How to choose the best products for tough conditions climates.

0202p64LorenzQ. I just built a lakeside log cabin with a cedar-sided garage in the far northern U.S. Because of lake exposure and temperature extremes, I want to buy the best possible stains and paints that will endure. What do you recommend?
– Cliff Bevins, via email

A. Because of the heavy, solid timbers and their curves, log cabins have particular requirements when it comes to the coatings used to protect them from the elements.

“‘Logs ain’t wood,’ we like to say around here,” says Charis Babcock, associate brand manager at finishes manufacturer Sashco, which specializes in protections for log cabins. “The way they move, the way they take on moisture is very different.

Logs undergo a whole lot more stress because of their mass – even half-log siding is going to move and undergo stress much more than 2x4s.”

So your question is a good one and reflects an understanding of how important the right stain is for a log home, according to Chris Fazio, owner/founder of Top Choice Painting and Log Restoration in Charlevoix, Mich.

“The biggest issue that comes up when people buy log homes or they build them is that they don’t really think about the finishes,” Fazio said. “Then, yearly maintenance and cleaning is huge. That means pressure-washed, not power-washed.”

But answering your question is a bit tricky because you don’t say whether the exterior has been stained or painted previously.

“I’d have to know about what he’s gotten himself into,” Fazio said when Cabin Living asked about your situation. “If he hasn’t applied any finishes then he’s in a great position.”

If you have, you must find out what has already been used and assess what condition it’s in, according to Fazio.

“I would say if he just built it, and he had a builder that applied decent finishes out of the gate, I’d recommend Perma-Chink,” he says. “We recommend that product for two reasons: they have a five-year written warranty, which is huge for a coating, as long as the coating is applied property, and it’s water-based not oil, so you’re not having to spray around. The water-based technology is exceeding the quality of the oils.”

If there’s an oil-based stain underneath or you prefer an oil stain, Fazio recommends Sascho, which he says has similar top-grade finishes and great customer service.

In fact, Sashco’s Babcock says that, whether water- or oil-based, the best finishes for a log cabin are those that are elastic enough to allow for the major shifts in the timber and protective enough against elements – mostly the sun.

“There’s a misconception out there that there are oil-based stains and water-based stains, when actually there are three types, and they have very little to do with oil or water,” she says. “Logs take on the heat because of the sun and their curve and their mass; they get a lot hotter than conventional lumber. There’s about a 60° difference, and it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter. You have to have a stain that’s capable of taking that heat, and you need a stain that’s elastic.”

There are surface stains and shallow penetrating stains, which are best for log cabins, she says, and most deep penetrating stains aren’t ideal because they don’t protect against deeper problems like bugs. But we’ve found one product that might do the trick: Outlast Q Log Oil is a deep-penetrating product that is toxic to termite and powder post beetles, in addition to controlling rot and decay, providing water repellency and protecting against UV damage.

Notice that so far everyone is talking about stains and not paint. Keep it that way, says Dave Melbardis, log home repair specialist and co-owner of the Log Doctors, which is based in Kodak, Tenn., and operates in several areas of the Southeast.

“Paint has a tendency to trap moisture and rot logs,” Melbardis warns. He agrees that choosing a top quality stain from the likes of Perma-Chink or Sashco will serve you well, though your cedar-sided garage won’t likely require it.

“Some of the big box stains are great for what they’re designed for, but they’re not designed for the big heavy timber of actual logs. With the garage, you just won’t have the complications that you would with the heavy timbers. I would stick with a similar color palette, and a lot of the manufacturers have a siding stain that is a little bit less expensive but will match.”

For the most part, extreme temperatures won’t be the villain the way sun, moisture and bugs can be, but Melbardis says that the stain on the windward side of the cabin is likely to deteriorate faster.

“Use a log stain system that has a top coat. Apply the stain to the logs, put a clear coat on top of it and you can reapply as that top coat deteriorates on that windward side.”