DIY Rustic Headboard & How to Distress Your Own Wood {Part I}


pine boards (three 2x10x10s and three 2x4x10s for a full-sized headboard)  |  measuring tape  |  pencil or marker  |  miter saw  |  heavy metal objects for distressing  |  sandpaper (40, 80 and 120 grit)  |  power sander  |  protective eyewear  |  wood stain  |  gloves  |  old rags  |  screws  |  drill

As I mentioned in my Be Our Guest post, Justin and I were in search of a headboard for our guest room when we had the inspired idea that we could make one ourselves.  After an unsuccessful search for reclaimed barn wood, we eventually gave up the hunt and decided we could distress our own wood.


We started with a trip to Home Depot for some fresh wood.  We looked over all the different types of lumber and eventually decided on pine boards for their thick, sturdy reputation and ability to soak up stain.  We had pre-measured the size of the bed in our guest room {a full sized bed} and made this rough sketch of what we wanted to build.

Disclaimer: The measurements on the drawing do not reflect the actual size of the headboard we built.

We needed the size of the headboard to be about 55” across and 60” tall.  We calculated that we could make do with 6 boards that were each at least 55” across and 10” wide (6 boards x 10” = 60”).

X” = inches  |  X’ = feet

I quickly learned that the best bet for this was a 2x10x10.  This means 2” thick by 10” wide by 10’ long.  So a typical 2×4 is actually a 2x4x10 = 2” thick by 4” wide by 10’ long.  {Huh!}  Since the boards were 10’ long (= 120”), we only needed to buy 3 of them (120”/2 = 60”).  At home we could cut each board in half to the 55” across we needed (with a couple of inches leftover).  When choosing our boards, we carefully inspected each one and chose the three with the most knots and striations swirling through them.


Back at home, we measured the 10’ boards and cut them in half using a miter saw, so each half was exactly 5’.  Then we played around with the boards, arranging them on the floor of our garage to see which side was prettier (i.e. had more knots and striations) and what order we liked them in.

We wanted the boards to look rustic and pieced together like barn planks so we decided to cut them down even further into smaller pieces.  I inspected the boards again to decide where to make the cut lines.  I wanted to make sure we cut around the knots, not into them, and that the cut lines were balanced, but not all in the same place.

At this point, the boards were 60” long and we only needed them to be 55” so we needed to take 5” off all the boards.  If the wood was plain, we just cut 5” off one of the ends.  But if there was a really good knot or pattern that we didn’t want to lose, then we took the 5” out of a less exciting part of the wood somewhere in the middle of the plank.  All cuts were made using a miter saw.


Then came the fun part–distressing the wood.  We started with a hammer and a piece of metal piping that was lying around our garage and one-by-one we took our aggression out on the boards.  The more we hammered and hit and punched and scraped, the more creative we got.  I used not only the head, but the side and the back of the hammer to hit and scratch at the wood.  If you’re trying this at home, you can use whatever heavy objects you happen to have lying around.

Warning: you don’t want to distress the wood too much.  Only to the point where it has unique markings in it.  Don’t get too angry and start tearing it apart.  You still have to build something out of it.  I got really excited with the first piece of wood I was working on, which then had to be relocated to the bottom of the headboard where it was least likely to be seen.  Whoops.


After you’re done getting your aggression out, or having a giant dance party with metal objects like we did (it was late, we had techno music on, don’t judge), it’s time for some power sanding.  Until this project, I didn’t know a thing about power sanding so don’t worry if you don’t either.  It’s easy and it’s fun.  Check out my post about our Wall Sconce Re-do where I shared my newfound sandpaper knowledge:

…sandpaper comes in different “grits,” which delineate the coarseness or fineness of the paper.  The lower the grit number, the more coarse the sandpaper, and the higher the grit number, the more fine the sandpaper.  You usually want to start out sanding with a coarser, lower grit sandpaper and work your way up to a finer, higher grit sandpaper for a smooth, finished look.

Accordingly, Justin and I started by sanding the wood with a power sander using 40-grit sandpaper.  We used the power sander not just to smooth out the front of the planks and their edges, but also to further distress the wood.  Tilting the power sander on an angle will give you circular marks on the wood, which look similar to saw lines.  Tilting the power sander on an angle and putting pressure on it will cause the machine to sand divets into your wood.  I think this looks awesome on the edges of the wood.  You can also use this technique to carve out valleys in the surface of the wood.

Warning: make sure to wear protective eyewear while power sanding.  Even if you have a machine that collects sawdust as you go, there are still bits and pieces of wood particles flying about in the air.  While you’re at it, you probably want to cover your nose and mouth with something too, or you’ll be tasting sawdust for the next week.  Ick.  We couldn’t figure out where we packed our protective eyewear during the move, so we resorted to sunglasses and bandanas.  Not the best look, but it did the trick.

After the 40-grit sandpaper, we followed up with an 80-grit and then a 120-grit to make sure the boards were finely sanded and had a smooth finish.  While we wanted the overall look to be rustic, we didn’t want to injure any of our guests or give them splinters in their sleep.

We also used 60-grit sandpaper attached to a sanding block to even out some of the edges on the planks, but this isn’t really necessary if you have a power sander.  Since Justin and I were working on this project together though and there was only one power sander and two of us, we switched back and forth between the machine and hand sanding in order to get the job done faster.  On plank #1 it was fun.  On plank #10, not so much.  Here’s what the planks looked like after we were done:

Check back soon for Part II of this DIY adventure to learn about how I further distressed the wood using staining techniques and how we assembled all the pieces together!



6 thoughts on “DIY Rustic Headboard & How to Distress Your Own Wood {Part I}

  1. I probably should have mentioned not to worry if you want to try this fun project, but don’t have the necessary power tools. Whatever you don’t have, you can rent from your local hardware store or Home Depot 🙂 Problem solved!

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