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How To: Salvaged Wood Wall

salvaged-wood-wallNobody likes bare walls in their house. We spend time and money to find attractive paintings and decor to hang on the walls of our home. And a house doesn’t feel quite like a home until the walls are covered with decoration.

But, what if instead of putting pieces of art on your wall, you could transform your whole wall into a piece of art?

Covering your wall in salvaged, character-rich wood is so much more than painting an accent wall. It warms the room and adds a kind of visual interest that can’t be attained any other way.

In this post, I’ll show you the simple way to make a salvaged wood wall in your house.


What You’ll Need

First, you’ve got to find your wood. There is no right or wrong here. Find whatever width, thickness, color, species that makes you happy. You might use old pecky cypress barn siding like I did here or maybe you can use old subfloor planks. The only qualification is that you love it!

I find that thicknesses from 1/2″ to 1″ work best. Thicker than that and you need some serious fastening power to make sure things stay in place.

I also give any salvaged wood a cleaning with a firm bristle brush and soap and water. You don’t want a bunch of filthy wood on your wall.

Here’s the list of the other supplies and tools you’ll need:

  • Stud finder (for plaster walls use this technique)
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Nail set
  • Tape measure
  • 2 1/2″ Finish nails
  • 4′ level
  • Dark paint (optional)
  • 15 ga nailer and compressor (optional)
  • Speed square (optional)
  • Circular saw
  • Jig-saw
  • Mitre saw (recommended)
  • Table Saw (recommended)


Getting Started

Before you get started, plan your layout. Take a look at potential hazards that will be in your way like doors, switches and outlets.

If you’re using pecky wood or wood with a lot of holes in it, you should paint the whole wall black or dark brown. The wall will show through those holes and if it is painted a dark color or something that blends in better with the wood it will make the whole project more attractive.

Also, decide if you will need to pull off door or window casings as well as baseboards. You can leave them all in place and butt the wood up to them, or pull them off and re-install them on top of the wood panelling. The choice is yours.

Note: If you decide to pull the casings off, you will need to install a spacer behind them because of the added thickness the wood creates.


Step 1 Mark the Studs

Using your stud finder (or magnet for plaster walls), mark the studs on the wall you plan to install on. Take your 4′ level and mark the stud all the way up and down the height of the wall with your pencil.


Step 2 Level the First Course

Just like with siding making sure the first course is level is of the utmost importance. This will set the level for all the rest of the boards and if the line is off you’ll have a real mess by the time you get to the top of the wall.

Set your level against the wall on top of the board and make sure it is perfectly level. Once you have it where you need it, tack a couple 15 ga. nails into the board on two different studs.

rip salvage wood
Image Copyright: Scott Sidler

If you are happy with the placement, go ahead and put two nails into each stud. If you are using extremely wide boards (8″+) 3 nails might be required.


Step 3 Rip to Width

It doesn’t matter what width boards you use and sometimes it can be fun to have different widths from course to course, just be sure that all the boards on each course are the same width. This will save you time and trouble in your layout.

If your boards are different widths, then you’ll need to rip them down on the table saw to whatever width you would like to use.


Step 4 Cut & Notch

After you have the right width, cut the boards to length using the mitre saw or circular saw. Nice clean cuts will ensure the boards fit together well.

Notch salvage wood
Image Copyright: Scott Sidler

If your boards are long enough to run the whole length of the wall, great. If not, you’ll need to cut them so they end on a stud. Make sure there is enough room for one board to end on a stud and the next to begin on the same stud.

Studs are only 1 1/2″ wide so make sure your cuts end as close to the center of the stud as possible.

Set the board in its place and mark any outlets or other objects that need to be notched out. Cut these notches using a jig saw or hand saw. Cuts for outlets and switches don’t have to be perfect since the covers will hide little imperfections.

Continue working your way up the wall one course after the next, nailing on each stud all the way across.


Step 5 Finishing Up

After everything has been nailed in place, put the casings back on if you removed them and give everything a once over to make sure nothing is loose. You may have missed a few studs here or there, so now is the time to check.

Put a coat of finish like polyurethane on the boards if you’d like, or leave them bare for a really rustic feel.

how to make a salvage wood wall

There you have it! What was once a plain jane wall is now an exciting and character rich part of your home or office. So, what are you waiting for? Go find some old wood and make your own salvaged wood wall

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8 thoughts on “How To: Salvaged Wood Wall

  1. 1. You have some work to do with the outlets. To keep it to code, you need to put on box extenders to bring the box out flush to the wood surface.

    2. If you need to cut to width, you will have a very different colour on the cut face. Cutting long boards precisely is hard to do. Any cracks that are even slightly open will shine with the glow of new cut wood. You may want to carefully stain the edge dark. Even running a felt marker along the quarter inch of cut face closest to the viewing face may be enough.

    3. Unless you took apart a barn, the wood will have different appearences depending on where they came from off the building. You can take two approaches:

    A: Try to reproduce something like the natural shading. E.g. boards near the base get more rain, and tend to be grey, boards near the top are protected from rain and instead are golden brown from sun.

    B: Deliberately cut the boards short, and mix it up.

    4. Do keep in mind that you have installed a fire hazard Do NOT be tempted to do this instead of plaster or sheet rock. Depending on your local code, you may have problems getting this passed unless you have sprinklers.

  2. Our son bought a 110 year old home in Butte, MT that needed so much work to make it liveable again while he attends Montana Tech. When we opened up a wall in the bathroom to update some plumbing, we did not find the expected lathe and plaster. Instead, the wall is two layers of 1″ x 12″ fir planks that run from floor to attic. Turns out all the original interior and exterior walls are made up this way!
    Butte’s rich history revolved around the mining industry and the variety of homes is telling of the people who lived there. His home was probably a common miner’s family cottage. It’s fast construction was to provide simple housing for the huge influx of workers.
    Anyways, long story short, we have left one of these walls exposed in the half bathroom. We will need to do some sanding, but we love the way it looks. It is a wonderful reminder of this little home’s history and shows its interesting construction.

  3. My boyfriend and I are in the process of remodeling the kitchen in our old farmhouse. I have removed all the plaster, which was beyond saving, the lathe, and the blow in insulation from the ceiling. What we discovered is the boards underneath. The size of two of the boards which are on the east and west walls are awesome. I would like to keep them exposed, because you don’t see them that old growth in newer homes. They are roughly 18 inches wide and 14 feet long. It is something that I think would really accent the kitchen.

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