Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ikea MALA easel, hacked for two!

I have two boys, and inevitably, when one wants to draw or paint, both want to do it. We recently moved and reorganized/resized our art/school/creative play area, so we needed to replace our old easel, a Melissa and Doug adjustable height easel, with one that folds flatter when it's not in use.

We picked the MALA easel (not on the US website right now) at Ikea because it's really flat when folded, and that's what we needed. It's the same height as the old one, so my boys won't notice much of a difference in use.

The only issue I had with the new easel is one I've always had, and had previously solved with an additional sheet of paper and another clip, but it meant that if one boy is still using the roll and the other is done, boy one will have to wait for more paper. Not practical, and really a setup for sibling rivalry!

Well, Ikea also has a small, portable paper roll holder, also in the MALA line, and it happens to fit perfectly on the rails of the easel's roll holder/tool bin. So, I've combined the two, and with the assistance of clips, converted the easel to work for two artists at one time. This is the back side of the easel, where the white board is:

And this is the front, where the chalkboard/paper path is (say hello to underpants-superman, my assistant):

I've altered the paper path for optimum tension, as well as to make it easier to fold when not in use, and to make it a bit easier to trim off fresh masterpieces without having to re-thread the paper through the retaining slit. It goes through the slit, up and folds a bit over the top, where it is held with the clip.

The clips are repurposed garment hangers with integral spring clips. I like these, because they are sturdy, easily replaced, and the clips are widely spaced. This means that you only need one for a big sheet of paper, instead of two.

Here's a repeat of my initial image, so you can see the paper rolls and the paper paths from the side without having to scroll up and down:

The tabletop paper holder has one of its removable crayon trays removed (I just set that aside) and sits on the rails of the easel's paper holder, the paper goes up over the white board and is clipped with a second repurposed hanger. It's not attached permanently to the easel, because I want to be able to remove it easily so I can fold the easel flat for storage.

ETA: If you want to secure the paper roll holder to the easel, use two to four long velcro cable ties, and just wrap them around the foot of the roll holder and the tray bar. The structure of the easel and the roll holder help to keep it in place, but if you need extra peace of mind, this works quite well .

All I have to do to fold it flat is to un-clip the secondary paper at the top, pick up the small paper holder, roll up the paper, and put the other crayon tray back in. Then I can put it up, and fold the easel flat, slide it next to the desk, and both are put away. Even adding in the crayons, that's less than 2 minutes for cleanup, which is fantastic with 2 busy kids in the house!

Underpants Superman gives the idea The Purple Crayon of Approval. So do I!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Do have any problems with the portable paper roll falling while the kids are using it? Thanks.

  3. Nope! It fits EXACTLY onto the rails of the crayon tray, so it can't shift side to side. The tension from the paper roll and the clip also help to hold it in place. We've even moved ours around with the secondary roll in place and not had it shift much at all. My kids are pretty rambunctious, too, so it's not staying where it is because they are perfect little angels ;)

    The only issue we have had with the secondary roll is that it HAS to be removed and put aways seperately in order to fold the easel and put it away.

  4. Great idea! You should submit it to IkeaHacker too ;)

  5. I did, but it was apparently not good enough. :(

  6. Awesome idea! Now, if I can only find a way to buy this easel in the US...

  7. @Anonymous:

    Ikea only temporarily discontinued it in the US (I asked last time I was at the store). They are in the new catalog, so they are coming back. And they are 15 bucks! Awesome :)

  8. Any idea when we can expect them back in the US? I was planning to go get one this weekend for my 18 month old, but didn't see them online. Hoping it's soon.

  9. They should be coming back. The easel is in the new 2011 catalog, on page 206. The regular price is now $14.99. You may just need to call the stores nearest you to find out when they will be in.

  10. I called my IKEA in utah, and he said that they have over 100 in stock right now, for $14.99! :0)

  11. I added to this same Ikea easel two 8" plastic coated wire mesh baskets on either side (just drilled 2 small holes for each) to hold chalkboard eraser, brushes, chalk and other art supplies that otherwise might get paint and such on them, if in the front tray.

  12. I called IKEA and they said they carry them at select stores. The Easel and the paper were in the large bins downstairs, but the extra roll holder was upstairs in the Kid area. I got mine in Frisco, TX - thank you!

  13. That is fantastic! I don't even have two kids and I may do this just to get the crayon tray on the other side. My one complaint about the IKEA easel I have is that it only has the tray on the chalkboard side. And I love using a hanger for the clips at the top!

  14. I just bought the easel for my daughter but can't erase the writing on the chalkboard side completely. I don't know if its the eraser we have. Do you have this problem?

  15. I use a microfiber dustcloth, actually. It works equally well for both sides of the easel. If you have stubborn chalkmarks, wipe down with a moist but not drippy sponge and dry with a cloth.

  16. I want to buy an easel for my two year old daughter. Is this one sturdy enough? from the photos on the website it seems a little flimsy.
    I am wondering which one to buy, this one or the Imaginarium Double-Sided Easel at toysrus? any idea?

  17. In my experience,since this is the second one we have bought, and I have two children, this one has proven quite sturdy. It looks as though the folding and tray support mechanism is similar on both this easel and the Imaginarium one. The biggest difference seems to be that this one has two fixed easel surfaces and the plastic one has a single easel that flips over.

    Frankly, the flip over easel makes me a little nervous, because in my house it would be flipped while painting was going on, or as part of a tantrum or roughhousing. It might also cause frustration in the child using it if it does not snap firmly into place, and wobbles while being painted or drawn on.

    Also, in my experience of plastic molded play furniture, the snap-together parts wear after a while and are not very secure (we gave away a play kitchen just because of this issue). I can just see it hitting a little head or a chin, too, and I think I may have steered away from this general style of easel for that reason when shopping around for ours.

    I would buy the Ikea one. At only $15, you can't really go wrong. My now 4 year old has used it without incident for over a year now and my older son both uses it as an art easel and a study whiteboard.

  18. What a wonderful article of just the information I need. And excellent photos to aid clarity, well done you! Was about to spend a fortune on an easel before I checked Ikea, then wondered about the logistics of the paper roll! All clear now, gets my full colours of the rainbow crayons of approval. Good work underpants superman!!

  19. What kind of chalk/dry erase markers/eraser do you use?

    1. We use regular chalkboard chalk, bought at an office supply store. I find the Ikea chalk is nice, but we have since moved far away and a localish Ikea won't be open until the end of next year.

      Dry erase markers, we use just about any. As for erasers, a microfiber cloth works as well as a felt whiteboard eraser, and if the marker gets left on, it cleans off easily with window cleaner and a microfiber cloth or rubbing alcohol followed by window cleaner.


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