Antique Barn-Board Cabinets

A high-end home with cabinets made from weathered old barn siding? Craftsmen suggest ways to marry rustic and fine. June 12, 2005

I do built-in's, trim work, and custom cabinetry. I work independently and don't have a big company. I recent too a job where the owner wants double level (8'high) built-in's on the main floor and an entertainment center/aquarium holder in the basement. Both sections are 12' long.

They have agreed to let me use hardwood for the carcasses but the doors and drawers are the problem. They want to use antique barn wood for the faces. I need to know how to work with this wood and retain the grey, worn-out finish on the faces of the drawers and the cabinet doors.

Im thinking of planing just one side for thickness, running them through the joiner for square, and then biscuiting/glueing them to make panels wide enough for doors and drawers because the boards they are looking at are only 6"-8" wide. The backs would then lose their grey color, but the faces are the main concern anyway. The other option I am thinking about it to tongue and groove with my router.

They don't want raised panel and they don't want mission style and or flat panel. They just want simple, ragged looking doors. Does anyone have any suggestions about this?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
If they want the ragged look, just cut the lumber for the doors to length, butt them together, and use a Z pattern rail on the back side. Pre-drill holes through the Z rail and screw the lumber on and youre done.

From contributor T:
How about either edge-gluing narrow the boards - joint the edges square to the overall lay of each piece, or tongue and groove them. In either case, I would recommend battening the backs. You'd still have new wood showing on the end-grain though. Have you thought about staining it?

From contributor R:
Keep in mind that your joinery selection should be based upon the way the wood will expand and contract. The tongue and groove is a method used to conceal, and gaps created with wood shrinkage in its width. Lapping them is a similar option that serves the same purpose, but doesn't do as good a job keeping the boards from warping away from each other.

Contributor T's suggestion of battening the backsides is right on target. Why do it? Because it keeps the boards straight, and when each board is screwed/attached - only along its center, then both left and right sides will swell/shrink equally and overall the door width is therefore well maintained.

From contributor B:
To the original questioner: I would definitely do what you described. I would try to take it a step further and not joint or plane the back sides, that way the effect is more complete. Try doing some tests to see if you can make this work with your hardware.

You will have cut ends and places that will not be grayed. For these, I would suggest using Liquid Nightmare. Take equal parts of water and vinegar, and soak some rusty steel in it for a few days. The resulting liquid reacts with the tannins in the wood to create a gray, aged effect. You can lessen its effect by cutting it with water, or intensify its effect by using a tannic acid solution on the wood before treatment.