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DIY Headboard, Rustic Edition

Tom Silva and Kevin O’Connor turn a sheet of plywood and some rough-sawn boards into a unique headboard for the bedroom.

While the mattress is the key to a bed’s comfort, the headboard is what defines its style. Case in point: this handsome planked headboard, which evokes the warmth and historical character of a stable in an old barn.

This is an easy, straightforward project to build. Working together, TOH general contractor Tom Silva and TOH host Kevin O’Connor managed to complete it in just a few hours, using materials readily available at many home centers. The base is a sheet of ½-inch birch plywood backed by 2x4s, and the rough-sawn boards covering the plywood are stained, kiln-dried poplar from Weaber Lumber.

Conveniently packed in boxes, these weathered wallboards are free of the bugs, fungi, and peeling paint that you might find in boards actually salvaged from abandoned barns. Because the poplar pieces don’t line up perfectly edge to edge, Tom painted the plywood black to make any gaps look like shadows.

Parts of a Bed Headboard

Parts of a Headboard Illustration Doug Adams

Tom and Kevin take you step-by-step through the entire building process. If you like what you see, consider giving it a shot. You may soon find yourself dozing off beneath your own handmade home improvement project.

How To DIY a Wood Headboard

1. Paint and Cut the Back

Tom Silva Cutting Back Of Piece Of Plywood Anthony Tieuli
  • Roll flat black paint on one side of the plywood panel. When dry, trim it to rough size with a track saw (shown) or a circular saw and guide. The headboard’s final size is up to you, but the back’s rough width has to be about 10 inches wider than its final width.

2. Add Structure

Tom Silva and Kevin O’Connor Gluing 2x4 Wood Panels On Back Of DIY Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Cut three 2x4s 1 inches short of the headboard’s final width.
  • Center one along the back’s top edge and one along its bottom. Glue and screw them edgewise to the back’s unpainted side using 1 1⁄4 inch screws.
  • Repeat with a 2x set between the first two, as shown.

3. Lay the First Course

Tom Silva Laying Adhesive On Wood Board For DIY Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Put adhesive on a board, lay it along the back’s top edge, and let one end hang ½ inch over the side. Secure with 1-inch brads.
  • Cut a second board to overhang the other side when butted to the first. Adhere it to the back, but before nailing, use a third board to align it with the first one.

4. Finish All the Courses

Tom Silva Nailing Rustic Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Start the second course with the offcut from the first one.
  • As you continue gluing and nailing, make sure to stagger the joints between courses, randomly mix the different shades of wood, and leave ½-inch overhangs at the ends, until the back is completely covered with boards.

5. Cut the Returns

Tom Silva Sawing Off Headboard Ends Anthony Tieuli
  • Using a track saw or a circular saw with a guide, trim off the boards’ ends. Now tilt the saw 45 degrees toward the headboard, as shown, and cut a 4 3⁄4-inch-wide strip off both sides.
  • Make another miter cut on both sides with the saw tilted the opposite way and aligned so its blade kisses the upper corner of each 2x4.

6. Attach the Mitered Returns

Tom Silva Attaching Mitered Returns For DIY Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Squeeze construction adhesive onto the ends of the 2x4s, and apply glue on the strip’s mitered edge.
  • To make the return, place the strip, mitered side up, against the 2x4s and the miter on the headboard, as shown. A helper will come in handy during this step and the next one.

Tip: Disguise the miter joint

  • One appealing feature of this headboard is the way it appears to be made of solid pieces of lumber stacked on top of one another. That illusion requires the outside miter joints between the headboard’s face and the returns on either side to be tight and nearly invisible.
  • Tight joints require accurate cuts, wood glue, and pin nails to hold them together.
  • Invisible joints require a hammer. Before the glue dried, Tom used his to gently tap on the point of the joint (shown) and slightly crush together the wood fibers. That made the joint disappear.

7. Fasten the Sides

Tom Silva Nails Sides Of DIY Wood Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Align the boards on the mitered return with the ones on the headboard.
  • Hold the joint together and shoot three pins into the ends of each piece.
  • Use 2-inch brads to nail the return to the 2x4s’ ends.
  • Repeat Steps 7 and 8 on the opposite side.

8. Prep the Headboard’s Cap

Kevin O’Connor Applies Wood Accelerator On Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Cut a piece of 5⁄4x8 pine so it hangs over each side by 2 ½ inches.
  • Round its edges with a block plane. Here, Kevin gives the pine a gray, aged look by applying Varathane Weathered Wood Accelerator.

9. Fasten the Cap

Tom Silva Drills Screws Into Pilot Holes Of Headboard Anthony Tieuli
  • Drill four pairs of pilot holes, evenly spaced, through the headboard’s top 2x4.
  • Center the cap from side to side and line up its back edge with the back of the return.
  • Drive 2-inch deck screws through the pilot holes and into the cap, as shown.

10. Finished Headboard

DIY Headboard With Coats Of Oil-Based, Wipe-On Polyurethane Anthony Tieuli

Tom Silva shows off his and Kevin’s handiwork, with a bed attached. Once the headboard was built, Tom sanded it with 80-grit paper to remove any splinters, then applied two coats of an oil-based, wipe-on polyurethane with a satin sheen. The finish protects the wood, deepens its color, and gives it a slight luster.


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