How I built a decorative barn door for under $200

First the disclaimer: I am not a carpenter. I am a self-taught computer engineer type with degrees in psychology. I simply like saving money whenever I can. This particular project so happen to have fetched bids as high as $2,500. Yeah right. I would rather bring the family to Disneyland for that sort of money. My goal is to document this as a layperson to inspire and motivate ;)

The living room of our new house has a recessed area above the fireplace that is about 2 feet deep. Other than housing a PC that drives our main TV (on the left out of view), that space is hard to reach, rendering it plain simple impractical…. and a big eye sore. We think it is for old tube TVs but this house was built when thin flat screen TVs are available. Go figure.

The previous owners of the house had a wooden decorative piece that was propped up against the recessed area, which gave us a lot of motivation to do something similar. With additional inspiration from early episodes of The Walking Dead, we knew a barn door would be great! We can keep little walkers in there. I got most of my design inspiration from good fashion image search.

First things first. Before measuring twice and cutting once, there are sketches, calculations and dimensions. The picture below shows one of my actual sketches. This helped me do the math on how many much lumber I need for the project. The plan was for the barn door to cover the recessed area about 2 inches on either side, definitely the top, and leave about half an inch of space at the bottom.

We followed a friend’s recommendation to use cedar. Other than they smell nice when cut, I don’t really know why cedar is a better choice than other types of wood. I tend to buy just a little more (lumber, bolts, nuts, etc.) since I almost always end up making a second trip back to Home Depot anyway. Just keep the receipts.

A recently-purchased electric circular saw was critical in getting things sliced up fast and clean. I picked up a poor man’s “mini” version (with a laser guiding ruler and adjustable angle) for around $120 at Home Depot. Its limitation is that it can only cut about 4 inches, which mean I have to flip the lumber around to complete the cut. I can live with that. Once everything was cut, I placed them on the floor just to make sure they lined up.

Next was the sanding. Not only does sanding smooth out the otherwise perfectly machine-sliced or splintering edges, it also gave the end product kind of a weathered look. (I am sure there is a better word for this). Check out the difference between the two when the edges are rounded by the sanding.

If you look carefully at the picture above, you will see imperfections and “bruises”. This was a great tip I learned from our friends, Amber and Anand. These markings, inflicted with hammer, screw drivers, etc., add to that natural weathered look. Just find something metallic and randomly rough up each piece.

Once the pieces were sanded and bruised, it was time to glue them. For glue, per my friends’ recommendation, I used Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue. I decided to splurge here and went for level III instead of II, raising the investment by a whopping $1.50. It comes in a huge tube or a smaller container very much like the common white art glue. I also picked up a bag of assorted clamps to hold the pieces in place for the glue to set overnight.

Day 2 was staining day. I got lucky here. Our pal Anand already has a concoction that he has prepared. He tells me that he dissolved a piece of steel wool in a jar full of vinegar. I can’t say much more about the preparation here, so his and my advice is Google or even better, Bing ‘steel wool vinegar stain’ or find a friend named Anand who knows how to do it.

Using a paint brush, I applied the stain on the door. Takes less than a minute to start seeing the initial effects of the staining. This is also when you will start to see the accent effects of the bruises.

Before the staining, I have also decided to put bolts through every other plank to give the entire door a little more sturdiness and a little style. Layperson’s tip: bolts and nut is different than screws and nails. The intent wasn’t to secure the two planks together by screwing in the bolt. The thread of the bolt is meant for the nut on the other end. So I drilled holes slightly larger than the bolts so I can use a nut and washer to secure it from the other side.

No more than an hour after staining, the door starts to go from a crate/pallet color to a bark-like colored brown, but that is not it’s final color.

When the stain dries, it takes on a darker, what I call a Pottery Barn or old ship color…

The picture above also debuts the hardware, which comes in a set of two J-shaped hangers with rollers and two attachable rails, spanning about 6 feet attached. Due to space constraints, I ended up using just one of the rails. A cursory search on Amazon or eBay will find you these kits easily but as a point of reference, I paid about $70 for mine.

Now most of the examples I found on web has the rails part of the kit mounted directly on the wall, most likely to studs…

… but one idea has the rails mounted to a separate additional piece of wood, which then goes on the wall. In my opinion, not only was it more aesthetic, it gave me more flexibility in securing the whole thing. I was sold. The last thing I want is a phone call from the wife from the emergency room telling me about some barn door landing on the kids.

I would estimate that the door weighing about 20–30 pounds. Learning from a great Henry Petroski engineering book, I prepared the rail portion to hold 3 to 5 times what I need it to hold. With all the bolt and nuts tighten, it was time to hang the completed door on the rail.

Here’s the finished product. Note that it was intended to be primarily decorative, so the door just needs to slide a few inches for us to gain access on either side.

There are a few more touch-ups for sure.

The 8 rounded bolts are giving off too much of a contrast, so they will need to be painted. We also noticed that one of the planks is loose, so the plan is secure all the planks from behind with wooden screws. Finally, suggestion from one of my general managers at work — come up with a story for the kids about what lurks behind the old barn door.

Hope this has been useful for some of you who are considering similar projects!

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