I’m back from vacation 🙁 But I am really excited to get back to my projects list. Consider this post an appetizer for a post I have coming up later this week on how to make a REAL cat tree! [See that post here!]
I was starting to put together the cat tree post when I realized that it was going to be really long, so I decided to break out the part about how to strip and finish the tree branches and make it its own post. Besides, stripping and finishing branches is something that I think a lot of people might be interested in—not just those of you who want to build a real kitty tree!
Using tree parts for home decor is not only beautiful, it’s cost effective and not too hard. Check out this Hometalk post on turning tree stumps into side tables by painting them and this post on a lovely stained stump with wheels! I also absolutely love these tree branch drawer pulls by Kelly over at Design Asylum. The possibilities are endless.
When I started researching how to strip and finish branches for decor, I was overwhelmed with how many different approaches there were. I had just pulled some branches from off the ground in the woods, so I wasn’t sure what kind of tree they were from. I also wasn’t sure how long I had to let them sit out because I didn’t know how long it’d been since they’d fallen off the tree. So consider the steps I followed below to be only one approach—I’ll provide some additional tidbits on other approaches I read about but didn’t use along the way. 🙂
Here’s what I used:
(Affiliate links below. Read more here. Thank you!)
- Branches and a dry space
- A paint scraper—you can get a simple little one like mine here.
- Small hand-held saw—see one here—and a miter saw (not completely necessary, but we needed to trim some thick branches down).
- Assorted sandpaper—I used 100 and 150 grit depending on the spot.
- Minwax Stain in Natural and Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin.
And here’s how I did it.
(Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while sanding and working with wood, and wear an appropriate mask while working with paints, stains, and finishes. Follow the directions and warnings from your particular brand. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and supervision.)
Step 1: We foraged the woods behind my parents’ house and found two great branches that were already on the ground. Since I’d read that you had to let the branches dry out for a while—upwards of a year, even—I thought it would be best to find something that had already been drying out on the ground. We also didn’t want to hack up any trees that were still growing.
After cutting the branches, we brought them into my dad’s workshop, which has baseboard heating, to dry out for 2 more months. We thought the pieces we had were pretty dry since they did have some cracking, but we wanted to be sure. If you’re cutting a piece of wood off of an existing tree or taking a tree down, you’ll want to let it sit in a dry spot for much longer than 2 months.
Step 2: After about 2 months, I started scraping the bark off. This is a very important step that a lot of people skip when bringing tree parts indoors. You need to scrap the bark off because there could be bugs living under it! In fact, I found guide a few little guys while I was scraping. The bark will eventually fall off anyway, so it’s best to take it off at the start of your project.
There are lots of ways to de-bark trees, and none of them are really easy and fast! The ease with which you can remove bark depends on many factors, including what type of tree it is, how dry the wood is, and even what time of year it is. Unfortunately for me, my bark was not easy to remove—and it looks like that’s the case for many people if my Googling is any indication. But don’t worry, the results are totally worth the time and frustration!
While I read that a lot of people use a draw knife and even a pressure washer to remove bark, I used a paint scraper. It was my dad’s idea, and it worked really well! It just took time and elbow grease, and it was extremely messy. A sharpened blade will take the bark off fastest, so keep that in mind if your project is big and you have a lot of scraping to do.
Step 3: After I’d scraped all of the bark off, I cried of happiness that the miserable process was over and grabbed some sandpaper. I used 100-grit sandpaper on some of the rougher spots, and then I gave the entire piece a good, thorough sand with 150-grit sandpaper. I was truly amazed at how well this polished the piece.
Step 4: After cleaning off my work space and wiping down the branch with a dry paper towel, I used a chip brush to apply a generous coat of stain. Minwax Stain in Natural really helped to bring out the wood’s character. I didn’t even wipe off the excess stain—I just left it to soak into the wood for about 24 hours. Like I said, my pieces were pretty dry, so the stain soaked right in.
Staining your piece of wood is optional, of course, but I wanted to bring back some of the color depth that was lost when I scraped all of the bark off.
Step 5: At this point I was giddy with excitement about how good the branches looked. I finished them off with two coats of Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin because I wanted to bring in a bit of sheen while providing further protection for the branches. This is a water-based polyurethane that dries much faster than an oil-based one.
Left: Stain dried; Right Top: First coat of poly on; Right Bottom: Drying poly
And here they are finished…
You can see that the pieces have just the right amount of sheen for what I wanted. I wanted them to look polished but not super shiny and fake, and I think the water-based poly in satin really achieved that look.
So lovely. I feel like you’d see something like this used as decor on a wall in a Colorado lodge. 🙂 More to come later this week on the cat tree that these branches are becoming.
One any given day, I could be linking up at these link parties. Make sure to check them out for a wide variety of DIY ideas!