Continuing our series on DIYs from Saint John’s Opera Bistro makeover, today I’m going to show you how to recreate an often seen effect: birch-clad wall panels. Whether you’re talking home or business, great design is all about making a statement. And this statement can be made for under $20! All design ideas were conceived and carried out by Punch Inside, Creative Director, Judith Mackin.
Yellow birch trees cut into “pucks” and mounted on painted Masonite panels, creating a DIY wood surround for a Dimplex electric fireplace (available from Alternatives), at New Brunswick’s Opera Bistro. Photo by Hemmings House.
You’ve probably noticed that the use of natural wood is growing in popularity in decor and interior design. This no doubt has something to do with increasing urbanization and a growing sensitivity to our threatened environment. Regardless: Something inherently simple yet beautiful happens when natural elements are imported, more or less intact, into domestic space. While the following DIY project is a little more involved than our previous entrance way makeover, the individual steps are nonetheless surprisingly simple, and fall well within everyone’s skill set.
• Yellow birch (Note: You can easily substitute whatever species is available, as long as the wood is dry) — free!
• Saws: Chainsaw, and either a table or radial arm saw
• Caulking gun
• Glue: PL 400
• Sheet of Masonite (you pick the size; similar to lumber, most home improvement stores will cut Masonite sheets on-site, to your specifications, for a nominal charge) — approx. $10
• Quart of paint that matches the wall colour
• Sandpaper (fine grade — for the edges of the Masonite)
• Note: A 2′ x 4′ birch disk panel can be fabricated for under $20, though this cost varies depending on (i) how much gas your vehicle requires to get you to the woods and back; and (ii) if you need to rent saws, or purchase them (but of course, if it comes to that, try to borrow them from your friends, first!)
For this project, wood disks were glued to pre-cut, painted Masonite board (same paint type as the receiving wall; an eggshell latex). IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s better to attach the wood discs to a panel that is affixed with screws to the wall vs directly onto the feature wall This will allow you to easily remove the effect should you tire of it, or move the panels as desired.
STEP 1: Get the Wood
Head out into the nearest wooded area (with a friend, always more fun — but provide a “thank you” glass of wine after!) and cut down or gather enough fallen dead trees to cover your chosen surface area for panel size. As noted above, we used yellow birch for our Opera Bistro project, but any type of tree will do — providing that the diameter is between three and five inches.
My friends Bob (on two legs) and Gus (on four legs, but only two shown) helped me find the yellow birch — right behind Bob! Photo by Judith Mackin.
STEP 2: Cut the Wood
Using your table or radial arm saw, cut your wood disks to a thickness of approximately ½” to ¾”, until you accumulate your desired number of disks. Don’t worry about consistency of thickness, here — in fact; a certain variety in thickness is actually desirable.
Cutting the yellow birch. Photo by Judith Mackin.
STEP 3: Dry the Wood
Dry the fresh-cut disks in a warm room. You must allow at least one week for complete drying; this ensures that there will be no warping and that the disks will adhere to a painted surface. Note: As the disks dry, they will lighten somewhat in colour. Recommended: Turn the disks, like pancakes, every couple of days.
The wood disks, fresh-cut. The darker shade in the centre of the wood indicates that it is still wet. Photo by Judith Mackin.
STEP 4: Visualize the Project — Layout Trial
Before you cut your Masonite, ensure you have the correct measurements and design. Simply, tape the outline of the desired size of the Masonite panel(s) onto the floor, and fill the space with wood disks (they don’t have to be dry).
Tape out the shape of you Masonite board on the floor and fill the space with your wood discs. Photo by Judith Mackin.
STEP 5: Visualize the Project — Layout on Cut and Painted Masonite
When the Masonite has been cut and painted and the wood disks (and paint) are 100% dry, lay out the disks on each painted panel. While the spacing between and among disks should be fairly consistent, you should aim for some variety in disk sizes.
Pre-cut Masonite panels laid out on the floor for painting. Photo by Judith Mackin (Can you spot Longhorn “Tex” from our previous DIY post?)
STEP 6: Glue the Wood Disks in Place
As with sourcing the wood, an extra set of hands makes the gluing process quicker and smoother — and more fun. One of you can put the glue [PL 400] on the wood disks while the other applies the gluey disks to the Masonite panel(s). For this step, place an L-shaped gob of glue in the centre of the wood disk, then place and press down for a minimum of ten seconds; this ensures a secure bond to the Masonite. IMPORTANT NOTE: Several wood disks will (eventually) cover the screws that secure the Masonite to the walls. Identify these disks/spots — typically, there are six to eight of them — and glue those placements only after each panel has been attached to the wall.
Me and my friend Sarah (Note: friends always get the gun), gluing the wood disks to the Masonite panels. Photo by Alexandra Moore
STEP 7: Install the Completed Panel(s)
Wait a minimum of 24 hours, for the glue to dry; give each disk a wiggle to confirm bonding. When everything is secure, screw the birch panels into wall or counter, and affix covering disks over screws (see: STEP 6).
Two Birch/Masonite bar surrounds, in place at Opera Bistro. Photos by Hemmings House
The beauty of these panels is the flexibility — you can make them any shape or size. If you are not fortunate enough to have a fireplace, such as the magnificent one at Opera Bistro [pictured below], pick a feature wall, or even a window to surround. Every home can sport a birch-clad wall! You are only limited by your imagination.
The completed birch fireplace surround, in place at Opera Bistro. Photo by Hemmings House
Next in Judith Mackin’s DIY makeover series: How to (re)invent your guest book