Learn how to create an inexpensive DIY art drying rack with simple materials and basic DIY skills. Plus find ideas to customize it and repurpose it for other uses.
Small Space Art Drying Solution Needed
Recently I shared about my ongoing efforts to organize my multi-purpose craft room/office. Because it’s a small space, I’m constantly switching back and forth between various tasks and projects. And it’s always a struggle to keep my work surfaces clean.
One use for my space is oil painting. I used to paint infrequently, but this year I’m making painting a priority in my schedule with my 52 in ’22 Art Challenge. That means I’m usually painting once a week.
My oil paintings tend to take a week or more to fully dry, which wasn’t a problem when I had a single painting drying every now and then. I’d usually leave it laid flat on a work surface, still stuck with painter’s tape on the clipboard I use for painting.
But now that I’m often starting a new painting before the previous one is dry, I end up with drying art laid flat all over my sewing and cutting tables. Therefore, I am once again shuffling things around as I switch projects.
My solution is to build a drying rack to let multiple paintings dry vertically and take up less space. Though I had the idea a while ago, I finally got around to building it!
DIY Art Drying Rack
Many drying racks that you can buy are very large and very expensive. I don’t have the space or budget for a large drying rack. In addition, I generally paint very tiny art, and they might even fall through the bars of a larger rack.
So I dreamed up a smaller version made of wood that would be inexpensive, easy to build, portable, and perfect for my small art. After I show you how to make a drying rack, I’ll share some ideas for customization and other uses.
Materials to Make a DIY Art Drying Rack
- Length of wood for the base – any kind – I used a 12″ length from a scrap of 1″ x 5″ x 8′ of poplar
- Another scrap piece of wood
- Dowels – I used two 48″ lengths of 1/4″ diameter dowels
- Measuring tape/ruler
- Painter’s tape
- Drill and drill bits
- Fine sand paper (I like using a sanding block)
- X-Acto knife
- Wood glue (optional)
- Wood filler (optional)
- Primer – I like Bulls Eye 1-2-3
- Craft paint or a paint sample
- Varnish (optional)
- Small paintbrush (approx. 1″)
How to Build A DIY Art Drying Rack
Step 1 – Cut your wood and dowels to length
See variations after the tutorial for alternate size ideas.
Decide on the length of your drying rack base. Use a pencil and a ruler to mark a line for cutting. Use a saw to cut the length. (We used a mitre saw, but a circular saw would work too). If you don’t have a saw, you can usually get cuts done at places like Home Depot.
I selected 1″ x 5″ poplar because I had extra from another project. In reality, a 1″ x 5″ board is 3/4″ x 4 1/2″. And I settled on 12 inches long for my drying rack.
For the dowels, decide on the length you want them to be, keeping in mind the thickness of the base. I decided on 6 inches. Since the base is 3/4″ thick, each dowel would sit 5 1/4″ above the base when sitting in a hole to the bottom.
Next I wrapped painter’s tape around the dowel at approximately every 6 inches. I measured and marked 6 inch segments on the tape with a pencil, all the way down each 4′ dowel for 8 segments each. Then my husband cut them on the mitre saw as well.
Tip: Painter’s tape helps to keep the cuts on the dowels neat and prevent them from splintering.
Remove the tape and any sticker labels when you’re done.
Step 2 – Plan the placement of your dowels
Next, use a ruler and a pencil and plan out the placement of your dowels on the base. I had 16 dowel lengths to make 8 pairs of posts. Those 8 pairs would distribute evenly down the 12 inch length. I started by drawing two lines running the length of the top, each 1 inch in from the edge of each side.
Then I did some math to calculate even spacing, settling on the first and last dowels placed 3/4″ from each end, and 1.5″ between each dowel. I marked Xs on the lengthwise lines where each hole would be drilled.
Tip: You can absolutely change up the spacing of your dowels in relation to your base. Keep in mind that the closer together each row of dowels is, the more upright your art will stand. The further apart you place them, the more the art will lean at an angle.
Step 3 – Drill holes for the dowels
In order to drill the holes, you’ll need to find the right size drill bit. Compare them to size of your dowel and start with your best guess. Drill a test hole in a scrap piece of wood. Test fit a dowel. It should be fairly snug and not too loose. Adjust drill bits until you get the best sized hole.
Next, clamp your drying rack base overtop of the scrap wood to a work surface. (We used another 3/4″ thick scrap). You want to be able to drill completely through your base into the scrap wood. As well, drilling with another piece of wood underneath will help create neater holes on the bottom.
I also recommend drilling the holes on the side closest to the clamps and then flipping it around to do the other row. The side furthest from the clamps had more wood splintering under the holes than the other side as they weren’t held together as tightly.
Tip: You may also wish to drill smaller pilot holes directly on your Xs before drilling full size holes. You may get a neater result this way.
Drill each hole one by one. Line up the drill bit over the X and drill very vertically all the way through the base and into the scrap wood. Test fit a dowel length. We found it helpful to re-drill each hole a couple of times up and down. It helped to create a cleaner hole and made them slightly less snug.
Step 4 – Sand and clean up the surfaces
Once all your holes are drilled, it will probably be a bit of a mess. Use a sanding block with some fine sandpaper to sand all surfaces of the base. We found a utility or X-Acto knife helpful for scraping out bits of wood that were inside the mouth of each hole.
I didn’t stress too much about the bottom of the drying rack and how it looked. I cleaned up the worst wood shards, and then gave everything a good sand.
Finally, I also used the sanding block to slightly bevel the top edge of each dowel piece, which took care of any splinters as well. I simple sanded all around the top edge at a 45 degree angle.
Vacuum or wipe down all the pieces to remove any dust.
Step 5 – Place your dowels
When your pieces are clean and smooth enough, it’s time to place the dowels. If they fit snugly, there’s no need to glue them. Once they are primed and painted together, they will be held in place.
However, if they’re a bit loose or wiggly, add a tiny dot of wood glue in the hole before placing the dowel. Don’t use too much! You don’t want it oozing all over.
Between variations in marking and cutting, the dowels varied in length by a little. I had planned to level them at the bottom of the holes, flush with the base. But the varying heights bugged me. So instead, I flipped it upside down and twisted and wiggled each dowel until they all touched the table top evenly. Again, they still fit snuggly in the holes.
If you have little divots in the wood around the holes on the top from drilling, now would be the time to fill them with wood filler. (Make sure it’s paintable!) Let it dry and carefully sand with sand paper until it’s smooth and level. I decide this didn’t bother me and skipped this step.
Step 6 – Prime and paint your drying rack
You could leave your drying rack unfinished, but why not give it a bit of colour! Keep in mind that a drying rack is likely to end up with paint marks all over it. It is after all, a utilitarian piece.
To begin, prime it with a coat of primer meant for bare wood. I like Bulls Eye 1-2-3. A giant paintbrush will be hard to maneuver in the small spaces, so I used a craft brush about 1 inch wide. Even so, it’s hard to paint around the base of the dowels and have nice brush strokes going in the same direction. Just do your best.
I did the top and dowels, and then flipped it upside down to do the edges and bottom. Let dry.
Tip! Make sure you view the dowels from all sides. Even if you think you’ve got them well covered, it’s very easy to miss spots.
Next, I used the same brush and some Americana craft paint I had from a previous project to give it two coats, letting it dry in between. The colour is Blue Mist.
Finally, I decided the surface was very matte, which is not my preference. So I put on a coat of DecoArt DuraClear Gloss Varnish. The gloss perhaps emphasized the brush strokes in all directions, but oh well. A varnish or top coat is optional. Let dry.
Step 7 – Enjoy your new DIY Art Drying Rack!
I love my colourful and inexpensive drying rack made from scraps and leftover materials. The only thing I specifically bought for it were the dowels.
It’s also a great project for those who are relatively new to DIY projects and power tools like I am. My husband cut the original pieces for me when he was cutting some other wood. And he helped me get set up and figure out the right size of drill bit. Then I was able to take over and complete my drying rack.
This drying rack is also a quick project to do. In a couple hours I had it drilled, sanded, cleaned up, assembled and primed. Then I just added a couple of coats of paint and a coat of varnish the next day.
The rack is not perfect. The dowel lines are a bit wavy due to my beginner hole drilling skills (or warped dowels), the bottom is still a bit rough, and I can see the varnish brushstrokes. But I gained a lot of confidence with some basic tools in this quick project and I am pleased with how it turned out.
Now I have a place to put my paintings where they won’t have to lay flat and clutter up my work surface as much. When it’s not in use, the drying rack is the same depth as the peg rail’s shelf that I’m planning to hang above my art desk. Therefore I will be able to store it there, or it can fit in one of the trays of my IKEA utility cart, or sit inside the shelf of my Billy Bookcase.
While it’s great for all of my small paintings, it can accommodate 8 x 10s or even my 9 x 12 colour charts. Super large and floppy surfaces will bend. If you’re concerned about that, I would widen the base, and both raise the height of the dowels and place them further apart, or in rows of three.
Ideas to Customize Your Drying Rack or Use It in Other Ways:
Here are some ideas I have to customize or change up this DIY project:
Stain the drying rack instead of painting. I would give it a clear top coat after.
Give it a fun paint treatment – I think some colourful stripes on the dowels would be fun.
Change the size for different purposes. Make a longer rack to hold more art. Or make a wider rack to make it more stable for holding larger art
Hang it on the wall to hold art horizontally across the dowels. I would widen the rack and lengthen the dowels. Don’t choose dowels that are too skinny, otherwise they’ll sag.
Make a napkin holder. Shorten it to two rows of dowels to hold paper napkins at the table.
Make a record holder. Widen the base to make it more stable and then fill it with records on display (a bit like this).
Make a mail holder. Sort incoming or outgoing mail between the rows.
Make One Today!
Anyone with beginner DIY skills can tackle this simple art drying rack and then customize it in any way they like. It’s an inexpensive way to hold drying art in any craft room or art studio, or you can customize it for other purposes.
I want to hear from you. Where do you put your art when it’s drying? Do you have a drying rack? Does this seem like a DIY project you could tackle? Let me know in the comments below.
All the best,