Reclaimed Wood Wall in 5 Steps

Building Wall
Today we will cover the 5 steps to build a reclaimed wood wall which will cover everything from wood selection to how to deal with plugs and outlets.

What you will need (Amazon links are of products I use):

  1. Circular Saw or Table Saw
  2. Ladder
  3. Nail Gun, or hammer and nails
  4. Air Compressor (if using nail gun)
  5. Contractor’s Glue or Liquid Nail (if you want the wall to be permanent)
  6. Level
  7. Wood Glue
  8. Outlet Spacers if you have plugs, light switches, or other outlets that need to be brought forward

If you do not feel like reading you are welcome to check out our video of when we built a reclaimed wood wall for our woodworking booth.  You can also check out our YouTube channel: Average Joe Woodworking!

Step One: Wood Selection

Although there are multiple sources to get wood for a reclaimed wood wall I want to talk about three:

1) In my case reclaimed wood usually comes from one of two sources, barn wood or pallets.  For the wall I built in the video I used pallet wood from a cabinet company.  Make sure pallets are stamped with HT (meaning heat treated and non toxic).

Tearing down pallets for reclaimed wood wall

2) The 2nd place you can get reclaimed wood is by the piece at your local big box hardware store.  I was surprised to see an end cap of “barn wood” at Home Depot a few years back – and as of 2018 it’s still available.  I have my doubts the wood actually came from a barn but it looks pretty good on a wall.  This will run you about $3 psf – or approximately $240 for an 8′ tall by 10′ wide wall.

Barn wood they sell by the piece at Home Depot.

3) Finally, you can buy boxes of reclaimed wood at your big box hardware stores and on Amazon.com like Smart Paneling 11232 (pictured).  A kit is a little easier to install especially if it comes with an adhesive back.  It usually comes in boxes that can cover 10sf of wall.  With respect to cost a descent rule of thumb is that a kit usually will run around the $5 psf of wall coverage.  So a wall that is 10′ wide and 8′ tall would cost about $400.

Picture from Smart Paneling 11232 Reclaimed Wood Wall Kit on Amazon.com (Click to check current price)

Step 2: Prepping the Wood

Next you need to prep the wood to be installed.  If you chose to buy a box, or kit, there’s a descent chance there’s already a finish on it and an adhesive back.  If you have reclaimed wood there are four basic steps.

1. Glue Splits/Cracks on edges

When tearing down pallets or barns the wood can split (especiall on nailed edges.)  If the split can be glued take the time to glue and clamp them together.  This is also the time to cut off any ends that are not salvageable.

2. Tongue and Groove

I usually do not do this but if you want to tongue and groove the planks now is the time to do it.  Use a router or a table saw to tongue and groove the edges.  This will help if the wood moves or shrinks and expands over time.

3. Sanding

Sand down sharp edges.  I prefer to use 220 grit sand paper on an orbital sander to make a few passes. People are going to touch your reclaimed wood wall.  make sure there are no splinters or sharp edges.

4. Stain, Age, Oil, and/or Finish

Now you need to finish the wood – unless you want to go all natural and leave it unfinished.  We use tung oil refinisher or boiled linseed oil if it is already weathered.  If the wood looks new we age it with homemade acetone and BLO (Click article “Homemade Acetone and Oil” to see the article on Homemade Acetone and Oil)

Step 3: Prep the Wall

Preparation is half the battle.  To prepare the wall for reclaimed wood remove any crown moldings and baseboards.  Remove all face plates for outlets and switches and unscrew all plugs and switches from box.  Make sure you turn off electrical breaker for this step.  Next you will want to paint the wall black, grey, or dark brown.  I suppose if you bought the kits or box of “reclaimed wood” you may not need to do this.  However, if there are knots, holes, or cracks that form and you can see through, a wall that is not black, brown, or grey will stick out like a sore thumb.

Step 4: Installing the wall

What you will need.

  1. Circular Saw or Table Saw
  2. Ladder
  3. Nail Gun, or hammer and nails
  4. Air Compressor (if using nail gun)
  5. Contractor’s Glue or Liquid Nail (if you want the wall to be permanent)
  6. Level
  7. Wood Glue
  8. Outlet Spacers if you have plugs, light switches, or other outlets that need to be brought forward

Start from the Bottom Up

Generally I like to start from the bottom and go up.  If the floor is not level you need to make sure the first level of your wood wall is level.  You can accomplish this two ways.  The first is by making the first level, level and putting a piece of trim or quarter round to hide the face that your floor is uneven. The second is to contour the bottom of your first piece to follow the shape of the floor shaving off from the bottom to accomplish a good fit.  

Reclaimed wood wall install starting from bottom up, focusing on one side, and checking for level.

I usually only use 2″ finishing nails and a nail gun when attaching the wood to the wall.  Another way is to use liquid nails (or a combination of liquid nails and finishing nails.)  If you bought a kit it will often have an adhesive back and that will be used to adhere wood to the wall.

Stagger Boards

I tend to favor one side choosing (in this example the right) and placing four or five levels of boards checking for level on each board.  Then I fill in to the left side using the circular saw to cut the boards when I approach the left edge.  If your boards are different widths you need to make sure you think of each layer as restricted to that width. Stagger the boards so that seams do not line up.

About half way done with my reclaimed wood wall.

In the picture I have a 3.5″ first layer so to make life simple the whole layer is 3.5″ across.  The rest are the same width so all that matters is keeping them level.  If you choose to have different widths mixed on each level be prepared to make a lot of cuts to fit the boards together like puzzle pieces.

Working the Edges

I prefer to work from bottom to top and one side to the other – in the video and pictures I’m working right to left. Cuts with a circular saw can draw attention away from the wall if there is tear out or the boards bow or cup so I tend to face cut sides towards the side less traveled.  For example, if the reclaimed wood wall is going to be visible on the right side looking down the wall, but the left side is a wall so no one will be looking down the wall from the left, I place the cut boards on the left side to hide exposed, freshly cut wood.  

Trim around edges of reclaimed wood wall hides the uneven nature of the edges of reclaimed wood.

Dealing with Plugs, Lightswitches, and Outlets

If you followed the steps so far your face plates have been removed.  Also, the outlets and light switches have been unscrewed and should be hanging around.  Pro Tip – when you approach an outlet try to use boards of similar thickness for any boards that surround the outlet box.  That way when you put the face plate on it lays flat on the wood.  You will need longer screws for the outlets, take one of the screws with you to the hardware store and ask for 1.5 inch screws of the same thread and size.

Example of notch for reclaimed wood wall piece as a spacer from https://www.eastcoastrustic.com/cut-around-electrical-outlet-reclaimed-wood-wall/

You will need some way to bring the outlets or light switches forward the distance of the thickness of your reclaimed wood.  One way is to cut out the a notch to slide around screw (pictured).  The outlet needs to be supported around the screw.  Another way is to use outlet spacers (picture of green spacers behind screw).  Simply fold them end to end for the distance needed – usually spacers come in packs of 25 sticks, each stick has 8 pieces, and each piece is 1/8 of an inch. If you need 3/4″ you use 6 pieces folded on itself and snap them on the screw.

Example of using reclaimed wood as a spacer for outlets from https://www.eastcoastrustic.com/cut-around-electrical-outlet-reclaimed-wood-wall/
Example of snapping 5 pieces of one stick to bring out socket 5/8 of an inch. From https://www.thriftydecorchick.com/2014/01/making-outlet-or-switch-flush.html

Step 5: Wrap Up and Final Touches

Consider putting on a quarter round baseboard or trim around the top if the top or bottom do not line up nicely with the floor or ceiling and is noticeable to the eye. If your lumber was freshly pulled from a barn or from pallets the lumber will probably move for a few months. One way to combat this would be to apply a strong finish, such as polyurethane ON BOTH SIDES before installation.  If you did everything correctly your wood wall should be pleasing to the eyes and feel natural to the touch.

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