Build a Rustic Wooden Headboard

Build a Rustic Wooden Headboard

Lisa has many fond memories of her childhood and spending time with family. The oldest of two children, she spent much of her younger years outdoors with her brother, mom, dad and grandparents. She especially recalls the good old days of being with her grandfather in his woodworking shop. “He was always doing projects,” she says, “he’s made wooden-framed mirrors, bookshelves, birdhouses and Muskoka chairs. So when I would visit him in the summer, we would be in the workshop.”

Lisa says her grandfather would often have her help out when he was building. She recalls, “he would have me painting or staining things to start off. Then I moved onto the sander and I would sand pieces that he would need and then I graduated to using a jigsaw and he would teach me how to cut pieces out that were pretty meticulous. He was always there to make sure I was safe. That’s how I got comfortable with power tools.”

As she grew older, Lisa gained more experience using power tools because her mom was just as handy. “She was always doing stuff on her own so she always had my brother and I involved in those projects,” she says.

“It’s something that’s carried on throughout my life and now that I’m on my own and I want to have nice things on a budget, I find I have a sense of pride when I make my own things instead of buying them from a store.”

Getting Started

With a passion for DIY projects and the confidence to get started, she decided to try her hand at a homemade headboard for her bed. “I was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest: it was a pallet headboard. I wanted mine to look rustic like that without actually using pallets. I didn’t know where I was going to find pallets that were in the condition I wanted them to be in since it would be attached to my bed.” So she did more research online and decided on rough-milled pine instead. She says, “it’s inexpensive, easy to find and you can distress it to make it your own. You can pick the pieces of wood that you want, unlike a pallet where you might only find one or two pieces you like from it.”

Side view of Lisa's headboard
Side view of Lisa’s headboard


To get started, Lisa headed off to Home Depot where she picked up six 6′ long boards of 1″ x 6″ rough-milled pine. She recommends being very selective about the pieces of wood you choose for this project and to avoid pieces with splits in them because they may split further. She chose pieces that had a bit of character to them so that when she stained them, they would really pop. Lisa also recommends finding boards that are straight and not warped as they are easier to assemble and have less gaps between them.

Techniques for Distressing the Wood

To distress the boards, Lisa used a few different items she found around the house. “I used an old closet rod with a sharp edge to make marks that looked like elongated insect holes in the wood. For the tiny pin holes, I took a piece of scrap wood, drilled 6-7 screws through it and whacked the wood to make it look like small termite holes.” After distressing the wood by hand, she moved onto some power tools she borrowed from her dad. “I used a 4.5″ angle grinder with a sanding disk to grind off all of the square edges of the boards,” she says, “this makes them look more worn. I also added some notches and scratches so it looked like mill marks. The more beat up it looks, the better.” Next came the sanding, so Lisa used a power sander to do the job. She recommends to sand the wood just enough to take off the splinters on the edges and tops of the boards. Then, she cleaned off the boards with a broom to remove the dust. Now she was ready to stain.

Closeup of the distressing techniques used on the headboard
Closeup of the distressing techniques used on the headboard

Staining & Sealing

Staining, she says, is very easy to do. “You can pick whatever colour you want. When I first wanted to do this I wanted a distressed painted look… I saw a video on YouTube that explained how to do it. But once I stained the wood I realized I liked that look way too much to cover it with paint! I liked seeing how the scarring was brought out. In some spots the stain really penetrated and in other areas it barely went in at all.” For this project, Lisa used a Dark Walnut stain colour by Minwax. She likes this colour because it’s not too dark and not too light and brings out the wood grain really nicely. To apply the stain she dipped a roller brush into the stain can then rolled it over the wood. She then used pieces of an old bedsheet to wipe off all the excess stain. She advises using old sheets or pillowcases as rags because they don’t lose a lot of fibres. After leaving the stain dry for 24 hours, Lisa went over the boards again with a very fine sandpaper and lightly sanded all the edges to remove any excess stain. Once the boards were wiped clean, she then applied a clear coat. Lisa used a matte finish clear coat and only used one application. She says to do all the staining and clear coat in a dry, well-ventilated area.

Assembling the Headboard

After 24-48 hours of drying, her boards were ready to be assembled into a headboard. She describes, “I arranged the boards in the order that I wanted them to show. So the ones with the most character I wanted higher up at the top so I would see them over my pillows. The more lacklustre boards would go near the bottom to be used as filler. I numbered the boards at the back in order from top to bottom, then flipped them over so I could attach the legs.” Lisa says that the legs don’t need to be stained, but you could if you want to, especially if you have gaps in your wood that would show the legs in behind. She says that some people may want to attach their headboards to their bed frames. If so, she advises using thicker wood (minimum 2″ thick) and very accurate measurements to ensure the legs line up perfectly with the bed frame. She chose to make her headboard freestanding. This means that the weight of her bed holds the headboard against the wall. For the legs, she used milled pine to ensure they were smooth and straight. “Since these are touching my wall, I glued large felt pads at the top and bottom of the legs so they wouldn’t scratch the paint on the wall. I used two screws on each of the boards to fasten them to the legs.” Lisa also used three pieces of thin strapping on the back of the boards to provide more support.

Front of the headboard showing how it is freestanding against the wall
Front of the headboard showing how it is freestanding against the wall
Back of the headboard showing the legs, strapping and wiring
Back of the headboard showing the legs, strapping and wiring


After the headboard was assembled, Lisa wanted to add one final touch: lighting. With a bit of research, some help from her brother and advice from a local hardware store, she bought her supplies: two wall sconces, two Edison bulbs, two 4″ wide by 1″ deep electrical boxes, a 12′ lamp cord, a small switch and a wire. She first drilled two holes for the electrical boxes using a 4″ hole saw. Then, she installed the electrical boxes by screwing them to a small strip of wood on the back which fastened them to the boards. She wired the two lights together into one circuit and then installed a small switch so she could turn the lamps on and off without unplugging them. Finally, she connected the lights to the plug using the 12′ cord. For this step Lisa recommends consulting an electrician or having a friend/family member who is familiar with electrical work to help ensure the wiring is correct.

Lisa: “It’s a pretty high price to pay if you make a mistake with electrical… I didn’t do it alone. That was the part that was completely new to me and if something’s going to go wrong, that’s the part that would go wrong. Double-check everything.”

She exclaims how thrilled she was in these final moments of her project: “The moment of truth was plugging it in and flipping the switch and when both bulbs turned on I was super excited and pumped. I was like ‘Ok it’s ready, let’s move the bed!”

Lisa in front of her rustic DIY wooden headboard
Lisa in front of her rustic DIY wooden headboard

As far as finding the time to complete this project, Lisa says that even though she was busy with work she still found time to chip away at it in between shifts. She says, “the whole project could have taken me a weekend to do… I was working a lot of overtime at the time and it was something I thought I would just try out.

What’s the worst that could happen? If I don’t like it, it becomes firewood and I never do it again!”


Lisa says that in the end, the headboard cost less than $200 to complete. “It’s a really easy beginner project for anyone to do. The most expensive part were the wall sconces which were about $40 each but you can go as expensive or inexpensive as you want for those. The Edison bulbs were about $9 each – they’re specialty bulbs but you buy them for the aesthetic look. The wiring was about $10 for the switch and the cord, the wood was about $6 a board and the stain and clear coat were about $14 a can.”

Tools used to build a rustic DIY headboard: sander, gloves, stain, rollers, hole saw, goggles
Tools used to build a rustic DIY headboard

Lisa’s Advice

For someone who may be interested in pursuing this goal, Lisa adds, “I did a lot of research using Google Images to see what designs were out there and to see what kind of look I wanted. I knew I wanted an old-industrial look for the lights and for the whole headboard there was one image I really liked on Pinterest. I found one website where a lady had done something like this and she recommended a certain type and size of wood. You don’t want wood that will be too heavy because it would be hard to anchor. 1″ pine is perfect, it’s nice and light.” She also says that by looking around at different designs online, she was able to price it out and better plan how she wanted to build it.

Accomplishing Her Goal

Lisa explains, “I’m very proud of this project. When I posted the photos to Facebook after I finished, I’m pretty sure that all but maybe 10 of my friends liked or commented on it! Anyone who I’ve shown has said ‘wow that’s amazing’ or ‘I can’t believe you made that’, or ‘when are you going to make mine?’ or ‘I’ll buy you the wood next week’. I have people constantly saying they want to put in orders. In the end, it’s really nice to own something you’ve put your own time and energy into.

It’s not generic, it’s not something I bought in a store or that thousands of other people have. This is something that’s specific to me and my tastes and what I wanted. It has the traits and characteristics that I saw just from pulling a bunch of boards out a pile.”

She added, “I was sick of the bed frame I had and it was time for a change. I figured why go out and buy something? I think I saved a couple hundred bucks doing it myself. But make sure you look at different plans, make sure you read what’s involved and if it’s something you think is way over your head, ask a friend for help. The best thing is to start small. Break the project into smaller steps and you might realize it’s easier than you think. Take your time. For me there was no deadline and I did it in between shifts. A little bit here and there and finally I had it completed.”

In the end, Lisa says that she is still amazed by how it all turned out. “It’s surprising to think that it went from looking at a Pinterest picture and then tweaking and learning as I went, to using past knowledge I learned from my grandfather, my mom and my dad. It’s pretty neat.”

Closeup of the Edison bulb Lisa used to light up her headboard
Closeup of the Edison bulb Lisa used to light up her headboard

What’s Next for Lisa?

For her next project, Lisa is now working on a new piece of furniture: “I decided that I am going to make my own dining room table; but not just any dining room table, it will be a distressed antique-style farmhouse table. I’ve already purchased the wood for the tabletop and have started that. The table is going to be just under 6′ in length and about 37″ wide. Eventually I’m also going to be making benches for it. On the ends, I’ll be buying some fabric-covered chairs because I kind of like the whole ‘rustic-chic’ look.” Lisa is using the experience she gained from building her headboard to help.

Get in Touch

If you are interested in pursuing this goal or have questions, comments or suggestions, Lisa welcomes you to contact her via email or you can leave a message in the comments section below.