Advice finishing 100 year old barnwood

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    I recently acquired a decent amount of very old barnwood from a construction project I’ve been working (I’m the glazier, I got the wood from the carpenters). They say it’s slightly over 100 years old from a barn in Northern California.

    I’d like to make a small wall clock or wall cabinet or something. What is the best way to finish the outside to maintain the texture and weathering and old knot holes, nail holes and cracks but is long lasting.

    All advice is welcome. I have one shot at this and I don’t have experience with this kind of wood, and only minimal finishing experience in general. I’m leaning towards some kind of oil that will soak in. What do you all think?

    Thanks everyone,

    Matt McGrane

    Seems like the texture would make it tough to wipe on a finish. I don’t have spray equipment, but if you do that might be an option. I think with wood that old (and probably dry) oil would be a good finish. You’d just have to be careful to blot any crevices, nail holes, etc. where the oil might pool up.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016:


    Thanks @mattmcgrane. So far I’ve gotten linseed oil and “don’t put anything” on it as suggestions from the interwebs.

    I’ve decided to make a very small scotch cabinet. Big enough for one bottle and two glasses. I’m thinking I’ll have to, or would like to, plane the inside surfaces down to fresh wood (oak). This will give me a uniform reference face and give a sort of two tone look in contrast with the rough outside surface.

    If I only finished one side, do you think that would be detrimental? Maybe not having uniform expansion and contraction?

    David Perrott

    I’ve read Bob Flexner said just finishing one side makes no difference. Look at his material. It is better then what you will find from anonymous people online..including me!


    Thanks for the info @dperrott. There’s definitely some bad advice out there.

    Steve Beck

    kevinjames, I’m wondering what part of the barn was oak. So many old barns in No.Calif. were built with either redwood or douglas fur, somebody correct me if I’m wrong. Don’t put anything on it and ruin a 100 yrs. natural weathering, you can’t get that type of patina in a can.

    From No.Calif


    @keepsharp, I haven’t gone through all the pieces I have yet, but I did cut into, and plane a small piece that was just a few inches long to see what was inside. That piece and a few other small cut-offs, are almost certainly oak. I’m not too proud to say I may be wrong though, and I haven’t looked at all of it either. Maybe I’ll try and take a picture and attach it. Either way, I agree. I don’t want the outside of my carcass to look unchanged at all. It took a while to get that way (according to the carpenters). ?. I’d hate to lose it.


    I have a friend who also tore down an old 100+ year old barn in New Hampshire and brought every piece back to Florida. He own a trim company and a architectural wood work company and plans on making furniture and stair’s with the wood. He also will be giving me some scrape cutoff’s for my smaller projects. I have never worked with white oak and especially old wood and am very anxious to try it. He also found some chestnut up in Indiana.


    Steve Massie, I live in the great State of Florida, US


    So I made a French polissoir, and burnished organic beeswax onto my finished piece. Worked great! A mirror finish, but you can still see the weathered wood through it. I highly recommend trying this technique out. Good luck.


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