Cleaning up an Old Barn Beam

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Forum topic by FireFitzy posted 11-11-2012 01:41 AM 27374 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View FireFitzy's profile


24 posts in 2218 days

11-11-2012 01:41 AM

G’day everyone,

I’m restoring an old fireplace in my home, and was lucky enough to find an 11’ barn beam to make a beautiful mantle. It has a lot of weathering, a lot of nails and holes and blemishes in it that I love. But I’m wondering what process you ladies and gents would suggest to bring it to life, without taking away its age and character?

Should I sand it down a bit? Pressure Wash it?
Condition or Seal it? Anything?

Any help would be great, as I don’t want to mess this up.

All help is appreciated. Thanks

-- Brian -

10 replies so far

View willie's profile


534 posts in 2476 days

#1 posted 11-11-2012 05:07 AM

I’d probably just use compressed air to blow off all the loose dirt and dust and pull the nails and leave the rest alone.

-- Every day above ground is a good day!!!

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3507 days

#2 posted 11-11-2012 05:19 AM

Wish I had an old barn beam to ponder over. You may want to run a metal detector over it if you plan to cut or mill it, in any way. You’re also probably aware of your local fire/ building code. In my hood I believe it’s no wood within one foot of the fire box opening, top and sides. Like cjwillie said, the less messin with it the better. Just my $0.02.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3915 days

#3 posted 11-11-2012 08:56 AM

If yer in a hurry to er done I would not pressure wash it as your whole house will smell like the back door of every farm animal that ever slept in it.

that said I always pressure washed mine with an insecticide (green eco friendly) and then let the stinky beast dry out.

The water will dry fast if the beam is in a warm dry place, and personally I like the smell of a barn but I also understand a cologne has yet to be named “Stinky Barn Beam” and been marketed successfully.

I pull off the loose parts where manure can stink, caught under an old chunk, chipped and missed by the fine art of timber framing, pressure wash…….keep yer eyes open lookin for animal shit

let dry, sand the raised hair off, and finish with what your comfortable with

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2712 days

#4 posted 11-11-2012 04:56 PM

A wire brush (by hand or in a drill/die grinder) is what I use. Get a full face shield if using it in a power tool. You can vary the look of the surface by the amount of pressure you use. When you get the look you want, blow it off well with the air nozzle, and apply the finish of your choice.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4947 posts in 3982 days

#5 posted 11-11-2012 06:02 PM

As production mgr. of a shop that builds from reclaimed lumber, this post is close to my heart.
We de-nail, resaw, skip plane, joint, etc.
Lots of old ( as in REAL OLD ) pine, white oak, etc.

I question leads to mine. How rough do ya want the beam to be in application?



View eaglewrangler's profile


64 posts in 2559 days

#6 posted 11-11-2012 06:23 PM

You code book might show wood from the firebox set back, it is not so simple, but imagine a triangle going out from the box, thus the wider the mantle, the more distance up it needs to be. Barn wood like pallet wood can have a mixed history, my father loved to paint with creosote until they banned it, because the horses would chew beams otherwise. Pressure wash it and tounge or danish oil.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5701 posts in 2835 days

#7 posted 11-11-2012 07:17 PM

It depends on the look you are going for. I have sent hit-and-miss planed old barn timbers with nice effect. It cleans them up a bit, but leaves some of the weathered color, and most of the character.

I would not pressure wash it – which could splinter the wood. If you want it to keep the rustic look, I would just wire brush it and seal it.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2706 days

#8 posted 11-11-2012 08:09 PM

air gun probably although pressure wash with a green tip shouldn’t hurt it any (if you stand it on end) and will probably do a better job cleaning the junk off and out. I would hit it with a satin water based poly to seal the pores (otherwise you incur the rath of the one that has to dust it). wire brush will most likely expose some fresh meat (that patina doesn’t goes as deep as one would think).

View FireFitzy's profile


24 posts in 2218 days

#9 posted 11-11-2012 10:20 PM

Wow, thank you all so much for your suggestions, what a great help.
Pintodeluxe, I’m think your hit and miss planing could be a nice touch, at the broken ends of the beam, there are still some rich colours inside. Something I wouldn’t mind peaking through a bit.

I think I’ll practice a bit on the non displayed side of the beam.

Now, once i’ve got the look I want, what is the best sealer or finishing product to keep that look, but save me on the dusting down the road?

Thanks again

-- Brian -

View MarkwithaK's profile


370 posts in 3199 days

#10 posted 11-12-2012 03:46 AM

I’ve recently went through this same thing recently with some old beams that have been sitting in my garage since way before I bought the place. The one I started working on was so dirty that it was almost black. I sanded off as much crap I could with 80 grit and then smoothed it out. Just for grins I hit it with some clear shellac and it turned it this amazing deep red color and the brought out the rather interesting grain patterns. I loved it so much that I’ve used some of the shorter pieces for floating shelves.

-- If at first you don't succeed then maybe skydiving isn't for you.

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