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

DIY Headboard


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

If you missed Part I of this DIY adventure, you can check it out here.  Catch up quick and come on back so we can finish up this headboard!


When we left off last, Justin and I had just finished distressing and sanding down our boards.  After we were done sanding, we carefully wiped down each plank with a dry cloth to remove the sawdust.  We then reassembled the planks in their proper order on top of a layer of newspaper for staining.

The first coat of stain I applied was Minwax’s water based wood stain in American Walnut.  I’d never stained anything before (beside small projects at summer camp when I was 9), so as a beginning stainer, let me tell you what I learned:

Don’t wear clothes you care about.  Staining is not like painting.  It’s messy.  No matter how neat you are, you will still make a mess.

Wear gloves to protect your hands.  Stain is called stain for a reason and it is incredibly difficult to get off your skin and out from under your nails.

Use an old rag or t-shirt to apply the stain.  Using a soft dry cloth to apply the stain will help evenly distribute the color and the fabric will soak up any excess stain that doesn’t seep into the wood.  You want to make sure to use something you don’t care about because it will end up in the garbage at the end of your project.  When the stain dries it will harden the rag, making the only appropriate place for it the trash can.

Usually when you stain something, you lay the stain on thick and allow the wood to soak up as much as it wants (or so I’m told).  After waiting a few minutes, you re-wipe the wood to remove any excess stain.  This is how I applied the American Walnut stain to the first few boards, but I was not impressed by the color.  It looked dull to me, and boring.  And no one likes that.

My solution: I distributed the stain unevenly to give the boards more of a distressed look.  On some boards I continued to lay the stain on thick, but immediately wiped certain parts off to give them a lighter, more worn look.  On other boards I only dipped my rag into the stain once or twice to cover the entire plank (on a normal plank I probably dipped the rag into the stain four or five times).  This means I didn’t have enough stain to cover the board and was really scrubbing the color off the rag and onto the planks.  Some places ended up with enough stain on them while others looked bare.  This technique made the boards look much more distressed, and after the first coat left them looking like this:

While I liked the technique, I didn’t like the color and neither did Justin.  So we took a second trip back to Home Depot to see if we could switch it out.  Unfortunately, neither one of us had noticed the giant sticker on top of the can of stain where it was clearly marked “NON-RETURNABLE.”  Well, fine.

Luckily, our good friend Cricket in the paint department was willing to work with us to find a new color we loved.  {Side note: If you know all the people at Home Depot by name, and vice versa, you probably go there too often.}  Cricket suggested layering the American Walnut color we already had with another Minwax stain in a glossier finish.  And bless her heart, she opened can after can of stain and rubbed layer after layer onto spare wooden paint sticks until we finally found a color combination we were happy with.  In the end, we purchased a second can of Minwax’s wood finish in Red Mahogany.

Back in the workshop (a.k.a. the garage) I applied a second layer of stain in Red Mahogany using fresh rags.  Because this stain was a richer color and a bit glossier than the first stain, I applied it more liberally to boost the color of our boards.  I laid the stain on thick, but still doubled back to wipe down portions of the planks to give them a more worn-out look.  Here’s how the boards looked after coat #2:

We considered a third coat, but I thought this color was perfect and didn’t want to risk turning the boards too red, so we left it as is.  The second coat of stain took much longer to dry than the first coat.  I kept thinking the boards were dry only to pick one up and re-stain my hands all over again.


After a few days of airing out in our garage the stain was completely dry.  We carefully transferred the planks onto an old sheet, laying them facedown.  We used the sheet as a precaution so as not to scratch our newly stained boards.  Which is incredibly ironic since we had just spent days beating them and sanding them and trying to make them look distressed.  Tip:  At this point, you want to make sure your boards are positioned as close as they can possibly be together and that the edges of all the planks are lined up.  Pull your sheet tight with each plank you place down so wrinkles don’t cause the sheet to get caught up in the boards and pry open spaces between them.  {Mis-craft alert: We tried to do this, but failed, which meant we had to go back later and fix gaps between the boards.  Which was not fun.  At all.}

DIY Headboard

Once the planks were tightly in place, we lined up two 2x4x10s perpendicular across the back of the boards.  We positioned the posts so they were about 3-4” from the top of the headboard and about 5-6” in on each side.  We wanted the posts to be set away from the edges so they were not visible from the sides or the top of the headboard.  Thankfully, at this point, we were smart enough to go back into our guest bedroom and re-measure the height we wanted the headboard to sit at.  Which ended up being a good thing because our initial measurements were a bit off.  We decided that the top of the headboard should hit at 4’10”—about 1’6” from the top of the tallest [euro] pillows that sit atop our guest bed.  I wanted to make sure the headboard was tall enough that you could still see the beauty of the planks and all our hard work, but not so tall that it looked silly.

Back in the garage, we marked where the top of the posts should hit on the headboard and then measured 4’10” from the top of the headboard to where the bottom of the posts needed to be cut.  A couple cuts from the miter saw later and we were in business.

Justin stepped in with the power drill and a box of Grip Rite Fasteners Fine Thread Drywall Screws {size 2-1/2”}.  He first attached the two posts to the back of the planks, and then used the excess wood we had just cut off the 2x4x10s to create additional support beams.  We had a third 2x4x10 on stand-by, which I think we did end up using part of.

Once everything was attached, we stood the headboard up for a final look.  This is when we noticed that the sheet had gotten caught in between some of the boards, causing us to attach them to the posts crookedly and leaving a gap.  So we un-drilled and we pushed and shoved and repositioned the boards and we re-drilled until we finally got it right.

I had originally planned on staining the posts to match the rest of the planks, but it turns out that due to my excellent measuring, Justin’s excellent post-positioning, and perhaps a bit of luck, once we put the headboard in place the posts weren’t visible at all.  Here’s what it looked like when we first put it in our guest room, along with my plans for making it feel a bit more homey:

DIY Headboard

I managed the curtains and $2 Wall Sconce Re-do, but the wall art is still a work in progress.

Does anyone else love this thing as much as I do?  Because I can’t stop going into our guest room and staring at it.  I just can’t decide what I love most about it:  (1) the fact that it cost under $100 with all the materials, (2) its beautiful well-sanded distress marks that I made, (3) its rich mahogany color, or (4) all the fun we had making it.



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

  1. First time stopping by your blog! Love how the headboard turned out! Don’t you love building your own furniture? It’s one of my favorite hobbies too! Have you discovered Ana White’s blog yet? That’s where I get most of my inspirational and plans from 🙂 Awesome job on the headboard – it looks fantastic!

    • Erin, thanks for stopping by! This was my first attempt at building my own furniture. My husband has made a few wonderful pieces on his own, but I decided it was finally time to learn to DIH (do-it-herself). It was fun AND rewarding. I have heard of Ana White…trying to restrain myself over here each time I look at her creations. Thanks for reading!

      • DIH is genius! You know, every time I stop by Lowe’s and look at a new tool or anywhere in the wood section, people always stop by and ask if I need help or if I’m buying something for my husband! I always give them a funny look and say as nicely as possible that these tools are for me 🙂 It’s hard to peruse Ana’s blog and NOT get inspired and want to just build everything. I told my husband that at the rate I’m going, we’ll need a mansion by the time we retire just to put all the furniture I plan on building in it 🙂

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