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. 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
- Branches and a dry space
- Minwax Stain in Natural
- Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin
- A paint scraper
- Small hand-held saw
- Miter saw
- Assorted sandpaper
- 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.
- Remove all the bark from the branch using a paint scraper.
- Sand the branch to remove any rough spots using 100 grit sandpaper. Then, using 150 grit sandpaper, sand the entire branch.
- Wipe down the entire branch with a dry paper towel to remove all the dust and debris.
- 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.
- Finish the branch with 2 coats of polyurethane in satin to protect it and you're done!