Make Your Own Barnwood in Nine Steps

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How to make barn wood

Whether you’re creating a rustic interior or adding aged wood accents to a modern decorating scheme, barn wood is a popular choice. And the good news is you don’t have to pick through piles of splintery old lumber or pay exorbitant prices for the look of barn wood. You can easily transform inexpensive pine boards into rustic boards that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. In this story we’ll give you a recipe for doing just that. The 8-ft. 1x6 boards we used for creating our authentic-looking “aged barn wood” cost about $4 each.

A collection of objects needed to make your own barnwood
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What you need:

There are a few essential tools for this project. The first is an angle grinder. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The one we’re using is from Harbor Freight Tools. The second essential tool is a knot cup brush attachment for the grinder ($8 to $24). Make sure the arbor diameter of the cup brush matches the arbor on your grinder. In addition, you’ll need an awl, a utility knife and a claw hammer for further distressing.

Grinding throws a lot of dust and even an occasional wood chip, so wear safety glasses and a dust mask.

You’ll also need a roller to apply the first coat of stain, and cotton rags for the remaining two coats. We used Varathacpteag-20ne Summer Oak for the first coat, Varathane Kona for the splotchy dark layer, and Varathane Weathered Gray for the final coat.

You don’t have to be too picky about choosing knotty pine boards. As long as they’re reasonably straight, they’ll work fine.

Person Grinding off the sides and ends of a board | Construction Pro Tips
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­­ 1. Grind the edges and ends

Since clamps would get in the way of the grinding process, tack the board to sawhorses with 6d finish nails. Then the next step is to distress the surface of the wood. With the grinder spinning in the direction shown here, make random gouges on the edges of the board. While you’re at it, round over the sharp factory edges. Then grind the ends of the boards to look weathered as shown here.

Person Eroding Wood With a Grinder | Construction Pro Tips
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2. Erode the surface

Remove some of the soft wood from between the growth rings (darker wood grain) by running the cup brush along the board. Follow the grain pattern. The growth rings are harder and will remain, while the brush will wear away the softer wood between them.

Person Making Holes With an Awl | Construction Pro Tips
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3. Make realistic wormholes

Punch groups of “wormholes” in a random pattern with the awl. Elongate some of the holes by tipping the awl down after punching. Space groups of holes 6 to 12 in. apart.

Making Dents on Wood With Hammer | Construction Pro Tips
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4. Add dents

You can make dents with almost any blunt tool, metal pipe, or even a chain. A hammer claw is handy and works well. Group dents in random patterns along the board.

Person Carving Out Splits With a Utility Knife | Construction Pro Tips
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5. Carve out splits

Carve out the soft wood along the grain to simulate a crack. Make fake cracks on the ends of boards, or along the edges. You can also simply enlarge an existing crack.

Person Making Saw Marks on Wood With a Grinder | Construction Pro Tips
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6. Make saw blade marks

Use your grinder to create wire brush lines that resemble sawmill marks. You can use this technique on a few of the boards for variety. If both sides of the boards will be visible, flip the board over and repeat the steps.  Sweep the grinder across the board in a series of arcs to create the look of old, “rough-sawn” lumber. Add this pattern to a few of your boards for variety.

Rolling on Light Stain to a Piece of Barnwood | Construction Pro Tips
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7. Start with a base coat

Now that you’ve completed the distressing process it’s time to stain your boards. The first step is to carefully roll on the first coat. Make sure to cover the board entirely and then wipe off the excess with a cotton rag. Let this coat dry about five minutes before moving on to the next layer of stain.

Dabbing on Dark Stain to a Piece of Barnwood
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8. Dab on dark stain

Dip a wadded cotton rag into the dark stain and apply it to the board in random patches. Spread out the patches with the rag to create an uneven layer of dark stain.

Dabbing Gray Stain Onto a Piece of Barnwood | Construction Pro Tips
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9. Finish with gray stain

With a separate cotton rag, wipe on a coat of gray stain. This coat can be more consistent than the dark coat. Wipe off excess stain with a dry cotton rag until you achieve the aged look you desire. If you want the additional protection of a clear finish over the stain, let the stain dry overnight before brushing on a coat or two of flat polyurethane.

Note: Don’t worry if the finish looks different from one board to the next. Variation will add to the authentic look. When you’re done with the stain rags, hang them over the edge of a bucket or garbage can to dry before disposing of them. Wadded-up, stain-soaked rags can spontaneously combust.

Your boards will look most authentic without a clear coating, but if you need a more durable finish, let the stained boards dry overnight before brushing on a coat or two of polyurethane. Choose a flat or matte sheen to retain the weathered look.