How to clean, prep & install reclaimed wood plank walls
I'm loving wood plank walls as feature, and by the look of Pinterest, so are lots of others. Wood accent walls can look modern or rustic, but what's best about this trend is that it introduces a natural element in the home that immediately grounds us and connects us with nature.
The trick to wood plank walls is to keep it simple. Use them on only one feature wall, or in a small room like a powder room. A larger shiplap room looks great if in white, so it blends into a neutral background.
The other key to using wood walls, especially salvaged barn board walls, is to thoroughly clean and dry them before installing.
Tips for cleaning and installing Wood plank walls:
1. Choose your wood.
Reclaimed barn boards give a rustic look, maple or oak a more modern feel, and MDF or tongue and groove boards painted white used as shiplap are great for farmhouse style. You'll want to choose a board that's as light as possible, so thin is good, but not too thin that it will bow over time or in a dry winter home. Barn boards are very dry so they're light to begin with. Tongue and groove floor boards are quite light as well.
2. Clean and prep the boards.
Clean old barn boards with a hard bristle or steel brush to remove dirt and grime, then give them a good scrubbing with borax and water. Let them dry completely - outdoors in the sun and then inside sometimes even for a few weeks in a covered area if they were damp to begin with. Then lightly sand them with a palm sander as a final step, which takes out any splinters and brings out the knots and rich grain. I don't typically treat salvaged wood barn boards unless they are going in a wet zone like a bathroom or kitchen backsplash. In that case I'll coat them with a water-based poly sealer in a matte finish so it doesn't affect the natural look I want.
If you're going for the shiplap look, clean older boards as per above, and then prime and paint them white using a small roller and no-VOC latex paint. If using pine or other wood, you may need to prime them first with a stain-blocking primer like Zinsser to cover knots. Or just lightly whitewash them by watering down the white paint. You could also stain them to the tone you want, or simply let their natural beauty shine through by coating them with a water-based sealer like polyurethane in a matte or semi-gloss finish.
3. Prep the walls.
If using barn boards or natural wood, paint the wall they're going on black or brown so that you can't see a white wall poking through the cracks. Of course, paint your walls white if using white shiplap. And if you're installing your boards vertically you'll need to install horizontal strapping for them to be nailed to - every 12 inches or so horizontally across the wall. Use a stud finder and an air nailer or an old fashioned hammer and nails to secure the strapping to the studs.
4. Cut your boards.
First, square off your board, then measure the length you'll need and use a speed square and pencil to mark off where you need to cut. Cut your pieces with a chop saw or hand saw. If installing vertically, all of your boards will be the same length (but double check this in different spots along your wall in case the floor or ceiling isn't level). If installing horizontally, measure them all the same or use scraps of various lengths.
5. Lay them out.
Starting in the middle, line up your boards to ensure a level and tight fit. You may need to play around here a bit to see which boards fit best next to each other. Don't worry about a few gaps- it will add to the unique look. and just make a random pattern. If installing horizontally, it typically looks best with the shortest pieces closest to the ends and the longest in the middle of the feature wall, but again, don't fret over it. Just go with the flow. Secure the boards to the wall studs (if laying horizontally) or your strapping boards (if laying vertically) with a nail gun (if you don't own one, rent one for the day - totally worth the small investment).
6. Finish off, but don't try for perfection.
If your floors or ceilings are very unlevel, you may need to add a piece of trim at the top or bottom of a vertical plank wall to hide major gaps (just cut a narrow piece of board the length you need and secure with a nail gun). This is rarely necessary though, and I think that some gaps make the wall more interesting anyway. Imperfection is beautiful! Touch up with paint if needed ( if you're working with painted shiplap). I find that barn boards are very forgiving so you really don't need to do anything more with them.
Now you have a unique accent wall that brings warmth, character and natural beauty to your home. Enjoy!