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How to Treat Tree Branches for Indoor Use

Today I’m teaching you how to treat tree branches for indoor use. Learn how to clean and remove bark, as well as how to finish branches for decor and crafts.

How to treat tree branches for indoor use

Today we’re talking about how to finish branches for indoor use. And you can consider this article an appetizer for an article I have coming up later this week on how to make a cat tree out of a real tree!

I was starting to put together the cat tree details when I realized that it was going to be a really long article. So I decided to break out the part about how to treat tree branches for indoor use, specifically how to clean, strip, and finish the branches, and make it its own piece. And that’s this!

Using tree parts for home decor is beautiful, cost effective, and not too hard. Check out my tutorial for my DIY tree stump side table for a related project.

There are many ways to finish branches for decor. You can consider the steps I outline below to be only one approach. I’ll provide some additional tidbits on other approaches I didn’t use along the way. 🙂

stripped and stained tree branch
stripped and stained tree branch

Here’s what I used…

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  • Branches and a dry space
  • A paint scraper—like this one 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 are the steps to clean branches for decoration!

(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 from a professional. Read my full terms of use here.)

Step 1: Find a suitable branch

We foraged the woods behind my parents’ house and found two great branches that were already on the ground. I thought it would be best to find something that had already been drying out on the ground because I didn’t want to butcher a tree.

We also knew that the drying process would take a while. Not knowing how long our branch had been detached from its tree was a risk we were willing to take. 🙂

After cutting the branches, we brought them into my dad’s workshop, which has baseboard heating, to dry out for 2 more months. We guessed the pieces we had were pretty dry since they did have some cracking, but we wanted to be sure. If we’d thought they were newer branches, we would have let them dry for longer.

branch laying on the ground in the woods

Step 2: Remove bark from branches

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. Bugs have a purpose, but I don’t want them living in my home 🙂 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. 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. So it’s hard to provide an estimate.

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!

I read that a lot of people use a draw knife and even a pressure washer to remove bark, but I used a paint scraper. It worked really well! It just took time and elbow grease, and it was extremely messy.

Removing bark from a tree branch to bring it inside
Learn how to treat tree branches for indoor use, specifically how to clean, treat, and finish the branches for decoration and crafts.
Learn how to treat tree branches for indoor use, specifically how to clean, treat, and finish the branches for decoration and crafts.

Step 3: Sand and polish the branches

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.

Then I gave the entire piece a good, thorough sand with 150-grit sandpaper. I was truly amazed at how well sanding polished the piece. I did all sanding by hand since the branch was a bit curvy and bumpy—just seemed easier.

Sanding a branch

Step 4: Stain the branches

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. (I also have a whole article about how to stain and finish wood if you’re new to the process!)

staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside
staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside
staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside

Step 5: Finish to protect

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. I also really love Varathane water-based polyurethane in matte. I used it on my daughter’s dollhouse bookshelf, our cat house side table build, and our DIY plywood planter because I didn’t want much shine on any of these pieces. You can see it’s a beautiful, understated finish.

staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside
Stain drying
staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside
First coat of poly on
polycrylic drying on the branches

And here are my treated branches 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.

They do look a but shinier in person—this was hard to capture in photos. If you want them to look like these pictures, I’d err on the side of caution and go with a matte water-based formula. You can always add a layer of satin on top of the matte if you don’t love it.

staining a stripped tree branch to bring it inside
branch connected to a piece of plywood
stripped and stained branch connected to a piece of plywood

In conclusion…

Although I made these for a cat tree, I later repeated the steps I outlined in this tutorial to make a DIY Tree Branch Plant Hanger. So tree branches are a really versatile material to use for decor. Good luck!

Pin my tips about how to treat branches for indoor use!

collage that says how to treat tree branches for decor with images of the process

How to Finish Tree Branches

How to Strip and Finish Branches for Decor

Learn how to treat tree branches for indoor use, specifically how to clean, treat, and finish the branches for decoration and crafts.

Materials

  • Branches and a dry space
  • Minwax Stain in Natural
  • Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin

Tools

  • A paint scraper
  • Small hand-held saw
  • Miter saw
  • Assorted sandpaper

Instructions

  1. Find a suitable branch. Ones that are already laying on the ground are best because they have already started to dry out. Note that is best to let them continue drying out for at least 2 months if you are wanting to use them indoors.
  2. Remove all the bark from the branch using a paint scraper.
  3. Sand the branch to remove any rough spots using 100 grit sandpaper. Then, using 150 grit sandpaper, sand the entire branch.
  4. Wipe down the entire branch with a dry paper towel to remove all the dust and debris.
  5. Use a chip brush to apply a generous coat of stain. No need to wipe off the excess stain, leave it to soak into the wood for 24 hours.
  6. Finish the branch with 2 coats of polyurethane in satin to protect it and you're done!

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  1. Jojo says:

    What would you recommend fora darker finish? and could you not just sand off the bark?

  2. Fidelito says:

    This is exactly what I was looking for. I tried to find other guides on the net but nothing comes close in detail than this. It will for the moment be by goto approach until I see the results for myself. Many thanks for sharing this post.

  3. Kish says:

    HI there! I just thought i’d mention that I collected some branches from the park yesterday and it’s been snowing here in Manchester, England. The branches were very damp and kind of yucky so the bark came off incredibly easily! I pulled most of it off with my fingers and used a butter knife on the knobbly bits. Took an hour to strip approx. 20 arm length branches. They’re now drying. Hope this is somewhat useful to somebody!
    Kish x

    • Sarah says:

      I’m in Manchester (England) too and just read this! Great tip- horrible rainy weather we have now will actually be useful for something ? x

  4. Sue says:

    Hi, Have you ever soaked your wood first in bleach water to rid of any pests?
    Do you know how long the bark will last if not removed?

    Thanks,
    Sue

  5. Christian Alsider says:

    and clearly I cant type words correctly like is it too rotten, been on the ground to long etc

  6. Christian Alsider says:

    I am wanting to start a tree limb project. How do you decide on a branch? By that i mean the quality. Likei s it to rotten benn down to long etc. Im really struggling with hat aspect of picking one

  7. Lisha Weeks says:

    I’m concerned about my cat scratching the treated wood. Would it be harmful? Chemicals and my cat make me a little nervous.

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      It’s no different than any piece of furniture in your home, and these days, many furniture pieces are made of more harmful substances than natural wood and a water-based finished anyways 🙂

  8. Terry says:

    I think I will try this and make a small table with caster and put my Golden Pothos on. So it will have a natural wood to climb up! Thanks for the great idea! ?

  9. Pamela says:

    What a great idea! Do you have any suggestions for how these branches could be used in home decor?

    • AnneMP says:

      I will be doing this to hang my running medals. Most medal hangers are expensive and ugly (a thin piece of metal with some hooks or something along those lines).

      I would just need to drill a hole about 1 or 2 inches from the end so I can mount it on the wall and then get the small hooks that come in picture hanging packets so I can hand the medals without covering the wood

      • Brittany Goldwyn says:

        That is a great idea Anne!

        • tammie meteer says:

          My name is tammie I have a small country home with 5 acres in Henderson tx, I love wood anything, my home has a lot of nottie pine not real I’m sure but beautiful none the less , I am going to retire in 1 year and want so badly to work with wood and make beautiful things for my home, I have a lot of pine trees and others on my property, but do not have a clue as to where to start, cant find any wood working classes in my area. My husband is diabled and I would love to do this with him to create wood beautiful pieces for our home and family, any ideas so greatly needed, thanks so very much

    • Brittany Merth says:

      Thanks, Pamela! They might be nice on a fireplace mantle! I’ve also thought about a coat rack. 🙂

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