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How I Built a Stunning Reclaimed Wood Accent Wall with Fence Pickets

Updated: Mar 25

Rustic Stained Wood Accent Wall

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

  1. Miter Saw or Circular Saw

  2. Finish Nail Gun

  3. Table Saw

  4. 4' Level

  5. Planer (optional)

  6. Jointer (optional)

Materials for Building an Accent Wall

  1. Wood - fence pickets, pallet wood, or reclaimed barn wood

  2. Wood stain - 4 to 6 different colors and shades. You'll want more colors for large areas

  3. Cheap foam brushes

  4. Lint-free cloths or rags

How to Create a Fence Picket Accent Wall in 6 Steps

  1. Dry out wood

  2. Rip planks to width

  3. Plane wood to uniform thickness

  4. Stain and let dry overnight

  5. Cut planks to length

  6. Nail or glue pickets to wall in alternating colors and patterns

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.

Moisture meter measuring wood moisture content

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.

Wood stacked with stickers in between
Stickered Wood Stack

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.

Jig used to cut a straight line on a table saw.
Straight Line Jointer Jig

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.

GIF using a 4' level to straight line rip a board on table saw
Straight Line Cut with 4' Level

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:

  1. 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"

  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 lef