If you want to get a bit fancier with the corners I like did (truly unnecessary), you can make your stiles a bit longer so it matches the total top-to-bottom length of your finished bulletin board.  It takes a bit more math than I care to go into here, especially since it’s an optional thing.
  2. Your rails should be 8 feet in length already, so there’s nothing to cut there.
  3. Ideally, create a “lip” by routing out about a half-inch by half-inch channel in all four rail pieces, which will keep the bulletin board material penned in against the wall. If you don’t have a router or table saw, you can skip this step by using my workaround, described below.
  4. Sand the four frame pieces. I suppose you could skip this step if your frame pieces are smooth enough. With the cheaper grade lumber, it probably isn’t.

Assembling:

I purposely chose not to join the frame pieces to each other, as one normally would in traditional joinery, because I had never worked with this mock “corkboard” material, and  I wanted to be able to easily replace it in case it turned out to lack durability (Side note: I’ve been using it heavily for several months now, and it’s going strong).  However, if you’re into woodworking and are familiar with joinery techniques, and want to build this in a more conventional fashion, knock yourself out. As for the rest of us…

  1. Decide how high you want to mount the board on the wall. Your primary concern is to not mounted so high that you can’t easily post things on it. For me, that meant mounting it so the bottom of the finished board was about knee-high.
  2. Mark that bottom edge position with a piece of masking tape near each end of where you plan to mount the board.
  3. Screw this bottom rail piece to the wall, making sure that you are screwing into one of the wall studs.
  4. Carefully rest the 4 x 8 mock corkboard sheet on top of this bottom rail. The material is fairly lightweight, but it’s hard to work with by yourself because of the size, so get the help of a friend, who can also hold it up against the wall while you do the next step.
  5. Hold one of your stiles (the upright) up against the left side of the cork board, and then screw it into the wall. Repeat the process for the right side stile, and then the top rail.
  6. Unaided, the mock corkboard will likely stay in place while you’re surrounding it with the rails and stiles, even if you had routed in a “lip” (not unlike the one you would have a picture frame) on the frame pieces. If you did build that lip, your story structuring board is done. If you didn’t have the tools to build the lip, you can also secure the corkboard by attaching a thinner material, such as a half-inch by 2-inch strip of wood, to your frame pieces so that it overlaps the cork board, pinning it in against the wall.

The nice thing about this design is that, if you ever want to move the board to a new location, simply unscrew the frame pieces, carry everything individually, and reassemble it. And, as cheap as the mock cork material was, if it starts to wear out, just toss it, and replace it with another by unscrewing the top rail and one of the side pieces, sliding in the new corkboard, and screwing the two pieces back on.

As for my angled frame corners: an interesting story . . . 

To keep the project cheap, I bought a total of three of those 1″ x 3″ furring strips. Which, if you think about it, doesn’t really make it possible to surround a 4′ x 8′ sheet with standard framing, because the total width and height won’t be 4′ x 8′ but rather 4′ x 8′ PLUS the width of the frame pieces. So, the only attractive solution was to angle the edges to mask that “design flaw” by making the 45-degree corners, like so: 

Board corner detail

I’m sure there’s some logical, mathematical way to calculate the way to get the side stiles just right so the horizontal and vertical frame pieces match up seamlessly, but I didn’t know of any mathematical method. So, I just carefully guessed, eyeballing it. Happily, it worked.

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