Try saying the title 3 times fast; it’s a tongue twister! Reclaimed wood in our area costs a fortune so we worked hard to develop a DIY technique for faux barn board that was just as beautiful but a fraction of the price.
Remember this phone booth that we picked up at the Aberfoyle Antique Market? We’re back with another version!
The Inspiration Behind this Project
A friend of ours has been working on his cottage and built a faux barn board wall feature for his northern retreat. He recently paid us a visit and came bearing pictures of his project and few samples of the faux barn board he made. His samples had texture that looked convincingly like real barn board – as you can see below!
While our friend created his boards using stain, I had just started experimenting with milk paint and knew right away that we would create our own version using milk paint!
After weeks of experimentation – and a project using our less-than-perfect tester boards – we’ve created a faux barn board I’m finally happy with (as you’ll see further ahead)!
I was surprised to learn that our friend had used just plain ‘ol white wood (I think he used Poplar). We headed to Home Depot to see what they had.
We found a six foot piece of 1 x 8 piece knotty pine. Knotty pine is a bit more expensive than regular pine, but it adds a lot more character to the finished shelf.
We weren’t going to take a chance on warping so hubs dug through the pile and found the straightest board he could.
We were heading down the aisle with our board to purchase it…..
…when we came across this section of barn boards of all things!
On closer inspection I found it quite unappealing; very bland and so rough that it could scrape the skin off your hand if you touched it (which of course I couldn’t resist doing)!
Although our technique takes a number steps to achieve a beautiful finish, when compared to the big box examples above, I think it’s worth the effort to get exactly what you want!
The next day, hubs cut the board into 14″ lengths.
To create the texture, you’ll need these items:
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.
- Angle grinder (we like Bosch because it’s lightweight and compact).
- Coarse brass wire wheel (don’t use a fine one!)
- Leather work gloves
- Good quality dust mask (we prefer the 3M N95 particulate masks to catch small particles you don’t want to breathe in)
- Safety goggles (we prefer multi-purpose high quality ones with an anti-fog coating)
- Paint scraper (this one can be filed when it gets dull!)
- Fine sand paper
- Workbench (you’ll need to secure or clamp the boards to a work surface)
- Steel wool
- Vinegar (we used 7%, but regular vinegar will work too)
- Tea bag (black tea and green tea have higher tannins; avoid white teas)
- Paper strainer / filter
This entire section is identical to how we texturized the shelving for the phone booth planter, so feel free to skip to the next section, ‘Staining the Wood’, if you read it in our previous post.
Secure the wire wheel to the angle grinder:
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.
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 and a pickling liquid consisting of vinegar and steel wool. If you want to skip the following steps and 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 staining or pickling the bare wood! 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 pickle the wood to darken it first. I think they each have their place in DIY, according to how you intend to use it, but my vote is for the second one we’re showing you today!
The only difference between these two boards is the addition of the tea and pickling solution as described below.
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.
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!
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! I 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.
- Milk paint (we use Homestead House milk paints; the colours used are ‘Coal Black’ and Limestone’)
- Milk frother (this is the one I use for mixing milk paint)
- Clear plastic cup (for mixing milk paint in)
- Measuring spoons
- Coffee filters
- Brush (a cheap chip brush is fine for this project, but if you ever want to invest in a good brush, Staalmeester brushes are my fave!)
- Craft stick
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
I mixed up two colours of milk paint using Coal Black and Limestone. Instead of the usual ratio – 1:1, I diluted 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.
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.
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!
Comparing Real and 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?
Just for fun, here’s a picture of a piece of real barn board with the two paint samples I just completed. My faux barn boad has all the texture, depth of colour and interest as the real deal – without the price tag of the upscale stuff!! Furthermore, the extra steps of applying the tea stain and pickling solution to the bare wood really do matter as you can see. If you like the look of the real barn board and wanted to replicate it exactly, you can probably achieve that too with milk paint and a little experimentation.
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.
Once the shelves were dry, it was time to stage the phone booth but before we get to that, here’s a close-up of the weathered grey faux barn board shelf we’re using for this project. You can still see some of the colour from the pickling treatment peaking through.
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?
Faux Barn Board Reveal
The phone booth is now ready for its ‘shelfie’! We would have hung this on a wall for for the final reveal, but we got started on our other idea for the phone booth!
Hubs came up with a brilliant idea to support the barn board shelves using home-made tension rods (you can see a peek of it under the first shelf).
Watch the video to see how it all comes together!
Since I had two very different ideas for the phone booth, I didn’t want to drill any holes into the original metal to mount supports for the shelves for two reasons: I wanted to keep the integrity of the phone receivers that you can see on the sides, and I wanted to be able to adjust the shelf height. You’ll find the full details and step-by-steps on how the shelves were supported with those requirements in mind if you jump to Mounting the Shelves.
I like the cool tones of the barn board combined with the warmer tones of the other wooden objects. The phone booth shelf would also look great displaying a collection of like objects – all vintage cameras for instance.
We couldn’t be happier with the way the faux barn board shelves turned out.
The texture and colour of our faux barn board is so much nicer that what you can buy at the big box store, as we showed you earlier! I know it’s extra work, but it’s so satisfying to do it yourself to get exactly what you want!
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to pin for later!
Remember how versatile I’ve been telling you milk paint is? Other than our faux barn board, so far we’ve used milk paint on several projects:
First and foremost, check out our alternate version of the phone booth. We’ve turned it into a planter with the help of all our milk painted pots!
The Mini Adirondack Chair – where we used a bonding agent to get milk paint to stick to an already pre-finished surface:
Our ‘Partners in Grime’ Metal Planter. We used the leftover paint + bonding agent for this one too.
We used the same milk paint on the terra cotta pots you see on the right side of this picture. A little milk paint sure goes a long way! You’ll recognize all these from the phone booth planter 🙂