Introduction: Faux Barn Board Using Milk Paint!

About: Like Birdz of a Feather, let's flock together to create sustainably. After all, good planets are hard to find! We're a husband/wife team that takes our inspiration from everything around us; especially things …

Inspiration for a project using faux barn board hit quickly when a friend of ours paid us a visit. He's been working on his cottage and brought us samples and pictures of a faux barn board feature he created for his new getaway. I was impressed at how convincing the texture was; it looked so much like real barn board when you compared it side-by-side with the real thing! He had a lot of area to cover in his cottage so had he used real barn board, it would have cost as much as the cottage itself! Ok, maybe not that much, but real barn board is expensive. We'll show you how to get that rustic texture with nothing more than a grinder. If you're looking for a way to de-stress in the new year, that alone should do it for you!

Our friend created his boards using stain (you can see his sample in the next step). I had just started experimenting with Homestead House milk paint and knew right away that I could achieve a richer colour using milk paint instead! Milk paint is the oldest paint in the world (think cave drawings!) so you know it will stand the test of time as far as durability goes. Interestingly, there hasn't been too much innovation in the use of milk paint in the thousands of years it's been around but I think I managed to push the envelope a little with this project. The best part is that milk paint is completely non-toxic and has zero VOCs, so you can safely use it indoors.

For the two samples shown above, believe it or not, I used exactly the same colours of milk paint. I'll show you how I tweaked a few simple things to end up with two different - but equally beautiful - looks.

It took a few weeks of trial and error to perfect my faux barnboard to the point where I'm happy with it and excited to share it with the Instructables community. I hope you'll give it a try!

Step 1: Watch the Video

The video gives you a very quick overview of the steps involved so take a minute to watch it :)

Step 2: Building on Our Friend's Sample

The first picture above shows our friend's faux barn board that inspired our project. I was surprised that he had used just plain 'ol white wood (I think he used Poplar) so we headed to Home Depot to see what they had.

In our first, not as successful, attempt we purchased 2 x 8's and split the thicker boards into two thinner ones to achieve the saw blade marks to mimic real barn board - just as our friend did. However, all our test pieces cupped and warped before we could milk paint them. That's because our wood was new and our friend's wood had been sitting for about a year so was stable when cut. Lesson learned! We weren't going to take a chance on warping again so next time, we simply purchased a six foot piece of 1 x 8 piece knotty pine. In the last picture you'll see that Hubs dug through the pile and found the straightest board he could. If you have seasoned wood and want to take the extra step to get those extra saw blade swirls, I say go for it but it isn't really necessary.

Step 3: Commercially Available Faux Barn Board

I have to mention that you can now easily find commercial versions of cheap faux barn board at your local home improvement centre. We were heading down the aisle with our board to purchase it, when we came across the section of faux barn boards! So why bother to make it yourself? On close inspection, the ready-made versions are quite unappealing; so rough they'll slough your skin off if you brush against it! Although our technique takes a number of steps to achieve a beautiful finish, when compared to bland and boring, I think it's worth the effort to get exactly what you want!

Step 4: Cut and Prep

Faux Barn Board Materials List

Besides the 1 x 8 knotty pine, here’s what you’ll need for texturing the wood and pickling. The milk paint supplies can be found in Step 8.

Step 5: Texture the Wood

Cut the boards to the length you need (ours were 14"). Secure the wire wheel to the angle grinder. Safety first: don some gloves when handling (those bristles are nasty!) and put on safety glasses.

Lock the piece of wood into the work bench. Turn on the grinder and move it from the centre of the wood to the edge of the piece and off the board in ONE DIRECTION ONLY. Do not reverse direction and move it back from the edge or the bristles might catch the edge and you'll lose control of the grinder. Move only in the direction of the grain- along the length of the board (not across). Have a look at the 4th picture to see the difference in texture.

Once the surface is wire-brushed, clamp the wood board vertically, then grind the edges in the same manner. The next step is to further distress the edges. I call this whack ‘n scrape. Whatever technique you use here, you really can’t go wrong. I like to gauge out big chunks as you can see in the last picture. Once done, use a piece of fine sandpaper to knock back the obvious burrs and any sharp edges. You want to make it look time-worn and weathered!

Step 6: Stain and Pickle First Vs. Bare Wood

The only difference between the two tester boards shown in the picture above is the addition of separate tea and pickling solutions before it's milk painted, which I'll explain in the next step. If you want the best-looking faux barn board, don’t skip staining with tea and pickling the bare wood to darken it first!

In my first attempt at faux barn board using milk paint, I left this step out but I much prefer the look of the technique we’re showing you today!

We did end up using the less successful tester boards in another project - which you'll find an Instructables link for at the end of the post (you'll also understand what the holes are for). I think each technique has a place in DIY, according to how you intend to use it your final project, but for me there's no going back to milk painting over bare wood after seeing the difference for myself!

Step 7: Mix Tea Stain and Pickling Solutions

I used two homemade solutions to develop the deepest, richest colour in the bare wood: a pickling liquid consisting of vinegar and steel wool and brewed tea. Using tea is an old trick to add more the tannins in the wood which reacts with the steel wool/vinegar combination of the pickling liquid. Mikeasaurus does a great job of explaining how the process works in this Instructable!

I prepare the pickling solution 24 hours in advance of when I'm going to use it, so mix it up first and set it aside before you start.

Pickling Solution

Hubs put steel wool into a glass jar, then added 7% vinegar over the top to make a pickling liquid. He ensured the steel wool was completely submerged. If you don’t get the steel wool fully covered in the vinegar, it will rust from air exposure. If it rusts, it will produce a brown colour that when applied to wood will result in more of a brown stain which may give you a different finished result. He punched several holes into the lid before sealing it up to steep. Punching holes in the lid is a MUST: this concoction will produce gas that could explode and shatter the glass so don’t forget that important step.

Let it steep for at least 10 hours before using it.

Tea Stain

Add hot water over a tea bag and let it cool (use more tea bags and water if you’re doing a larger project). Once cool, gather up the tea, pickling solution, strainer and a brush. Use a brush to apply the tea to the wood.

When all the tea is brushed on, I use the teabag to darken the knots further – nothing goes to waste! After about an hour. when the tea stain is dry, strain the pickling liquid from the steel wool with a paper filter into another jar.

When you brush the vinegar solution onto the tea-stained boards, it magically darkens right before your very eyes. It continues to darken over the next hour. Look at the last pic to see the difference between the raw wood and the boards we added the tea & pickling solution to! This forms the base that we’ll be milk painting on in the next step! I let the boards dry overnight.

If you have leftover pickling liquid, you can store it with a solid top if you wish (no need for ventilation once strained). Strained pickling liquid will keep for up to two weeks. After two weeks, it will still react with the tannins in the wood, but will produce a different colour.

Step 8: Milk Paint Finish

Here’s the supplies you’ll need for this step:

For small batches of milk paint, I always use a frother to mix – and this time was no exception. However, since we’re using weaker (i.e. more watery) solutions of milk paint, it will easily splash out of the cup, so I developed a little hack using a coffee filter which you can find here on Instructables.

Step 9: Ratios of Milk Paint

I mixed up two colours of milk paint using Coal Black and Limestone. Instead of the usual ratio – 1:1, I diluted it with more water to make it like a stain (about 3 parts water to 1 part milk paint powder).

For small batches like this, I use the tablespoon to measure the water and milk paint. I add the water to the cup first and then the milk paint (although some people swear by doing it the other way around). Put on the coffee filter as described in my milk paint hack post. Rest the frother on the bottom of the container and apply pressure. Turn it on and lift it up ever so slightly to mix. Work the powder into the water in this pouncing manner for a maximum of 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t over-froth (if it does, there’s a fix for that too!).

Remove the filter and let the milk paint sit for a few minutes (go do something else). This will allow the water to absorb fully into the powder. Give it another quick mix with the frother – or you can simply use a wooden craft stick (which you should also use to periodically mix the paint because the minerals will settle as you paint).

If you find that the paint got too frothy, you can let it sit for a while so the bubbles disperse or skim them off and discard them. But who has time to wait when you’re excited to get started? I skim the bubbles off as shown (2nd pic).

Clean the Milk Frother
Submerge the frother in a cup of water and turn it on to rinse away the paint (you can cover it with the coffee filter once again if you wish). Once clean, give it a shake and let it dry so it’s ready to use next time. I keep my milk frother exclusively for milk paint use.

Starting with the black milk paint first, you’re ready to brush it on.

Step 10: ​Apply Layers of Milk Paint

Once boards are dry, brush on a first layer of black. You will find that the treated wood resists the milk paint at first, but it will soak in if you come back and brush it into the grain.

I let the milk paint sit for at least 10 minutes to get absorbed into the wood. In the meantime, I clean my brush with water in between layers and dry it off with a paper towel. I then switch over to the Limestone colour milk paint that was also mixed with a 3:1 ratio of water to milk paint.

With the black paint still wet, brush on a layer of white. It immediately turns to a beautiful weathered grey with pops of the original tea/vinegar stain still showing through. It already has incredible depth, but to bring out more of the wood tone you can wipe it back in areas with a cotton rag.

Step 11: ​Faux Barn Board Colour Variations

Here’s another cool thing about using the pickling solution: I discovered that just by adjusting the ratio of the milk paint to water and limiting the areas where I applied it, I could change the colour of the final finish completely! In this instance I diluted the milk paint even more with water (roughly 4:1 water/paint), then I brushed on the black sporadically as shown below.

By the way, don’t forget that this first layer of of black paint will resist soaking into the wood . Give it a few minutes and then continue to brush what you already have on the surface to spread it around a bit more – but not too much or you’ll end up with a solid application like in the first example.

When you put on a diluted layer of white paint, you’ll end up with a board that looks like fumed oak because more of the pickling stain will show through. Take a look at the samples above and how closely it resembles the fumed oak floors in my craft studio.! Isn’t that incredible? Once the protective top coat goes on it will look even more like the floor!

In the 3rd pic, you can see the two faux barn board samples I created just by messing around. Isn’t it interesting how you can get two completely different looks, just by switching up the ratios of water-to-milk paint and applying it a bit differently?

Step 12: Close Up and ​Top Coat

Here’s a close-up of the weathered grey faux barn board shelf we’re using for this project. You can still see some of the colour from the pickling treatment peaking through. The wire brush did a great job of removing all the soft parts of the wood, while leaving the harder wood intact; that’s what forms the ridges. Isn’t it great when you can get dozens of years of natural wear in just a few minutes?

You might have noticed that the colour of the board deepened a bit between the pictures in the previous step and above. That’s because we added a protective finish over top. Be sure to use a satin finish formulated for outdoor use like Varathane Diamond Wood Finish, if it will be exposed to water (which ours will). It’s very low sheen, waterbased and dries crystal clear, which is important because you don’t want to distort the beauty of the faux finishing work, do you? The faux barn board shelves can stand up to water spills since they’re protected..

Step 13: ​Faux Barn Board Reveal (s)

Our faux barn board is now ready for its ‘shelfie’! We used the perfected version of our faux barn board as shelving in a retro phone booth enclosure! Although we staged the faux barn board shelves with a few nick nacks, it would make a great charging station for phones (the irony of it is pretty funny when you think of it!).

For you purists out there, I want to assure you that no damage was done to the original phone booth in the making of this shelving unit! My husband came up with a brilliant idea to support the barn board shelves without drilling into the phone booth using custom-made tension rods (you can see a peek of one under the first shelf in the 2nd pic). The instructions on how to do that, along with the planter version of the phone booth (last picture), can be found in this Instructables post.

For the planter version of the phone booth, we used our less successful experimental warped boards that I originally told you about at the beginning of this Instructable; waste no want not! We textured the boards in the same way, but we skipped the step where we added the tea and pickling solution (shown in step 6). Since we cut holes into the boards, you don't see very much of the faux barn board anyway so this is one instance where you can get away with just applying the milk paint to the bare wood.


Birdz of a Feather is excited to share that we've been nominated for an Amara Award in the Best Creative Blog category. Voting goes until September 11th, 2019.

Show us some ❤ by casting a vote! This year one of the blog award sponsors, Leica, will be giving away a SOFORT instant camera to one lucky voter, so it's a win-win! Your vote will help get us to the shortlist :)

Step 15: Don't Just 'Phone It In': Try Our Faux Barn Board (and Vote for Us)!

A little milk paint goes a long way and you can have fun experimenting with mixing different colours to achieve different looks. Be brave and go beyond what we showed you here! We got two great uses out creating faux barn board shelves for our retro phone booth find. I can't wait to see what uses for this faux barn board you can come up with. The possibilities are endless!

If you enjoyed this Instructable, please vote for us in the Faux-Real contest!

To learn more about milk paint techniques, check out our blog for our 'Partners in Grime' planter or our mini adirondack chair for valuable info on how to get milk paint to stick to anything! While you're at it, subscribe to get tutorials on DIY projects, in and around the home as they're hot off the press. You can also follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Faux-Real Contest

Participated in the
Faux-Real Contest