Asked on Sep 30, 2012

safety of using old barn wood

Emily C
by Emily C
I recently acquired a heap of old barn wood (mostly interior beams) that I'd like to use to make a table top and shelves in my home. My question is, what's a good way to seal the wood for safe use? There is no paint on it. Anything I should know before I start my projects?
  7 answers
  • Emily, the very methods of staining and finishing the wood will be enough to accomplish the concern you have for safety. For tops you need to have a smooth surface in which to be able to clean. So sanding that smooth, and using a good quality wood sealer and stain, or mineral oil if you want to use as a cutting board, you will be fine. Just remember the better quality of finish you use will determine how well not only will it end up looking, but for how long it will remain that way.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 01, 2012
    This also depends on what "look" you are after. When old wood is planed and sanded completely it looks a lot like like new wood. The weathering and patina have been removed. If you want to preserve some of that old look then the trick is to not sand too much. If the boards have dings and gouges in them some surface sanding will clean things up but still give you some character. all wood finish sold today is "food safe" when fully cured. My two favorite finishes are Minwax Wiping poly in satin and deft spray lacquer. I tend to use the lacquer on more odd ball shaped and rough surfaces. Keep in mind that while rough surfaces have lots of unique charm they are harder to clean.
  • Emily C Emily C on Oct 01, 2012
    thanks folks! KMS - I'd like to leave some of that roughness intact, like you said, but it is a table, so I will want to clean it regularly, so I'm wondering - is the lacquer thick? Meaning does it fill in some of that roughness so you can still see it but it's smoother?
  • Emily, I have spent a lot of time in barns with all of the animals and I can understand your concerns. I am very aware of the environment, where it has been, what it has been exposed to and, depending upon the age, there may even be some lead paint issues. These are some of the concerns that I have even with some of the raw pallet wood that is so popular now. Think about how we even have safety issues about caring for wood cutting boards. I would recommend that you first pressure wash it as best you can to remove as much of the old dirt and debris that has saturated it over the years. Then, spray it down with bleach. Let it dry thoroughly and use multiple coats of a good food safe sealer that will stand up to daily scrubbing.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 02, 2012
    Advantages of the deft is it dries really fast...about 20 min and I can recoat. It goes on supper thin. If working with gloss, it may take 5 or 6 coats to get the gloss. If you use either of these, I would not be too worried about what was possibly there in the beginning. The finish will basically entomb any contaminates...and your most likely not licking the table any way...
  • Warren G. Warren G. on Oct 02, 2012
    Emily- You got some very good safety warnings about finishes from the people above. BUT no one mentioned the one thing you have to watch out for in old barn wood. And that is hidden nails. Make sure that after you have cleaned your boards you go over them with a stud finder or some kind of metal detector ( a kids metal detector for finding berried treasurer will work ). You can cause some serious injury's if your power saw hits a hidden nail that is broken off inside a board that has been reclaimed from a old barn. Be careful, be safe and have fun with your project.
  • Paul Paul on Oct 06, 2016
    You could make your own barn wood with Pioneer Wood Patina. It is safe, non toxic and has no odor.