Helpful Tips

Reclaimed Wood Finishing Techniques

Paintbrush sliding

These days, learning reclaimed wood finishing techniques is more popular than ever. Whether you plan on making a new kitchen table, a dresser, or an end table, using reclaimed wood as part of your design can result in a really beautiful piece that’s one of a kind.

Some of the reclaimed wood finishing techniques include:

  • Preparing the wood by using a nylon brush to remove dead bugs, dirt, dust, and debris
  • The wood must be thoroughly inspected for bugs. If it wasn’t previously treated for pests, then you will need to apply a borax and water solution and wait for a period of seven days, allowing the wood to fully absorb the chemicals.
  • Next, you’ll need to use a paint stripper to remove any existing paint.
  • Sanding is the next step and should be done to ensure you’re working with a smooth surface.
  • Apply a two to three coats of wood finish to help restore some of the wood’s beauty.
  • Add the sealant last to help protect the wood from wear and tear or the elements, if the finished product is meant for outdoor use.

Each of these steps will ensure the wood remains intact and free from the signs of age and wear, for several years to come.

The Beauty of Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood has history. Its sourced from barns, warehouses, mills, and other types of structures that date way back to the industrial era. This type of wood is repurposed and recycled and is more environmentally friendly.

dining table

There are many different types of reclaimed wood to choose from, such as:

  • Ash
  • Oak
  • Platinum gray
  • Weathered antique
  • Elm
  • Faded red barn lumber
  • Heart pine
  • Mixed hardwoods
  • Wormy chestnut

And much more.

Using this type of wood can give your home a more rustic feel and can seamlessly blend into any type of existing décor, whether it’s minimalist or traditional. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also environmentally friendly since it involves repurposing materials from old structures instead of supporting deforestation. It also tends to hold up very well in high-traffic areas, since it’s tighter grain is impenetrable to wear. You can buy this type of wood in larger board sizes compared to what you can purchase from modern suppliers who often utilize lumber from younger, smaller trees. The wood itself is sourced from structures that were originally designed by skilled craftsmen decades ago.

Simple Techniques for Beginners

Many DIYers have a vision when it comes to turning a nice stack of reclaimed wood into a unique finished product. The following tips will help you complete your first woodworking project.

How to Begin

If you’ve recently purchased reclaimed wood, start off by using a nylon brush and brush along each piece of wood to get rid of any debris, dirt, dust, and bugs. To make this job easier, you can also use an air pressure machine. Pressure washers are another great option, however, if you don’t have any past experience cleaning reclaimed wood then you’ll need to be extra careful since it’s possible that you’ll end up damaging the grain.

Carefully Inspect Each Piece

Finishing the reclaimed wood is a must and it’s the next step in the process. But before you can get started, you’ll first need to carefully check the wood and look for any extra metal pieces. Many pieces once belonged to an existing structure, so finding nails, hinges, and bolts is pretty common. Take your time with this step, since you can break or severely damage the saw blade if you miss a piece of metal.

Aside from metal, bugs can be another major problem. When you purchase this type of wood for the first time, speak with the seller and ask if the wood has been treated for pests. If it hasn’t been, then you may need to search for any signs that indicate bugs are living inside the lumber. Next, the wood should be primed with a type of termite-resistant solution.

How to Use Borax

Borax works well for this. Mixed with water, the borax solution will prevent termites from invading and will also kill any existing pests that remain on the surface of the wood. You can apply the mixture wearing gloves and use a damp sponge dipped into the solution to wipe down each of the boards. After, you’ll have to wait for the wood to dry for a period of five to seven days. This will allow the wood to fully absorb the chemicals. Once the wood is dry, if any chemical residue remains, you can take a nylon bristle brush and scrub it off.

Paint Removal

If the wood still has some paint left on it, then you’ll need to strip the wood before you finish it. You can use a small brush dipped in paint stripper and coat the surface of the wood. You can scrape off the paint stripper once it’s had time to soak and set in, which should only take about an hour. During this time, safety will be very important. You’ll want to keep gloves on and wear a respirator or mask, in addition to safety glasses or goggles.


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The next step in the process is sanding the wood down. You can use a one hundred grit sandpaper, pressing it firmly against the surface of the wood, if you want to do it by hand. Using the best palm sander can make the process go much faster. I recommend the DEWALT DWE6423K Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander. When sanding, remember to use circular motions so you can smooth out the surface and remove any splinters or imperfections in the wood.

Applying the Finish

Since it’s not recommended that you paint this type of wood, you can get creative with choosing a finish that will complement the wood and bring out its natural finish.

Before you begin turning your new pile of lumber into a woodworking masterpiece, you will need to apply a wood finish or a type of wax. I recommend using a type of polyurethane solution and a large nylon bristle brush in order to thoroughly coat the wood. You will probably need to apply three coats. Between each coat, you will need to wait an hour.

Adding the Sealant

After the finish has been applied, you’ll still need to add a sealant. Use another bristle brush and apply a very thin layer of wood sealant carefully over each piece of lumber. This coating will help to protect against wear and tear, which will make the wood more durable, especially if it’s going to be used in a high traffic area.

Related Questions

How Should I Finish Barn Wood?

You should avoid using planing or mechanical sanding with barn wood because it will end up eliminating the gray patina, which is what makes this type of wood so appealing. You can manually sand the wood using a one hundred grit sandpaper, which will help to soften the surface and make it easier to apply the finish and sealant.

Can I Paint Reclaimed Wood?

You can, but why would you want to? The whole point of using this type of wood is for its antique, aged, natural beauty. If you’re researching the best colors to paint furniture for reclaimed wood, I recommend choosing a different, bolder finish instead. Otherwise, you may be better off just buying regular lumber, since it tends to be more affordable in some cases.

Why is Reclaimed Wood So Expensive?

This type of wood tends to be more expensive because of the process required to reclaim the wood. There is plenty of work involved, especially if the wood belongs to a large existing structure. Wood designed for hardwood flooring is probably among the most expensive type of reclaimed wood you can buy, but it’s often the most beautiful.

Of course, reclaiming the wood from an existing structure yourself is much cheaper, but you’d need to be careful where you get your wood. In some cases, if the structure belongs to a private party, there are ways you can go about haggling to get a decent price for the wood. It never hurts to ask.

Why is Reclaimed Wood Better?

When the wood is harvested responsibly, like it is with reclaimed wood, it creates a renewable source that will decrease the need for deforestation and reduces environmental hazards. As an example, it’s a much better option for the environment to use reclaimed wood for flooring instead of carpeting or petroleum-based linoleum.

Final Thoughts

These reclaimed wood finishing techniques will protect the wood against the elements, if the furniture you’re making is designed for outdoor use, plus it can also help to keep it free from wear and tear if it’s going to be used in a high-traffic area of the home. This type of wood can add plenty of character to any piece of furniture you make, and will definitely become the focal point of any room.