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How To Prepare Natural Branches For Wall Hangings

Updated: Jul 27

Most of us can agree that the perfect branch can make a beautiful wall hanging even more stunning. Driftwood and branches give an organic, earthy feel to wall art- and they're free, if you're willing to look for them!

Finding the perfect piece

One of the best parts of sourcing branches or driftwood for a wall hanging (in my opinion) is the thrill of the hunt. Foraging is a great excuse to get outside, get some fresh air, and get into nature. My favorite places to search for branches are near sources of water like the ocean, a lake, or a stream. Often times, water does some of the work for you by naturally eroding some or all of the rough outer layers of bark. With natural driftwood, all of the bark is removed and the surface is smooth- meaning all you need to do is disinfect it. However, if all you can find near you are fallen branches with the bark still on them, you can still clean them right up. Read on to find out how!

Note: When going outside to forage branches, there is some etiquette to keep in mind in terms of respecting nature. First off, please avoid foraging in state or national parks as this is strictly prohibited. These lands are carefully maintained and preserved, and taking anything, including branches, is a big no-no! Second, practice Leave No Trace principles while foraging, and do your best to leave the area better than you found it! Sometimes when I forage, I bring a trash bag with me so I can do a little trash clean up while I search. Last, do not remove living branches from trees unless they are on your property. Instead, go for fallen branches that have gotten a chance to fully dry out. Those work way better anyways!

Prep the branch for sanding

Sometimes there's a little work to do before you can jump right into sanding a branch. It's not a great idea to sand with all the bark still on the branch, so I recommend scraping it off first. The longer your branch has had to dry out and get exposed to the elements, the easier this will be.

If the bark is loose and most of it seems to be something you can pick off piece by piece, try that first. If all or most of the bark is strongly attached, I recommend soaking the branch first. Depending on the piece itself you may need to soak overnight or only for a few hours.

Next, I use a putty scraper like this one to pry off all the bark. This part can be tedious, but it's also oddly satisfying.

After most or all of the bark has been removed, give the branch a good rinse and let it dry out fully before the next step.

One last optional step is to cut the ends of the branch. If you want the natural look, then you can always skip this. To cut the ends, you can use a hand saw and cut manually, or a miter saw if you have one.a

Sanding the branch

Here comes the faun part! To sand your branch, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. You can opt for hand-sanding, which is tedious but does the job. For this you'll just need some sandpaper in a courser grit.

I recently started using this orbit sander and it has been a lifesaver for me, especially for bigger branches that take forever to sand by hand. To use an orbit sander, you'll definitely want to have a way to secure it into place. I use wood clamps to clamp the branch down to my work bench so it won't move around while I work.

After sanding it down roughly to get it smooth, you can polish it a bit more by taking a finer grit of sandpaper and hand-sanding it, touching up any spots you may have missed.

Cleaning the branch

Since you foraged this branch in nature, there is a chance that there could be some critters living inside of it still- even after all we've done so far! To make sure the branch is good to go, you should disinfect it.

**make sure to wear gloves during this process**

The first tried and true method is using a bleach solution. For each gallon of water you use, you will need around half a cup of bleach. Soak for around an hour- be aware that this will likely lighten the color of the branch. The longer you soak it, the lighter the branch will become once dry. If you want the look of driftwood, then you might want to leave it in the solution for longer as it will lighten it and give it a sun-bleached look!

Another method I've heard of is using cleaning vinegar in place of bleach. This should work great as well, and is a more natural alternative to using bleach.

Sometimes you'll get branches that are too long to fit in a tub to disinfect-what then? To be honest, I haven't actually tried this yet, but I think a decent alternative to soaking would be to create a bleach or vinegar cleaning solution (according to the measurements on the bottle) and fill it into a spray bottle, then spray the branch generously over a tarp. Leave the solution to soak in for a bit and you should be good to go!

Once finished disinfecting, give it a good rinse outside with a hose.

Sealing and finishing

This step is optional and I personally don't usually do this, but for those looking for a more polished look then sealing a branch is a great way to accomplish that! I recommend using this clear protective finish on a to seal your branches with a nice clear coat.

That's all there is to it! Now you have craft-ready drift

wood or branches at your fingertips, and they also look great on their own stored in a nice basket.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

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