PHOTO: Rodney Wilson
Rodney Wilson
December 4, 2019

When we first saw the property that would become our family farm, my wife and I would have been hard-pressed to pick a favorite characteristic of the place. The three-bedroom Civil War-era farmhouse, lovingly brought back to functionality by a pair of master craftsman brothers a decade or so ago, was of course the centerpiece. The long, low-slung cattle shelter, with a firewood storage shed and equipment room, efficiently captured and contained a number of our dreams and aspirations (we eventually reconfigured it to serve as a farrowing shed for our Berkshire sow). A pair of ponds sparked fantasies of lazy days fishing. And then there was the big, English barn.

There was really no telling the barn’s actual age. On the one hand, it sat on a poured concrete floor and was wired up for electricity (the carpenter brother had used the tack room as a workshop), so the structure more or less kept up with the times. But the passing years weren’t friendly of this particular building—a large part of the roof was missing, the door had been replaced by a rough-timber frame and, inside, the hayloft sagged precariously. 

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Bye, Barn

Nevertheless, I loved the old building and envisioned one day bringing the barn back to life. Unfortunately, our mortgage company didn’t share my enthusiasm—the barn didn’t meet their insurance standards, and we were told to tear it down or forego funding. We found a local company that specialized in taking down buildings and, on the day we moved in, the back corner of our farm was nothing but a bare, white slab.

But adjacent to that slab, lying in the overgrown pasture, we beheld a thing of true beauty: a looming pile of barnwood timber, the deconstructed remains of the old, sagging barn. (This isn’t necessarily typical, as many deconstruction services take lumber as part of their payment. But we asked for the wood, because it’s always worth asking.) 

Why was I so excited about this pile of detritus? Wasn’t it just a future bonfire for a chilly, fall night? While I do love gathering around an open flame with friends and family, my plans for this wood went far beyond combustion. Reclaimed barnwood is coveted in our day and age for its aged patina and proven durability, and the potential uses for it are myriad. 

Clean It Up

Before we look at a few of the more popular applications, it’s a good idea to clean up wood that’s lived for decades in the great outdoors. 

If you see evidence of timber-loving bugs like termites, carpenter ants or beetles (common signs include small holes, visible tunnels and discarded wings), you can treat your lumber by scrubbing it down with Borax and water or a commercially available pre-mixed product. 

Then, you need to clean out dirt, dust and debris lurking in the grain. A spray down with a power washer on its lowest setting is a great way to tidy up your reclaimed barn wood—it’ll get down in the grooves and carry away any detritus while preserving the wood’s unique surface appearance. If you’re looking for a smoother look, you can sand or plane the surface to soften the weathered characteristics.

Work That Barnwood

Once you’re happy with the shape your lumber is in, it’s time to put the timber treasure to use. If you’re handy, the possibilities are endless, but here are five applications that will make your reclaimed barnwood shine.

1. Spruce up the House

Farmhouse chic has been an interior design staple for the past few years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. What better way to get that “barn-y” look than with actual reclaimed barnwood? Consider paneling the living room walls for a warm, cabin-like feel. Use barn beams to bring a boring, white ceiling to life; they’ll also make a distinct fireplace mantle. Or use planks to construct simple, rustic shutters that create curb appeal for your home’s exterior. If you managed to salvage an intact barn door, you can hang it in your home using hardware available at a wide variety of retail outlets; install hinges, door latches and other salvaged equipment around your living space to bring rustic character to the rooms.

2. Build Some Furniture

Whether you’re an experienced builder or intrepid amateur, there’s never a better time to roll up your sleeves and bust out the tools than when you’re staring at a stack of salvaged lumber. First, consider what piece of furniture you’ve always wanted. Is it a farmhouse dinner table to host holiday crowds? Maybe you need a simple shelf to hold votive candles or a pair of side tables for your bed? Head to the library for books containing project plans, or look online for a build that appeals to you (there are plenty of sites dedicated to woodworking). Then, after ensuring your available timber is adequate for the project’s cut list, craft a keepsake piece of furniture chock-full of storied history. 

3. Get Crafty

If you’re the crafty type, you’ll find plenty of uses for reclaimed barnwood. Cut pieces into variable lengths and assemble them to create compelling wall art, or pull out the paint to craft a lovely, rustic flag. If you’re gifted in script, write some of your favorite sayings on short-cut pieces of wood to create unique wall hangings (if you’re not gifted in script, find some stencils online or at craft shops). Or drill holes into larger chunks of wood using a Forstner bit to create one-of-a-kind candle holders. The possibilities are endless, but your living space isn’t, so once you’ve honed some skills and livened up your home with handcrafted goods, start making gifts for the holidays or check out online market places where you can sell your unique handiwork.     

4. Make Farm Repairs

If you’ve torn down an old barn or gained access to a deconstructed structure, there will likely be some pieces that are too damaged to display inside your home but still sound enough to put to use. For these lengths of lumber, look around your farm. Maybe you could build a few additional nesting boxes for your laying hens. Perhaps you have enough planks to build a simple fence around your garden. Could you assemble a gate to better move your animals between pastures or build a simple shed to shelter your firewood? In my experience, a farmer can never have enough lumber, so put that reclaimed barnwood to work around your property.

5. Light It Up!

When all is said and done, you’re going to have some lengths of wood that are just too worn for reuse, as well as plenty of offcut pieces left over from builds and projects. And for these, a bonfire is the perfect way to enjoy a cool night with people you cherish. Grab a bottle of something you enjoy, invite your friends and family over, and put your remaining scraps of leftover barn materials to good use warming hearts (and hands) on the land you call home.  

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