Updated: Mar 25
I realized I needed some office space and saw an opportunity to get creative in the wood shop. After framing up a couple walls, I wanted to add a unique touch that would make the space feel cozy and rustic, but with a modern twist. An accent wall using reclaimed wood is just what the space needed. It was a fun and rewarding project that anyone with basic woodworking skills can tackle.
Full disclosure: I did not have access to reclaimed fence wood or an old barn that was being torn down, so I did the next best thing by making my own and it wasn't difficult. After purchasing 5-1/4 x 6' pine fence pickets from the big orange box store for less than $2 a board, I stained them and nailed up with a finish nailer. That's less than 75 cents per square foot and still well under a dollar factoring in stain and nails. You may be able to source something cheaper or even free if someone near you wants a fence torn down.
This project requires a handle on basic woodworking techniques and a few tools. I love the rough farmhouse look, but for this project I wanted it to have a clean farmhouse appeal, so I prepped the wood with a thickness planer and straight line cut the edges on my table saw. Don't worry if you don't have those tools if you want to achieve a rustic farmhouse accent wall.
Tools Needed for Building a Rustic Accent Wall
Materials for Building an Accent Wall
Wood - fence pickets, pallet wood, or reclaimed barn wood
Wood stain - 4 to 6 different colors and shades. You'll want more colors for large areas
How to Create a Fence Picket Accent Wall in 6 Steps
Wood Accent Wall - Step 1: Dry out the wood
Wood expands as it takes on moisture and contracts as it dries out. Lumber from the box stores can sometimes be too wet to work with, so drying them out will prevent issues like cupping or bowing that turn a straight piece of wood crooked. This is especially true when using treated wood - a process that forces wood preservatives deep into the wood fiber.
A good moisture meter will give you the moisture content percentage. They ensure you don't use wood before it has reached an acceptable level - typically between 6-8% for fine woodworking, but anywhere between 8-12% will work here.
Each board was slightly different but arrived to my shop anywhere between 20 and 30%, so some drying was needed here.
With rustic projects, dead straight wood may not be your prime concern. For my wall, I didn't want huge gaps between my boards, but if it were an 1/8" or less, that wouldn't hurt the aesthetic I'm looking for.
With this in mind, I stacked my wood off the concrete (wood will absorb moisture from a concrete floor) and added stickers (1" thick strips of wood) between each row to promote air flow coming from a box fan. It took a solid week with constant air blowing across the boards to get my pickets to single digit moisture level. Adding weight to both ends of your stack will also help reduce wood movement as it dries.
If you want a rustic look and don't care that the gaps between your boards will grow, you can get away with using wood just below 20% moisture, but you may get less than desirable results from the next step.
Though, if you want the rustic look, you probably are skipping right past steps 2 & 3 anyway. These involve the width and thickness of your wood planks.
Wood Accent Wall - Step 2: Rip Planks to Width
As wood dries, it moves. If you purchased new wood like I did, they come out of the saw mill perfectly straight, but by the time they reach your shop, they can deform. I wanted minimal gaps between my planks, so I decided to straighten them. I don't have a planer to give me a perfectly straight edge, so I used my table saw with a jig to straight line cut one edge.
You can make or buy these jigs to make the job super easy, but you can also get the same results from using a 4' level that is pushed with the board between it and your fence.
The key is to push the board and level at the same time (as shown above). Don't let the level move relative to the wood. This uses the reference face of the level to rip a straight cut on the opposite side of the board.
Once you have one straight edge, remove the jib, flip the board over and run the board through again with the new straight edge riding along your fence. This gives you two parallel edges.
Tip: Run every board in a row through the saw with the jig (so you don't move your fence). Then adjust your fence closer to the blade and run the other side of each board in that row through. Now you have every board in that particular row the exact same width.
This step is optional, but doing so will create a clean, modern appearance to your plank accent wall. If your boards are straight enough or you want a rougher, cabin look, skip this step and the next. I wanted a little of both, so after ripping my boards, I planed them them to the same thickness for a smooth appearance.
Wood Accent Wall - Step 3: Plane wood to uniform thickness
Planing each picket did two things for me:
Made the wall appear more smooth - this lends to the "touch of modern" I mentioned earlier. The pickets rang up at the store for 5/8" thickness, but in reality, they varied 1/8" one way or another. I took mine down to 1/2"
It smoothed out the wood. Fence pickets come in rough form. Without sanding or running through a planer, I'd have a coarse wall. Sanding wasn't a great option because I had 110 square feet to cover, so I'd be sanding until next Christmas. With a few quick passes on my DW735 planer, I had a smooth-enough surface that I didn't bother with sanding further. My wood was now ready for some color!
Again, this is an optional step, but one I recommend if you have a thickness planer. Now your boards are ready for some color!
Wood Accent Wall - Step 4: Stain wood and let dry overnight
This is where your preference and creativity come in. I wanted a mostly brown wall of differing shades with a few light colors mixed in at random. Varathane oil based stain is my go-to and I had a few choice on hand already. To highlight the browns I already had, I added in some blue, grey and even left a couple boards unstained.
If you want to replicate the colors of this accent wall, you'll need a few cans. I had 50 boards to stain and will use up the leftovers on other projects at some point, so I purchased quart cans. To save a few bucks, you could get away with buying several colors in the half-pint size. Just keep in mind, that if you end up having to go back and purchase another half-pint can, you've spent more money than if you would have if you bought a quart from the beginning.
I used 6 stains plus a few boards I left unstained:
Golden Oak from Varathane
Worn Navy by Varathane
Kona by Varathane
Ebony by Varathane
Weathered Grey by Varathane
Dark Walnut by Varathane
Quick Tips for Staining Wood
Use pre-stain conditioner for soft woods like pine - or you'll end up with ugly blotches
Brush stain perpendicular to the grain (across the grain) and wipe with a clean towel or shop rag in the direction of the grain.
The more coats of stain, the more the wood will darken to that color.
Let the wood fully dry before applying second coat.
Wood Accent Wall - Step 5: Cut pieces to length
My wooden accent wall was being installed to a newly added wall - right to the studs, so it was critical to ensure I was cutting the stained boards to lengths that ended in the middle of a stud. This allows the next piece the remaining half of the stud to nail to.
If you are adding a plank accent wall to an existing wall already covered by drywall or something else, you have more freedom with your board lengths.
For good aesthetic for either scenario, be sure to alternate your pattern so that boards on adjoining rows do not end at the same place. In other words, you don't want the joint between two pieces to be in the same spot in one row as the joint between two boards on the row above or below it. Nailing to a stud wall requires a bit more planning as you can't just cut a board a few inches shorter to prevent this - you have to ensure your joints land in the middle of a stud. Let me know in the comments below if you can spot where I made this mistake!
Wood Accent Wall - Step 6: Nail or glue pickets to wall
I've done pallet walls glued to a concrete block wall in the past. It works, but I recommend starting from the bottom up. This keeps the boards from sliding down before they dry.
These boards were attached using a finish nail gun. It secures the wood in place and doesn't leave a large nail mark.
If I could do it all over again, I would let the wood dry a bit more. I've noticed about a week later that some gaps are forming as the wood dries further. My next step is to put insulation bats on the back side and cover with drywall. Doing so will prevent light from the other side shining through these gaps. Once that is done, the gaps will blend right in with the design.
Adding a rustic accent wall is a creative way to infuse warmth and character into any room. This project uses basic woodworking techniques and tools, making it accessible for DIYers of all skill levels. Whether you choose to use fence pickets, pallet wood, or reclaimed barn wood, the key is to dry the wood, rip the planks to the same width, plane them to a uniform thickness, stain them, and then nail to the wall without any pieces ending in the same spot as the piece above or below.
By following these steps, you can create a stunning accent wall that captures the rustic look of reclaimed wood with a modern twist. This project not only enhances the appearance of your space in a cost-effective way but also allows you to get creative and add a personal touch.
Share your experience in the comments below and let us know how you transformed your space with a rustic accent wall. We'd love to hear from you!
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