DIYdiy projects

diy project: salvaged barnwood headboard

by Kate Pruitt

Lately we’ve been getting more requests for furniture DIY projects. Luckily this awesome tutorial from Sarah Torrence of 508 Restoration & Design for a salvaged barnwood headboard landed in my inbox, and was just too pretty to pass up. Due to their size and the amount of use they receive, headboards can be intimidating, even if the form is fairly straightforward. Sarah had demystified the process and given us a great starter project for anyone looking to give their bedroom a bit of that rustic, organic feel a perfect quick and easy refresh for fall. Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah! —Kate

Read the full how-to after the jump!

This project was born because we needed a headboard, we already had some fantastic oak barn wood and we were ready to build something that was meaningful to us. In the end, we didn’t want anything fancy- just a simple peaceful room. We have worked with barn wood a lot and are familiar with how great it can look sanded, waxed, stained, stenciled…. but we have always loved the natural gray weathered look it has when we first collect it. Our main goal: create a simple headboard that is clean but looks as natural as possible. Even if you don’t have access to barn wood, a similar look can easily be achieved with regular wood from a home improvement store that is stained with driftwood stain. Either way, it doesn’t have to be perfect…. just your own! Sarah



  • old barn wood (any length)
  • 1.5″ wood screws (depends on the thickness of your boards)
  • (2) 1” x 4” x 64” boards for legs
  • scrap wood & wood shims (optional)
  • fine grit sanding sponge
  • stiff-bristle scrub brush
  • finish (we used 2–3 cans of Valspar clear flat spray)
  • (4) 2″ bolts with 5/8 hex nut


  • miter saw
  • drill
  • ratchet or wrenches for tightening bolts
  • air compressor (optional)


1. Start by determining the size of your actual headboard (without legs) and chalk this area out on the ground. For our queen size bed, the actual barn wood part was 44” x 64”. This gives you a space to easily lay out your barn wood pieces.

2. Begin placing your pieces where you want them — do this before cutting by just laying them on top of each other. BE CREATIVE. We wanted ours staggered, so we just placed the boards on top of each other until we knew where our cuts would be. If you have long enough boards, you can just do them all one length.

3. Mark with a pencil where you want to cut each piece and cut with a miter saw.

Note: Keep in mind that actual barn wood is random and not necessarily square. So when you are cutting and lining things up, it won’t be perfect. This is the beauty. There will be gaps and imperfections.

4. Next, flip all the pieces over so that you can begin attaching the legs and secure the staggered pieces (joints).

5. Cut your (2) 1” x 4”s to the desired height for the legs. Our legs were 64″. Use the wood screws to screw in legs about 2″ to 4″ from the top and along the edges of the barn wood.

6. At every joint/seam, attach scrap pieces of wood (we used varying sizes, all roughly 1/2″ thick). Because the thickness of our barn wood was varied, we used the shims to make sure the front side of the headboard was fairly flush.

If you have chosen pieces that are all one length, you don’t have to worry about this step, although I suggest you screw another 1” x 4” along the middle of the headboard for extra support.

Now that the piece is constructed, it looks like this:

7. Make sure the surface is clean (splinter and dust free!). Start by sanding the entire piece thoroughly, but not heavily, with a fine grit sanding sponge. Then clean thoroughly with a DRY scrub brush. Finally, blow the dust off with an air compressor.

8. If you want to add something personal, now is the time to do it. We wrote “awake my soul” with chalk and then hand-painted over that with latex paint.

9. Spray with 3 to 5 coats of a flat, clear finish. We found that the flat spray was the product that kept the wood most true to its natural gray, weathered look. We added several extra coats of spray near the bottom of the headboard where our sheets would be. Let dry for 24 to 48 hours.

10. To attach to a basic metal frame, you will need to line the legs up with the frame and mark where your bolts will go. Then drill your 2 holes in each leg, insert the bolts and tighten.

You’re finished!!


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  • Absolutly fab! Love a good diy project, especially when its pretty simple! Really like the words on the headboard too x

  • Ahhh! Thank you so much for sharing this! It’s like Design*Sponge has ESP or something. I’m working on a wall refinishing project with salvaged palette wood right now and these pointers are so helpful. The visual instruction is great. Thanks a million Sarah!

  • Sarah,

    Any good tips for a source for barnwood? This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • thank you SO much for posting this!! i have been wanting to make one for a while and didnt know exactly how to do it…. so thanks!!!! it looks awesome!!!

  • This is great. Can anyone recommend a brush-on treatment for barnwood rather than spray? Someone once recommended a mixture of linseed oil and spar varnish, but I’d love to hear of other options too. TIA.

  • Lord, I love this. Have been trying to figure out a way to do my own headboard with as few materials as possible in a rustic sort of way and I think this might be just the ticket!

  • I am a loyal reader of this blog, and I love almost all the DIY projects and sneak peeks, along with the marvelous befores and afters. However, I must confess that this post got under my skin. It’s the first false note I’ve heard on ds for several years. Maybe it’s because I’ve been overly influenced by the witty, hilarious way that Regretsy.com pokes fun at etsy trends like weathered barn wood, but this headboard seem last year’s hipster cliché to me. Or the fact that it looks seriously uncomfortable and full of splinters. Sorry, ds, this gets a thumbs down from me.

  • WOW- thank you everyone for your sweet sweet words! I am SOOO happy this tutorial was helpful/inspirational. If you try it, feel free to ask me questions along the way…I would love to see how everyone’s turns beautiful and unique it their own way!

    Jamie & Trina – Good, solid barn wood is hard to come by. Bottom line- it takes time and a little luck! Search Craigslist in more rural areas near you. Of course, if you have connection with someone who lives near/on a farm (like we do), ask them to always keep an eye/ear out. Other than that, you can get a similar look all on your own. Buy wide plank boards at a home improvement type store, distress it (alot) and use a stain like that driftwood to get the gray look. This actually might be better in some ways because you don’t have to worry about cleaning it and getting rid of all the splinters.

    Fritz- If you want to sand the wood, I recommend using Howard’s Feed and Wax after sanding, then a few coats of poly. If you want to keep the gray, you can use just a poly or clear wood finish….this will make the wood much darker though.

    Again- thanks so much!

  • This is gorgeous! I love seeing something that was once discarded turn into something beautiful!
    The different tones of gray give it such depth! Absolutely beautiful.

  • I love creative headboards. I used a jumbo mirror for my headboard while I was in college and I loved it. This headboard project is a great idea!. I was wondering if you have any pictures of reclaimed chain link fence headboards.

  • Oh wow, so great to see another one of these out there! We just did this recently too and love ours. Fantastic tutorial here!

  • um yeah, totally in love with this. i’ve been wanting to DIY a headboard but there aren’t a ton of tutorials that go through the step of attaching legs to a metal frame. that’s what we need to do instead of attaching to the wall so this is perfect! i adore the chalk saying too – fantastic

  • Sarah, this was a fun idea! You can also get a very nice distressed look from regular wood by mixing steel wool and vinegar, then letting it sit. Having distressed with stain tons of times, I’m more apt to try that option, as it is less toxic. Depending on the wood, and how long you let the mixture “steep” before application, it gives it a lovely greyish quality, very similar to the barnwood above!

  • Great job Sarah! One question, what type of flat finish did you use? Poly, laquer, shellac…? I seem to get a “wetter” look with my old barn projects when I get to the finishing stage….

  • What a beautiful, yet simple idea! Thank you for sharing the step-by-step process. I’ve been looking to do something like this myself for a while.

  • Wow! This is SO Simply Beautiful! My favorite part is the wording! I can hardly believe there was such a negative comment …maybe there are a lot of weathered wood headboards out there, but this one is one of the best I have seen! Absolutely love it! I would love to go to sleep and wake up in it.

  • Thanks again everyone!
    Amber- Thanks for the tip- I have actually heard of doing the steel wool and vinegar idea too and been wanting to try it. And I have seen the results of the driftwood stain, but never used it either personally….not sure which is easier/more authentic. I do want to try it tho!
    Warren- It is just your basic spray can of Valspar Clear Enamel spray (Lowes). I really wasn’t sure at first if it would really do the job, but I knew it didn’t give that “wet” look, so I went for it. So far so good with no splintering or dirt on our bedding! We did a very thorough cleaning job though- so I am sure that helped.

  • In love! I just picked up an old Barn Door on Tuesday to be used as a photo backdrop, but i can see it having a second life as a headboard if i grow tired of it as a backdrop.

  • Hi we have started a similar project and have been looking for a more stylish option than the “basic metal frame” any ideas?

  • I love this idea! I have been wanting to do a DIY headboard for sometime now :)

    P.S. I am having a little DIY giveaway on my blog, I’d love for you to stop by :) Thanks

  • my daughter sent me this to build , for her christmas gift., had some barn wood planks i picked up from the tornadoes, and what i did was use the the measurements , and i sanded the boards smooth and wiped it real good with bolled LINSEED OIL. ,really brought back what i sanded off , and used all ione piece boards.. looks awesome ,, hope she likes it .

  • Just built 2 of these. Awesome. I own a sustainable living company and I am always looking for new ways to use all the reclaimed wood/material I have in my warehouse. Thanks for the idea.

  • I have been bugging my husband about trying a DIY headboard project with me for months and am so excited that we found one that we can both agree upon~not too girly and shouldn’t take us more than a day or so! Thanks for the lovely post and pretty photos!

  • I continue to have more and more calls from individuals wanting to build their own headboards, tables, etc . from wood we salvage from antique barns in the North. Although there is not much money for my time, I love the passion seen in these folks and enjoy helping out. Websites, like this one, should remove the intimidation of trying a similar project. Good luck!

  • I am so doing this project! I can’t wait to pick up the barn board sometime this week! and Begin to assemble this little beauty!

  • I am almost finished with my headboard and I am so excited! One comment I will add with regards to getting the boards splinter free….using a stiff-bristle brush after sanding only seemed to recreate the splinters I sanded off, even making the board a bit rougher. So I just resanded and then used air to blow away the residue, skipping the scrubing this time. It seemed to work just fine.

  • @Angela Koch – I’m glad you mentioned that. Its important to note that different kinds of wood, and even wood of different ages and weatheredness (new word!) will respond differently. Glad you found a good work-around for this problem. Send us a pic at fiveoeight.com once you’ve finished. We’d love to see it!

  • I have a question about the wood, I went back to my grandparents farm and was given a barn window, stall door and a garden gate they are about 115 yrs old, I worry about not getting the mildew smell out of the wood and I’m pretty sure the barn window has lead paint. How would I go about cleaning the wood?

  • Finished this project last week! Couldn’t be happier!! I’ve had this white distressed barn door forever, which I used to hang lots of costume jewelry on with tiny nails. Now I repurposed it into my headboard. Got the door on ebay for $20 and actually had it shipped to my front door very cheaply. Thanks for the fabulous idea!

  • Question … I have some awesome barn wood with a ton of character. I plan to air it out and get the loose gunk off but do I have to sand it? Just curious if that would make it lose some of that uniqueness. Also, we had to cut the boards from much longer pieces so now there is a much lighter edge left and right. Should I stain with a driftwood color or do you think it’s not worth it?


    • Go with your gut on it cause without a picture its hard to tell plus I would love to see it.

  • Question: I want to do this, but I only have a twin size bed. How much barn wood do I need??

  • sorry this is late….but our bedding is just a crochet blanket and some white sheets! it was handed down from my grandmother. the euro shams, however, are from ikea.

  • So glad I found this, I am about to redo my teenage daughter’s room. We went and got old wood from her greatgrandparents home that no one lives in. The Barn and a room off the side of the house had fallen down completely. I’m using the old wood to make her headboard. Love the idea of writing something on the wood. Love that we are giving her her heritage!!!! Will send pic when done.

  • In the process of making a headboard with an old barn door. We are attaching it to a 1x12x12 hanging the door horizontal with the old hinges attached to the 1×12. So excited for the finished product! Thank you for the great idea!

  • Love this!!!!
    Wondering what color you used on your walls? the entire ensemble is beautiful.

  • I love this idea!! I already bought, scrubbed, and sanded my barn wood!! I am SO thrilled to get started!!
    Funny story: I was scrubbing my wood in my garage and my neighbor asked what I was doing…I told her I was washing the dirt off my wood. Apparently, it wasn’t dirt – BE CAREFUL with your wood choice and watch out for cow poop!!

  • Have worked with much barn wood and would advise all to treat wood with boric acid. Old wood very often has termites, carpenter ants, powder post beetles, etch. Don’t skip the unless you feel lucky… you don’t want to bring this inside your home.

  • I wanted to ask, how much was the total cost for this diy project? Please reply back, this is absolutely wonderful!

  • Great project! I would say that the 1×4’s are a bit flimsy/top heavy…I ended up cutting the legs off and hanging it on the wall like wall art. Very stable and allows me to move the bed away from the wall if I need too! Thanks again for inspiration!

  • Curious, how should I treat the wood. I have an old wood gate. I have NEVER worked with wood before.

  • One thing to keep in mind with this kind of project is the quality of the wood. Reclaimed barn wood is an aesthetic dream, but you’ll want to make sure that it’s sturdy enough for the task. Make sure you get your wood from a good dealer so it will last as long as possible.