Myriad products are available to accomplish this task, both in single- and multi-coat applications, and in a number of colors. Select the product that best suits your cabin’s location and needs; labels should include information on whether the product offers UV protection, repels water and prevents rot.
1. Prep your exterior.
If you are using logs, when new, they may have what’s known as mill glaze — a hard layer created during the milling process as water-soluble extracts are brought to the surface of the wood. In order for stain to properly adhere to the log, this glaze must be removed. “Stain by its very description allows the undertone of the wood to show through,” says Barbara Murray, president of CTA Products. “You have got to start with a uniform clean product to get good results aesthetically.” To achieve a clean surface, you must first power wash your exterior using a minimum pressure of 3000 psi, then sand the log using an orbital finish sander to get rid of the glaze. (Note: Be sure to wear a mask — any basic mask that covers your nose and mouth will do — to prevent inhalation of harmful particles during this process.) Then rinse the surface to clear it of any leftover sanding particles. Mask off any windows at this point to avoid staining unwarranted areas.
2. Check instructions.
Each staining product is different, so make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions before proceeding with the stain. “Everyone knows how their products work best,” Murray explains. “Make sure you do it the way they want it done.” For example, she notes, there are two different types of spray applications: pump-up sprayers and airless sprayers. Using the wrong one could result in a costly mistake. “A pump-up sprayer may make a big mess of an airless application, and vice versa,” she says. Make sure you test the product on an inconspicuous surface prior to applying the full application to ensure it will work.
3. Apply initial coat.
Once you know the appropriate tool for the task, you can get to work applying the stain. Make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. If your product calls for a spray application, ask a second person to back-brush the stain into the wood, recommends Ray Kovitz, senior account manager at Sansin. “A sprayer doesn’t have a lot of force to it,” he explains. “For best penetration, you have to back-brush. You get high and low spots with just spray. A brush creates one nice, clean uniform look.” The second person should follow directly behind the sprayer, as the stain may settle if allowed to sit for too long. Avoid applying stain in temperatures of less than 50 degrees or more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, high humidity or wet weather, and make sure to stir the stain as you use it to prevent pigments from settling at the bottom of the container.
4. Caulk checks or cracks.
Caulk should be applied to any areas where water is absorbed — namely the top of logs — and checks more than ¼-inch wide. If you’re using a multi-coat product, wait to repair checks or cracks until the first coat is in place in order for the stain to seal the log, Kovitz recommends. “Caulking sticks like glue to most substrates — it’s a form of adhesive,” he notes. “Homeowners will stick some in a crack or check on their new logs, and undoubtedly, a bunch will come running out. Then it’s all over the log. If the log is already sealed with the first coat, the caulk is easier to wipe off and there’s no residue on the wood. If there’s residue, the log won’t absorb stain there.” To seal any fissures on the underside of the log, simply work the stain and sealant into the crack with a brush to provide a protective coat.
5. Apply remaining coats and/or chinking, if necessary.
Most manufacturers of multi-coat products use a two-coats-of-stain, one-coat-of-clear system, Kovitz notes, allowing for a 24-hour drying period in between each coat. Use the same back-brush process noted in step three to keep the look uniform. Once dry, you can then chink your home, if desired. Reapplication If the exterior is properly maintained, most stains will need to be touched up every two years, either by brushing on a touchup coat or an additional layer of clear sealant of the original product. However, if you are switching products, especially between a water- and oil-based stain, you may need to start from scratch, getting back to the bare wood. If your cabin features logs with chinking, you can cover the strips with painters tape to try to avoid staining them, but it will likely be easier to simply apply the stain or sealant as necessary and repaint the strips with chinking paint.