How Long Will Log Home Stain Last?
I have spent my last 15 years promoting finishes and sealants for log and wood structures. In this time, I’ve visited hundreds of buildings to work with owners, contractors, architects, and other various who all have the goal and desire to achieve a look they had in mind and to keep it looking this way for the least amount of money and maintenance costs for years to come. If the rest of you are like me, you’ve also spent a fair amount of time studying the information and opinions offered on the web. I read a lot of comment, both good and bad, about the various finish products on the market. Consumer experiences range the full gamut. Opinions and experiences from others prompted me to chime in and hopefully add some value to the ongoing discussion.
After carefully studying the prices and types of the various products available, the number one question consumers seem to be asking time and time again is:
As to the durability and life span of any stain or finishing product, there are three basic factors that apply to all finishes on all log structures:
- The actual quality of the product and suitability for its purpose
- Surface preparation techniques employed
- The environment the finish will be expected to perform in.
A high quality finish (defined by the quality of resins, additives, and application research) applied to a properly prepared surface will undoubtedly outperform and remain more durable than a lesser quality or non-suitable product in almost any environment. This is a fact that is proven by conscientious application contractors, homeowners, and manufacturers for many, many years.
A wood stain or finish is generally the sum of three parts: a solvent, a resin, and a pigment. Be it water based or oil based, the solvent’s purpose is to evenly distribute the resin and the pigment over the surface of the wood. When a finish is applied to a structure and it has dried, the solvent has evaporated and its work is done. You are now left with a resin and pigment on the surface of the wood. The resin in a finish is the material that carries the pigment and binds it to the surface. The resin also serves as a barrier to the moisture elements of our environment that can bring damage to wood. Performance enhancing additives that add water repellency, mildew/insect resistance, or UV absorbers may also be found in the overall resin technology. The pigments in a stain are what give us the desired color and also what provide almost all of the UV protection. Aside from the resins, pigment represents much of what is being touted as the “solids”. These “solids” are very small microscopic objects that create a barrier between the sun and the wood. Imagine a thick piece of glass or clear plastic suspending some objects like coins or flat rocks. The glass would be the resin, and the coins/rocks would be the pigment.
Logs behave differently than dimensional lumber or siding. Their mass and their natural physical characteristics naturally make them more vulnerable to “changing”. Logs cut, shaped, and moved from one location or climate to another will eventually adapt to their environment, be it a few feet away or in another state or country. They can twist, settle, shrink, check (crack), and continue to adjust to local humidity levels. All of these factors place a much larger strain on the coatings and sealants used to protect them. High quality products used in the log construction and maintenance industry must use resins that when cured have the ability to flex, adhere, and suspend a sufficient amount of pigments to not only protect the surfaces of the logs, but to protect the resin itself. These resins and this technology are generally not included in the products found on the cheap shelf in the big box stores. The more economical products are not designed to accommodate the needs of log surfaces.
While there are many arguments as to the best and most suitable prep methods, the durability and longevity of a log finish is directly related to its ability to adhere to the surface its being applied to. Power washing the right way can be a sufficient prep method; however has its limits and weaknesses.
- Power Washing
To properly power wash a structure, the existing coatings or existing surface damage should be removed to the point a sound and clean surface is reached for the new coating to properly adhere to. Power washing is most suitable for light maintenance and recoating over currently performing previously stained surfaces.
- Media Blasting
The ultimate and best method for surface prep is to mechanically remove damaged surface wood or existing non-performing stains through the means of media blasting, sanding, grinding, or brushing with various available equipment. These methods ensure a clean, textured, and sound surface for application of quality stains. Mechanically preparing surfaces is a major step in ensuring the long life and beauty of a log home finish. There is a ton of good information about this provided through most resellers dedicated to the log home market.
Imagine your log home as a piece of your best furniture. Would you set your grand piano in the driveway and expect the weather to leave it alone? This is one of the best ways to look at your investment. People who have good experiences with finishes are generally following the guidelines being provided, AND they are applying finishes to structures that do a good job of protecting themselves.
The largest enemies of logs and finishes are:
- Blowing wind that may contain dirt or sand.
Large overhangs, covered porches, proper water drainage systems, and large surrounding trees all contribute to the success and durability of finishes for log homes.
Does your house protect itself?
- Do you have areas where snow piles up?
- Are you stacking firewood against your home?
- Do the gutters or drainage systems channel water away from your home?
- Does water falling from the roof splash off your deck onto your walls?
- Is your sun exposure on certain walls more than it should be?
This list can literally be very long, but common sense tending to these areas will make the critical difference in how long your finish will last.
So how long will your stuff last? Nobody can really answer that question perfectly, but the facts remain. If you invest in a quality product, study and employ the best surface prep methods, and understand or modify the environment for your log structure, you will maximize the life of the product you choose to use. Doing the above will almost certainly double or triple the life of a finish and the beauty of your structure for years to come.
I was recently in a paint store where I saw a large sign that read, "Only rich people can afford a cheap finish." When you do the math, this is absolutely true. Over time, not adhering to these principals will cost much more money, frustration, and potentially structural damage than is not necessary and completely preventable.
Recommended Log Home Stains:
- High Sierra
Symphony Interior Stain
Log Home Stain Definitions
- be it water or oil, all stains use some sort of a solvent base who’s primary purpose is to blend and suspend the resin and pigments in such a viscosity allowing us to move the resins and pigments evenly and beautifully over the surfaces we are coating. Most suitable solvents, once applied, will dry away and leave the resins and pigments adhered to the surface to protect the logs.
- All durable protective finishes contain pigments in either a premixed color or may allow for a solvent base to be custom tinted. The pigments in any stain not only determine the finished color desired, but are the element in stains that do most all of the protecting from the damaging UV rays. Clear products do not ever offer long term, low maintenance propositions for any log homes with any kind of exposure to the elements.
- This can also be termed as the polymer or the binder that is responsible for suspending the pigments and making sure they are attached well to the log. Not only do the pigments in a stain protect the underlying wood, they protect the actual resins that suspend them. *in a lesser expensive stain, or one with little R&D work, the chance are the stain will not end up being as durable because
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