Reclaimed Wood Headboard (or Sarah’s first time building something from scratch = great success!)

headboard close up

ikea bedI’ve been scouring the interwebs for some time now in search of the perfect headboard. I had high hopes for finding something cheap (or free) on Craigslist, but unless you want the homogenous, utilitarian Malm series from Ikea, you’re pretty much out of luck.

I also had the added difficultly of a weirdly-sized wall to contend with. The way my bedroom is laid out, there are very few options for logical furniture placement and there’s really only one place to put my bed – between the only two windows in the room.

Most standard, queen size headboards start at 65 inches wide and only get larger from there. The trouble is, the stretch of wall between my windows where my bed is placed is only 60 ½ inches wide, meaning any store-bought headboard is going to jut out on either side in front of my windows. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but I’m a huge fan of symmetry and I wanted my headboard to line up with the wall.

I thought about solving the problem by simply purchasing a full size headboard, but that came with other difficulties. Namely, a full size headboard wouldn’t be wide enough at the bottom to attach to my queen size bed frame. Also, due to lack of sufficient storage space in my NYC apartment, my bed is raised an additional six inches, meaning I would need an extra tall headboard as well.

That’s a lot of specifications for someone who didn’t want to spend any money on this thing in the first place. So naturally, I decided to build it myself.

I found several helpful DIY websites (mostly this one) with straightforward instructions that seemed easy enough to follow. But the majority of my inspiration came from other blogs. I borrowed ideas from here, here and also here.

At first, I planned to recreate this design:

Headboard with frame

Then I decided that since this was my first-ever attempt at building anything, and since I didn’t want to spend the money for extra lumber on a headboard that might only look good in the very specific space for which it was created, I thought a simpler design was best.

I think it turned out pretty great.


Here’s how I did it:

Get thee to Lowe’s!

I found a great guy at Lowe’s. His name is Dan-the-Man and he’s awesome. He’s helped me with several successful projects. He is exceptionally patient (especially considering my lack of any knowledge or skill), he doesn’t ever patronize me (or try to sell me expensive crap that I don’t need) and he finds my boundless enthusiasm charming. So much for Home Depot Paul!

Buy this stuff: (sizes are specific to my weird walls and desired height)

IMG_3934[I know I called it a ‘reclaimed’ wood headboard and even though I technically bought the lumber it’s still kind of true. I went to Lowe’s, paid them money and claimed (quite rightly) that the wood was mine. Hence, it was reclaimed from the clutches of the Lowe’s warehouse. Irrefutable logic. Boom.]

2 – 1” x 3” x 6’ boards cut to 55 inches (these will be leg pieces)

2 – 1” x 2” x 6’ boards cut to 60 ½ inches

2 – 1” x 4” x 6’ boards cut to 60 ½ inches

4 – 1” x 6” x 6’ boards cut to 60 ½ inches

1 ½” wood screws

Minwax stain in Dark Walnut

[All the boards I bought were white pine (i.e. the cheapest boards available) and contrary to popular wisdom, I chose the knottiest, ugliest, warpiest boards they had.]

Enlist help! (Or it’s going to take all day.)


[He’s not really mental, I swear. He’s just a ham.]

Step 1: Beat the shit out of your wood. (I didn’t mean for that to sound so dirty.)


[Weapons of moderate destruction.]

This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had. Ever. Hitting things with hammers! Gouging things with screw drivers! Whipping things with chains! I got to take out all of my anger and frustration at the world on those poor, innocent boards. Whatever your preferred mode of destruction, crank up the tunes (I like to rock out to a 70s station) and get whackin’! (Man, I can’t seem to help myself.)

My favorite method was beating each board to death with a bag of screws, nails and various other metal bits.


[After the first whack, the bag ripped and screws went spilling out all over my parent’s driveway.]


[The situation was quickly remedied by transferring the remaining contents of the bag to an old pillowcase…which also ripped. I suggest double-bagging it. (I seriously have to stop.)]


[We may have gone a little overboard with the distressing techniques.]

Speaking of…


[Then I lit things on fire…just a little bit.]

Dad: Please don’t burn down the house.

Me: Relax, I know what I’m doing.


Which is to say, not a whole lot. I guess you can’t burn a wooden board with just a lighter when you’re outside on a windy day. What you really need is a blow torch, but since I didn’t have one at hand and I didn’t feel like going all the way back to Lowe’s (can you even get a blow torch at Lowe’s?), I gave up. Live and learn.

Step 2: Sand. A lot. 

I’d suggest going over each board for at least the length of time it takes to listen to Stairway to Heaven. (The short, eight-minute version, not the crazy twenty-minute original version.)

I used a rough, 60-grit sandpaper (since I was going for a rustic look) and I didn’t bother giving it once-over with a finer grit as many websites recommend – mostly because Stairway to Heaven ended, but also because I didn’t feel like it.

Step 3: Wood Conditioner

With a dry, lint-free cloth, rub a small amount of wood conditioner into each board. It really brings out the richness of the wood. It may lighten your stain a bit though, so you may have to add an extra coat when the time comes.

Let dry for two Lynard Skynard ‘Freebirds.’

Step 4: Union Break!

Dad was a long-time union member and he threatened to call his union rep if I didn’t give him a fifteen-minute coffee break. Though to tell the truth, it was hot as the seventh ring of hell that day and I was happy to take an iced green tea break myself.


[I don’t drink coffee, but this stuff is like crack to me.]

Step 5: Stain


I don’t care what professional websites say, I will never stain using a brush ever again. I just used an old rag and gently massaged a very small amount of stain into the wood. Dad sacrificed a couple of old t-shirts to the cause. No brush strokes to worry about, no pools of stain that need to be wiped away, no clean-up – it was great. Simple, cheap and the stain went on very evenly.


[Kindly note my vintage Connecticut Opera hat. It looks extra vintagey when it’s all covered with sawdust.]


[Supervising. Can’t take my eye off this one for a minute.]


[My beautiful, freshly stained boards.]

I didn’t want to leave them outside all night because the weather forecast called for rain, but I did leave them out to dry for the time it would take to listen to all of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Step 6: Construction

Because I live in a tiny apartment with no access to outdoor space, I started this project at my parent’s house in MA. And because I drive a small Toyota, there was no way a fully constructed headboard was going to fit in my car. So I lined up all of my mostly dry boards in my parent’s driveway, laid them out the way I wanted them and numbered each board so I could easily re-assemble them when I got back to my place.


Then I disassembled my headboard, moved the boards into my parent’s basement and left them there to dry overnight…or long enough to attend three back-to-back Allman Brothers concerts.

Cut to the next day. After driving back to NY, unloading my car, finding a parking spot and clearing every possible inch of floor space in my sardine can of a living room, I laid out my boards by number and started wood-gluing them together.


At first I applied the glue directly to each board, but I found that I couldn’t control the flow of glue as well as I would’ve liked, so eventually I switched to a brush-on application. This worked much better.

There is one other point I should mention about wood glue: I suggest wiping any excess glue off of the board BEFORE it dries, using a damp cloth. This is one point where Dan-the-Man from Lowe’s and I disagree. He suggests waiting until the glue dries completely then chipping it off. The chip method didn’t work out for me, so I’m glad I switched to the damp cloth method halfway through.

Let the newly-glued boards sit for at least two episodes of Firefly. (I know, I switched mediums on you, but what can you do?) Then line up your leg pieces using one of those make-sure-your-shit-is-straight-bubble-dealies and attach them with 1 ½ inch wood screws.

You’re gonna want to rub the screws into a bar of soap first so they go in easier.



I used Christmas snow-globe soap that smells like sun-ripened raspberries, but I expect regular soap would work just as well.

I made sure to screw the leg pieces into each of the boards, rather than space the screws out evenly. I used two in the six-inch boards. I forgot to take a picture of this part because, as I mentioned, I was watching Firefly and Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin are super hot so I got distracted.

Then I carried it into my room and stuck it behind my bed. I didn’t attach it to my bedframe at all. I figure the weight of my bed would easily hold it in place and so far, I’ve been right.

Here’s how it looks with my bed all made up…

finished headboard

Well, what do you think? Not too shabby for a girl wh has never wielded a hammer to do anything apart from hanging a picture, huh?.

Tune in next week for my first-ever Ikea hack! I’m refinishing two nightstands and staining them to match the headboard. It’s gonna be awesome.



7 thoughts on “Reclaimed Wood Headboard (or Sarah’s first time building something from scratch = great success!)

  1. My reply is too long for facebook…As I read this, I felt like I was at a Baptist church service because I kept wanting to yell “YES! AMEN!”
    1. MALM. Why can’t IKEA have things that are functional, cheap, AND pretty?
    2. Home Improvement stores. Going to a place like Lowe’s or Home Depot as a girl with a project in mind but no knowledge of how to complete said project is pretty much a guarantee to receive EXCELLENT customer service. “Um, excuse me, I need Augustus Gloop to fall into a chocolate river, and I want to make it out of a large trash bin but it needs to roll on and off stage and he needs to be able to escape from a hole in the bottom. Can you help me?” “Why, yes, I think we have just the thing…”
    3. LOVE the pictures of your dad. ADORABLE.
    4. ICED GREEN TEA. It’s a beautiful thing.
    5. LIGHTERS. Of course you would not stop at power tools and hardware. You also had to try and burn stuff.
    6. I like your alternate name for a LEVEL.
    7. I like your alternative timekeeping system.
    8. Your sun-ripened raspberry screws made me think of when you get a recipe card at the grocery store and it calls for “1 Shoprite egg.” If you make a recipe card for this, I think it MUST call for sun-ripened raspberry soap in the form of a snow globe.

    Keep ’em coming…

  2. I am SO GLAD you took the time to photo and detail the step by step. It is a blast to read your posts! The measurements are specific, the final project impressive, the snow globe soap enviable, and the green tea – green. Also – your Dad is a riot!

  3. The headboard came out great Sarah! I was also surprised that wood doesn’t light on fire easily with a lighter. Apparently the magic trick is alcohol (isn’t it always?). If you dump cheap vodka/whiskey on the wood, it’ll light on fire and give you the burned wood look. The more you know :o) Hope to catch you on your way through CT sometime!

  4. Pingback: Shabby Chic Dressers with a Steampunk Twist | Frivolity On The Edge

  5. Thank you so much! After spending so much time looking for an all wood headboard I found your site and decided to just make one. Love it!

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