Keeping the sheen in a log cabin home may seem difficult at first, but it can be accomplished with the right maintenance techniques.
However, if you do let things slip and your log cabin now looks old and worn down, there are four steps you can take to restore its original appearance.
In short, these steps include:
- Cleaning and preparing the wood
- Preserving the logs
- Staining the timber
- And finally applying the sealant
With sunlight, moisture, dirt, mold, and pollen buildup regularly taking a toll, it’s quite important to maintain your log siding and paneling from time to time with a premium quality stain and other finishing products.
What follows is how to perform a cosmetic makeover of your log cabin and protect its structure at the same time.
How to Prep and Stain a Log Cabin?
When staining your log cabin home, you will want to employ the four basic steps I have mentioned below.
Missing even the one might lead to issues that include dust buildup, growth of mold or mildew, infiltration of unwanted air or water, damage from pests, or ultraviolet light.
Step 1- Prepare the Surface
To properly restore a log cabin, you will need to start by shoring up the structure itself.
This will include doing the following.
- Borate preservatives
To ensure that the stains and seals hold up, you will need to caulk all areas where there are openings.
This can be a time-consuming process, so you will need to be prepared.
To hold the finish, the log cabin will need to be clean and dry.
You will need to understand the surroundings to ensure that you can locate issues involving moisture, mold, and mildew, the decomposition of the logs, leakage of air, and the caulking or chinking that needs to be performed.
You may have to strip the logs as well, although that is only necessary when you see a film or coating on the wood that should not be there.
Or, if the old finish is building up unnaturally, is cracking or peeling, or if the finish is glossy in nature and you want to re-finish it with another product.
However, you may not have to strip if the log cabin never had a finish applied or if the finish was penetrating in nature.
In either case, you can pressure wash the outside which will take far less time compared to stripping.
The traditional use of a little bleach mixed with water and detergent can clean away the dirt and debris from the wood.
It’s cheap and fast, but it can also destroy the cellulose inside the wood that will age your log cabin considerably.
Plus, bleach and detergent can be difficult to fully rinse away which will inhibit the ability of the finish to stick to the wood.
Instead, you can use hand sanding or one of the following…
This is a fast solution to removing any stripping from the wood. It can also clean it thoroughly.
However, it’s possible to damage the wood itself from using the pressure washer.
So you will want to keep the water flow at the lowest setting possible to do the job without causing damage.
Prepared Wood Cleaning:
This is a chemical stripping solution that uses a form of bleach but does not damage the wood itself.
Plus, it can rinse away easily which allows the finish to stick properly.
If you decide to purchase a prepared wood cleaning solution, be sure it does not include calcium or sodium hypochlorite, or sodium percarbonate.
If the wood shows no signs of mildew, a wood cleaner that includes oxalic acid can restore the original color of the log cabin.
This product removes the stains caused by metal, nails, water, and weathering.
Just in case you do not want to use the above methods, or if the old stain is too stubborn to remove blasting (using corn cob, dry ice, soda, or walnut media) can also be tried out.
Step 2- Preserving the Wood
No restoration is complete without taking steps to preserve the wood.
One issue is that preservatives cannot penetrate a log home stain.
Another is that once such preservatives dry, they are quite difficult to remove if desired.
The best type of preservatives is natural ones such as borates which kill pests, mildew, mold, and rot.
Even termites, beetles, and fungi will be stopped by the proper application of borates to the wood.
Just remember to apply the product when the wood is dry.
When applying a preservative, keep in mind that the wood will need to have some moisture available for proper diffusion and to prevent leaching.
Once you have applied the borate, add a water-repellent product over the top.
This will add another layer of protection to the wood.
Step 3- Staining the Wood
Paint is not recommended for a log cabin because it prevents the wood from breathing.
This can lead to cracks on the surface that eventually penetrate well into the logs themselves.
Proper staining prevents water from penetrating and mildew from forming.
You’ll want to use a stain that is acrylic, latex, or oil-based for proper protection.
When choosing the right stain for a log cabin home, keep in mind that you will need to get the stain that matches the needs of your log cabin.
To help you make the best-informed decision, you will need to consider:
Interior or Exterior:
While there are exterior stains that offer UV protection there are many designed just for interiors without this protection.
So, this is the category you should shop from when choosing a stain for the outside of your cabin.
Oil or Water Based Stains:
Both have their advantages and their issues.
An oil-based stain will create a more natural appearance and bring out the grain in the wood.
This type of stain looks great and will last for a long time.
The downside is that it can be quite messy to apply.
Water-based stains are also long-lasting and simple to maintain.
However, if you want to re-stain your home, you should only apply a water-based stain over a stain that is also water-based.
There are also types of hybrid stains that combine oil and water.
Such stains have resins that can be cleaned up with a little soap and water.
- Stains will last for a long time
- Each coat you add will create a darker appearance to the wood
- Re-staining dark wood with a lighter coat can be difficult to make it appear even
- Test before you start staining the home
A penetrating finish will also do the job, such as a semi-transparent finish that is oil-based.
You will have your choice of wood finishes that run the gamut from protecting against water absorption, UV rays, and the growth of organisms.
Most such finishes will have active ingredients such as fungicides, binders, resins, or pigments in place.
You’ll want your wood finish to consist of 30% or more of these solid contents. The higher the quality of the finish, the longer it will protect the wood.
Step 4- Applying the Sealants
Now that you have prepped, cleaned, and stained the wood, the next step is to seal it.
A proper sealant will prevent water from penetrating, although you will need the assistance of caulking around doors, windows, the top of walls, and corners.
You will need to use either contractor or professional grade caulking or chinking for these areas.
This uses a backer rod that sits between the joints and touches two points of the log.
This will allow for the caulking or chinking to expand and fill in the gap.
Using the proper tools, you can use the caulking or chinking on a ¼” thick wood surface that will adhere properly.
With this grade, no backer rod is needed when applying the caulking or chinking.
This type of grade will not be consistent in terms of thickness.
As a result, it will fail faster compared to professional-grade and will leave your home vulnerable to pests, air, water, and log rot.
Tips and warnings
When staining your log cabins from outside, makes sure that you do not skip the preparation steps as it will be the factor that will decide the success of your project.
Also, ensure that:
- The wood is dried completely before applying the stain
- Test and practise the stain application in an inconspicuous area
- Check for the appropriate temperature and humidity before application
How Often Do You Need to Re-Stain?
Basically, you should consider staining your log home or cabin every 3 to 7 years.
This will, however, range depending on the stain type you use and the level of exposure your cabin gets to the external elements like dust, rain, sun, snow, hail, wind, etc.
If there is very less exposure to these harmful conditions, you can consider giving your home a very light touch-up every three years.
The thing you need to remember is no stain material will last for more than a decade and will need to get the maintenance done at least once every 10 years.
The more you can upkeep with the maintenance part, the easier and more cost-effective will be for you to protect your log home.
What Color to Stain Your Log Cabin Home?
Gone is the time when choosing log home stain colors is limited to only traditional browns.
Today manufacturers are offering a wide variety of colors to choose from.
Based on your personal preferences and other shades you have in your home, you can pick colors that range from ocean blue to forest green or even purple and awesome orange.
When choosing a color for your log cabin stain there are a few things you will need to keep in mind.
First and the most obvious, you should pick the color that you’ll love to see for years to come.
Changing your log cabin stain color is challenging.
Plus, it’s much more difficult than changing a paint color since the stain will tend to get darker with each additional coat.
Also, keep in mind that stain will look different based on the type of wood.
So, it’s good to pick a bit lighter shade and test out a sample area before you commit to your log cabin stain color.
Can I apply a clear finish to protect my logs?
Clear wood finishes or varnishes should only be applied as a sealant after painting or staining the wood.
Unlike, wood stains varnishes do not contain pigments and these should not be used in place of stains for protection.
If you do, you will need to deal with issues such as cracking, peeling, or blistering.
What is the best stain to use for log cabins?
When staining log cabins, make sure you use the stains that are made specifically for log cabins.
Refrain yourself from using deck stain to stain your cabin.
Deck stains are generally designed for coating flat surfaces and they won’t allow the logs of your cabin to breathe the way the log stain will do.
When it comes to choosing the log cabin stain brand there are top brands such as Permachink, Sansin, Sashco, Sikkens, TWP, and others that can be considered.
Before picking the preferred brand, talk to your contractor that builds or stains the cabins.
Unlike, branded paint stores, builders or contractors will most likely give you better advice in choosing the right product for staining your log homes.
How much does it cost to stain a log cabin yourself?
I have stained log cabins two-three times in my lifetime.
And based on my experiences I can say it needs around 17 to 18 gallons of oil-based stain to stain a 1,000 square foot cabin.
For staining such a project, it will cost about $1000 to $1200 which will include stain and a few basic supplies you will need for staining.
To make it a bit simpler, you can roughly take $1 per square foot to stain your cabin.
This will however depend on factors such as the brand of stain you use, the number of coats you are putting on, and a few others.
To save on your costs you can get the estimations done and buy 5-gallons of buckets at a time.
Will my log home require chinking or caulking material?
It’s typical for log cabin homes to chink or caulk throughout their lifetime.
Corners of the home will generally experience more movements than others and will need extra attention.
Depending on conditions, you may however require more of one material than another.
Traditionally log cabins had mortar chinking (like cement, sand, and lime) installed.
But in recent times, the majority of chink material used is made of a more elastic acrylic-based synthetic mixture (also called Elastomeric chinking).
This adheres well to the logs to flex with the log movement. Plus, it does not chip like cement mortar.
Caulking on the other hand is more elastic than chinking and is great for smaller joints.
Unlike, chinking which comes in various colors and textures, caulking usually has a very light texture or no texture at all.
The Bottom Line
The log home is the only available way to live in some remote areas.
And as a homeowner, you will need to prepare yourself to deal with issues such as pests, fire, cost of owning, insuring, and regular maintenance.
Remember that for new log homeowners, it’s important to stain the log cabin within two years of building it.
Later as you see that the color is fading or wearing away to show the bare wood, it’s time to re-stain the timber.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.