Red barn wood history

Until late in the 19th century, the vast majority of barns were left to age naturally because paint was too expensive for most farmers. As a result, exterior boards, usually cut from pine or oak, turned from their original light brown color to various shades of silvery grey as a result of direct exposure to the elements. The interior boards, because they were protected, maintained their brown color. As paint became more affordable and available, “barn red” became a favorite because it was the cheapest and lasted the longest. At that time, the paint was a mixture of red lead and linseed oil. The lead came as a paste and was then mixed with the linseed oil until the desired color was achieved. In many cases red barn wood was painted several times to help preserve the wood, and then over time Mother Nature aged and faded those boards that were no longer repainted. White became another color choice, but it was more expensive and therefore not as popular. That paint mixture was white lead, linseed oil, and turpentine. White barn board would also have been painted several times to protect the wood and then left to fade if not repainted. Time and money were the reasons most barn exteriors deteriorated. Farmers rarely had enough of either.

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