Faux Barnboard – Perfected Milk Paint Technique

Today’s post is all about a technique we developed to get a really interesting faux barnyard look for a fraction of the cost. It took us two tries until we were satisfied with the outcome; this post documents our perfected version. We created faux barnboard for our phone booth planter and shelf (shown at the end), but you could use it in any project where you want that rustic touch!

Faux Barn Board

If you’ve ever checked out the cost for the real deal, you’ll know that barn board can be pretty pricey! When you realize the savings, the time and effort can make it worth your while. 

Video

Watch this video to see how it all comes together:

Get yourself some 1 x 8 knotty pine:

We’ll cover how to texture the wood first, then we’ll get to the process for staining the boards.

Faux Barn Board Materials List

Besides the 1 x 8 knotty pine, here’s what you’ll need for texturing the wood and pickling. The milk paint supplies can be found further down.

Texturize

Secure the wire wheel to the angle grinder:

Safety First!

Don some gloves when handling (those bristles are sharp!)

Lock the piece of wood into the work bench. Turn on the grinder and move it from the centre of the wood to the edge of the piece and off the board in ONE DIRECTION ONLY. Do not reverse direction and move it back from the edge or the bristles might catch the edge and you’ll lose control of the grinder. Move only in the direction of the grain – along the length of the board (not across).

When you’re done one half, move around to the other side and again work from the centre of the wood to the outside edge.

Here’s a closeup of the texture:

Once the surface is done, clamp the piece vertically:

Then do the edges in the same manner.

Here’s how the edges will look, but you’re not done yet.

Distress

The next step is to distress the edges. I call this whack ‘n scrape.

Whatever technique you use here, you really can’t go wrong. I like to gauge out big chunks as you can see below. Once done, use a piece of fine sandpaper to knock back the obvious burrs. You want to make it look time-worn and weathered!

If you want even more texture on the face of the wood, you can also have-at-it with chain and nails to further distress it. That’s an extra step we might take if we were creating faux beams, but for this project we stopped at the edges.

It goes pretty fast; it won’t be long until you’re pile is stacked. After the grinding was done, we stopped for the day and then the rest was up to me.

Staining the Wood (2 Options)

For our test boards, I milk painted directly over the raw wood. It worked great as shelving for the planter because we cut holes in two of the boards, so you didn’t end up seeing much of it once the plants were added!

For this project, I wanted the shelves to be the star of the show. I first needed to add an extra layer of colour as a base to build up the richness of the final look. I asked Hubs to make a pickling liquid for me: my plan was to bring out the tannins and darken the wood naturally.

Homemade vs. Commercial Stain

I used two homemade solutions to stain the wood: tea, then a pickling liquid consisting of vinegar and steel wool. However, if you want to simplify things, Homestead House makes milk paint stains which you can use instead for the base colour. The colour of the homemade pickling stain ends up looking like a cross between Pacific Redwood and Sherwood Brown in their line of milk paint stains. You could use either one of these milk paint stains (or combination of the two) to cut down the number of steps in making and applying two solutions. I had fun with the pickling method, and we had all the supplies on-hand, but a milk paint stain can really save some time if you have a lot of boards to do because you only have to apply it and let it dry once!

It’s totally up to you which option you choose, but if you want the best-looking faux barn board, don’t skip the step of staining or pickling the bare wood as a base for what follows!

Pickling Solution – With vs Without

Below is a picture of my tester board (on top), compared to how the faux barn board will look when you stain with a wood-toned milk paint or pickling solution first. I think they each have their place in DIY, according to how you intend to use it, but I much prefer the look of the second one we’re showing you today!

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The only difference between these two boards is the addition of the tea and pickling solutions as described below.

Pickling Solution

Hubs put steel wool into a glass jar, then added 7% vinegar over the top to make a pickling liquid. He ensured the steel wool was completely submerged. If you don’t get the steel wool fully covered in the vinegar, it will rust from air exposure. If it rusts, it will produce a brown colour that when applied to wood will result in more of a brown stain which may give you a different finished result.

He punched several holes into the lid before sealing it up to steep. Punching holes in the lid is a MUST: this concoction will produce gas that could explode and shatter the glass so don’t forget that important step.

Let it steep for at least 24 hours before using it.

Bring out the Tannins!

To ensure I brought out the deepest richest colour from the wood, I hedged my bets. I used a trick to add more tannins to the wood by brewing up some tea! Add hot water over the tea bag and let it cool (use more tea bags and water if you’re doing a larger project).

Once cool, gather up the tea, pickling solution, strainer and a brush.

First, brush the tea onto the face of all the wood with a cheap brush.

When all the tea is brushed on, I like to use the teabag to darken the knots further – nothing goes to waste!

Strain the Liquid

After about an hour. when the tea stain is dry, Hubs strained the pickling liquid from the steel wool with a paper filter.

When you brush the vinegar solution onto the tea-stained boards, it magically darkens right before your very eyes.

It continues to darken over the next hour. Look at the difference between the raw wood and the boards we added the tea & pickling solution to:

This forms the base that we’ll be milk painting on in the next step! Let the boards dry overnight.

If you have leftover pickling liquid, you can store it with a solid top if you wish (no need for ventilation once strained). Strained pickling liquid will keep for up to two weeks. After two weeks, it will still react with the tannins in the wood, but will produce a different colour.

Milk Paint Finish

Here’s what you’ll need for this step: milk paint powder, water, mixing cups (preferably clear), mixing spoons, coffee filter (more about that later) and milk frother.

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For small batches of milk paint, I always use a frother to mix – and this time was no exception. However, since we’re using weaker (i.e. more watery) solutions of milk paint, it will easily splash out of the cup, so I developed this little hack using a coffee filter: check out the first part of the tutorial here, then come back for the rest.

Now that the filter is ready to go, it’s time to move on to mixing the actual milk paint.

Mixing the Milk Paint

Mix up two colours of milk paint using Coal Black and Limestone. Instead of the usual ratio – 1:1, dilute it with more water to make it like a stain (about 3 parts water to 1 part milk paint powder).

For small batches like this, I use the tablespoon to measure the water and milk paint. I add the water to the cup first and then the milk paint (although some people swear by doing it the other way around).

Put on the coffee filter as described in my milk paint hack post. Rest the frother on the bottom of the container and apply pressure. Turn it on and lift it up ever so slightly to mix. Work the powder into the water in this pouncing manner for a maximum of 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t over-froth (if it does, there’s a fix for that too!).

Remove the filter and let the milk paint sit for a few minutes (go do something else). This will allow the water to absorb fully into the powder. Give it another quick mix with the frother – or you can simply use a wooden craft stick (which you should also use to periodically mix the paint because the minerals will settle as you paint).

If you find that the paint got too frothy, you can let it sit for a while so the bubbles disperse or skim them off and discard them. But who has time to wait when you’re excited to get started? I skim the bubbles off as shown below.

Clean the Milk Frother

Submerge the frother in a cup of water and turn it on to rinse away the paint. Once clean, give it a shake and let it dry so it’s ready to use next time. As I mentioned earlier, I keep my milk frother exclusively for milk paint use.

With the black paint mixed up, you’re ready to brush it on.

Apply Layers of Milk Paint

Here are the boards once they are dry.

Brush on a first layer of black. You may find that the treated wood resists the milk paint at first, but it will soak in if you come back and brush it in.
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I let the milk paint sit for at least 10 minutes to get absorbed into the wood. In the meantime, I clean my brush with water in between layers and dry it off with a paper towel. I then switch over to the Limestone colour milk paint that was also mixed with a 3:1 ratio of water to milk paint.

With the black paint still wet, brush on a layer of white. It immediately turns to a beautiful weathered grey with pops of the original tea/vinegar stain still showing through. It already has incredible depth, but to bring out more of the wood tone you can wipe it back in areas with a cotton rag.

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Faux Barn Board Colour Variations

Here’s another cool thing about using the pickling solution: I discovered that just by adjusting the ratio of the milk paint to water and limiting the areas where I applied it, I could change the colour of the final finish completely! In this instance I diluted the milk paint even more with water (roughly 4:1 water/paint), then I brushed on the black sporadically as shown below.

By the way, don’t forget that this first layer of of black paint may resist soaking into the wood if you’ve used a pickling solution (vs. a wood toned milk paint) as your base. Give it a few minutes and then continue to brush what you already have on the surface to spread it around a bit more – but not too much or you’ll end up with a solid application like in the first example.

When you put on a diluted layer of white paint, you’ll end up with a board that looks like fumed oak because more of the pickling stain will show through. Take a look at the sample below and how closely it resembles the fumed oak floors in my craft studio.! Isn’t that incredible? Once the top coat goes on it will look even more like the floor!

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Faux Barn Board Samples

For comparison, here are the two faux barn board samples I created – just by messing around. The bottom one is the weathered grey sample I showed you first. Isn’t it interesting how you can get two completely different looks, just by switching up the ratios of water-to-milk paint and applying it a bit differently?

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Top Coat

You might have noticed that the colour of the boards deepened a bit between the two pictures above. That’s because we added a protective finish over top. Be sure to use a satin finish formulated for outdoor use like Varathane Diamond Wood Finish, if it will be exposed to water (which ours will). It’s very low sheen, waterbased and dries crystal clear, which is important because you don’t want to hide the beauty of the faux finishing work, do you? The faux barn board shelves can stand up to some water spills since they’re protected with an outdoor top coat.

Here’s a close-up of the weathered grey faux barn board shelf we’re did for the phone booth shelf. You can still see some of the colour from the pickling treatment peaking through.

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The wire brush did a great job of removing all the soft parts of the wood, while leaving the harder wood intact; that’s what forms the ridges. Isn’t it great when you can get dozens of years of natural wear in just a few minutes?

How We Used the Faux Barnboard

Phone Booth Shelf

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Phone Booth Planter

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6 thoughts on “Faux Barnboard – Perfected Milk Paint Technique

  1. Gorgeous and such a handy technique to know. Finding the real weathered thing has become almost impossible in our neck of the woods 😉

    • That’s the thing Michelle; the scarcer it becomes, the more costly! There’s a lot of steps involved but when you realize the savings over the real thing, it’s so worth the time and effort.

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