Types Of Wood For Barn Quilts

The beauty of barn quilts is they look gorgeous painted on anything!  I’ve painted barn quilts on Christmas ornaments, keychains, drink coasters, and many other places, in addition to the normal wood square.  The sky really is the limit if you can draw out, tape out, and paint a beautiful quilt pattern on an empty space.  But I see this question all the time, “What kind of wood is a barn quilt made of?”  The answer?  It really doesn’t matter if it’s going inside a building, but when painting for the outdoors you do have a few considerations.  Here’s a few of my favorite boards I’ve used that have given me beautiful results with my barn quilts, along with their pros and cons, to help you make the best determination of what wood you need for your barn quilt.


How To Choose Wood For Your Barn Quilt


Pros: Plywood tends to cost less than other boards and can be readily found at your local big-box hardware store.  Since you’re at the local store, you can also usually get the employees to cut a board down to size for you for free.  I’ve also seen where Home Depot sells sheets of plywood in 2ft x 4 ft sheets, which makes them easier to manage and less of an initial expense.

My favorite type of plywood is birch, which gives a nice smooth surface for painting after sanding with minimal imperfections.

Cons: The quality of plywood can vary.  Some can be pretty rough from transit to your local store, so be sure to inspect each one before you purchase or have it cut.  By taking a few extra minutes to look through the selection, you can find one without too many blemishes (knots or scratches).


Birch Plywood Cut And Ready For A Barn Quilt

Because plywood is literally thin layers of veneer glued together, they are not weatherproof without some serious preparation.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t use it, but you need to be prepared to coat your plywood with primer before you paint and many coats of urethane after you paint to keep moisture out of every tiny crack.  I’ve had several sitting outside for years this way, but I’ve also had one where I missed a spot and the plywood layers peeled away like an onion.  It’s difficult to see all of your beautiful hard work get ruined.

Preparation:  Plywood requires a good coating of primer before you start your painting.  I always like to use Kilz brand (you can find it HERE), 2-3 coats, with a light sanding in between coats.  The primer helps to cover any imperfections in the wood and helps your paint stick to your board.


Pros:  Almost ready to go as soon as it’s cut.  Since MDO is signboard and is used outdoors, it’s made to withstand the elements.  You can purchase it primed on one side or two sides, so once you get it cut and prepared, you’re ready to paint.  

Cons:  MDO can be double the cost of basic plywood and can be harder to find.  Most big box hardware stores don’t carry it on a regular basis.  They can order it, however you may have to order a large quantity and can’t order just one sheet.  If you can find a local sign shop nearby, you can inquire to see if they will sell you a sheet.  

Preparation:  It’s already primed but you do need to seal the edges.  For this, I use a clear, sandable, paintable caulk (you can find it HERE) along the edges and rub it in to make sure it gets into all of the little holes.  Once dry, I sand it smooth or take a razor blade to smooth off any extra caulk.


Plywood Prepared For A Barn Quilt

Aluminum Composite

Pros:  It’s very lightweight, which is a blessing when you’re working with a larger barn quilt pattern.  Also, since it’s so lightweight, it’s also very thin, so you won’t have to worry about what your edges look like.  However, this could be a disadvantage if you plan on framing your barn quilt.  

Cons:  If not properly prepared, it can be hard for the paint to adhere to the board.  Also, if hanging in a windy area, and not strongly bolted down, the wind can pick up a piece of aluminum composite easily and rip it from a structure.

Like MDO, aluminum composite will usually need to be purchased through a sign supply shop, and the price will be higher than plywood.

Preparation:  Aluminum Composite requires a little cleaning before you start painting.  Once you remove any protective paper coating, use a clean cloth to wipe it down with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol to clean off any dust or debris.  Then it needs a light sanding so the paint will stick properly - somewhere around a 360 grit sandpaper.  


Wood Purchased At The Store For A Barn Quilt

What Materials Not To Use For A Barn Quilt

For interior barn quilts: the sky is the limit.  Because your barn quilt won’t be exposed to the outdoor elements, feel free to use anything you find around the house - an old scrap of wood, pallet boards, an unused cutting board - really anything you think needs a barn quilt on it (isn’t that almost anything?)

For exterior barn quilts: this is where we need to pay attention to our materials.  For outdoors, you can use an interior grade board, such as birch BUT you would need to make sure that you cover it with a good water-based urethane.  This one is my favorite (you can find it HERE).  


Varathane Water-Based Urethane In Satin For Barn Quilt Sealer


If you don’t want to bother with coating your board with urethane, most barn quilters prefer to use MDO (medium-density overlay) or aluminum composite because they are made to withstand rain, snow, humidity, and sun.

So, while you can literally paint a barn quilt on almost anything, you do need to take where you’re going to hang it into consideration so you know what materials would be best to use.


I would love to see what you painted your barn quilt on!  Anything unusual?  Comment below and let us know what worked for you!


  • Hello,

    I made my first barn quilt using birch plywood. I used Kilz 2 as the primer.
    I noticed on your site you use Spar Urethane. Is that a sealer before you paint on the design or after?

    Your site was very helpful! Thank you,

  • Can you share your steps and materials for framing?

    Tonya LeCroy

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