Log Cabin Treatment Panic

You’ve got your brand new log cabin.  It’s up and it’s chucking it down, it’s January with record rainfall, floods everywhere and your poor log cabin is bare wood, soaked, you’ve got to treat it haven’t you? – PANIC!

NO you haven’t.  There is no panic whatsoever!  So wait a little while, relax, stop worrying about her, she’ll be fine for years – sort of!

This log cabin belongs to a friend of mine I supplied from Tuindeco years ago, apparently, after 12 years she’s still deciding on the right colour!  Girls!

Look at the state of the poor old thing, very neglected and unloved it would seem but it’s home to chickens on the veranda and guinea pigs inside during the winter and very much loved and used so she tells me.

I do despair, just look at it!  But the point of this is that it is not rotting and it’s still a very solid untreated log cabin.

A log cabin that has never been treated in it's twelve year life span.

A log cabin that has never been treated in it’s twelve year life span.

I’ve asked her to keep leaving the choice of colour until later just so I can see what happens, I hope to post again in ten years when it’s still standing and knowing her she’ll still be pondering the right colour!

Yes the poor ol’ thing has her problems.  You can see in this picture how dry the timber is, it’s cracking and shrinking.  These pictures were taken last summer so she will look different now.  See a post on cracking and splitting in timber for a little more insight into what is going on with timber cracks.

Cracking and splitting of log cabin logs

Cracking and splitting of log cabin logs

She’s got one or two more problems as well.  Nothing insurmountable though, for instance, this log cabin has a few friends:

This log cabin is suffering with mould and fungus.

This log cabin is suffering with mould and fungus.

Yup, it does have a little fungus on it.  It’s not dry rot as it is way below a moisture content of 20% and never at a steady temperature of 23 degrees which both conditions needs to exist for dry rot to occur.  It’s just good friends and they like each other, no harm done.

Here’s another friend:

Another friend attaching itself to an old log cabin

Another friend attaching itself to an old log cabin

The back wall of this log cabin is covered by a hedge, it’s never been cut and now Ivy is growing over it.  Goodness know’s the out come of this but the old girl is still going strong and fully in-contact with a hedge and all sorts of undergrowth.

Overall though she’s jolly good.  For a log cabin of this age, no treatment ever, she’s still solid and displays no rot at all.  Here’s the doors and Roof Purlins:

Untreated purlins on a very old log cabin

Untreated purlins on a very old log cabin

Untreated doors on a log cabin

Untreated doors on a log cabin, they have warped a bit as have the windows which don’t open but not too bad.

We give a ten year guarantee on our logs cabins against rot. There’s conditions and they have to be treated regularly blah, blah.  If it was up to me I’d give a twenty year one and no treatment.  It’s impossible for timber to rot!

Ok, maybe that’s a stupid thing to say, I’ll add a note to it:  It’s impossible for timber to rot as long as it is always VENTILATED and allowed to DRY.

So I reckon our guarantee is safe.  If you get any rot in 20 years time please let me know and I’ll pay for your replacement out of my own wages.  It won’t happen though if she’s allowed to breathe, and, that’s the key with all timber products – ventilation.  If it gets wet and it’s allowed to dry out it will NEVER ROT and that’s an inherent property of timber.  Not just ours but any timber providing it is timber of a suitable quality for it’s intended use, especially for log cabins watch out for where the timber comes from, slow gown, cold climate etc.

Walter Segal

Just a quick note, I’m a fan of this chap. He’s done a lot for home building and one of his principles was that of timber ventilation with buildings on stilts.  If timber is ventilated it will never rot. It’s why I love timber frames as bases for log cabins and I’ve been involved with lots of log cabins on stilts and similar construction methods they all work and never have I had a customer complain of rot.

Log Cabin and Timber Treatment

Of course with all my above whittering and pictures I am not AT ALL advocating not treating your log cabin or any garden timber.  It needs it!  And you must treat it at some point, the sooner the better. We’re not actually treating it just to prevent rot we’re treating it for lots of other things.

All I’m saying is don’t worry or panic over it, you do have time to do it without worrying if you can’t do it straight way.

If you don’t treat your log cabin or timber you can have a few problems and rot is not one of them

  • Discolouration of the timber.  See the pictures above, she doesn’t look that great.
  • Warping and shrinkage of timber.  The timber will dry out, warp, distort and will allow the ingress of water either through seams of via moisture transfer and may be pushed out of shape. Doors and windows may well warp and splits may well appear.
  • Expansion, the bloomin’ thing wants to reach an equilibrium with it’s surroundings, it wants the same moisture content that is in the atmosphere. So when it’s moist it wants to be moist as well.  We can’t have that! The thing is up and down like a yoyo if we let it.  Each of part of the timber should be viewed as a sponge, each piece is absorbing and expelling water. We need to to stop behaving like a sponge really. See this article for more on Moisture Content
  • As well as the above external pictures, internally, water marks could become visible which is unsightly and can develop damp spores especially if internally it is not ventilated.  Pay attention to this if you are installing a hot tub. The Log Cabin pictured above is always ventilated for the guinea pigs sake and another reason that even though she is not treated she’s still going strong and NOT rotting.  This log cabin has a constant flow of fresh air. See this article for advise on Ventilation
  • This log cabin is fortunate but insects can attack timber and a good treatment will stop this.
  • Attack by UV light causing drying and further splitting.  This log cabin is relatively shaded from it with hedges and trees all around, yours may not be.
  • Filthy!  Yup, she’s a dirty girl, inside and out and this is not something we really want with our very expensive log cabin.
  • Weather ingress. Even though it may not rot it will still soak up water and this will percolate through to the inside especially at the corners, doors and windows in an exposed environment.

So, what if it is weeks before you treat your log cabin?

You can’t treat it straight away?  What’s the worst that can happen?

Dirty wall logs on the log cabin

Dirty wall logs on the log cabin

Yup, the poor log cabin gets filthy with rain muck thrown up all over it.  When, and if this happens all you need to do is use a pressure washer or a good jet attached to a hose pipe, it comes up like new – honest.

Also, if you find darker marks on it which are a damp fungus forming all you need to do is apply a dilute bleach solution and it will all go and bring the timber back to normal ready for treatment. This will often happen if you’ve left a cabin out in the rain and covered it with plastic while waiting to install it for a month or two.  The humidity created is great for a fungus but it’s very easy to remove with a bleach spray and then a wash.  Our Sauna display cabin had this after being stacked outside for months, a quick spray and a wash and it’s all gone.

Pressure Washer

Just staying on a pressure washer:  I’ve installed log cabins in tempest, storms, gales, snow,hail, in fact every weather condition imaginable.  You can’t help to get it dirty inside and out sometimes especially big installs.  Just before you hand over to a customer (or yourself) give it a good jet wash or hose down, it’s like new regardless of how messy you’ve made it during the installation.

Water ingress

Timber won’t rot if it’s not treated but it will let in and soak up water by way of moisture transference.  This is regardless whether it has been tanalised or not. Even a tanalised log cabin still needs full weatherproof treatment other wise it will still behave in the same way.

To stop ingress and absorption by transference we must treat it.

Did you know on average a wall log which is untreated will move by up to 3mm over the course of the year as it absorbs and then expels moisture.

If You don’t treat it at all.

If we don’t treat it as well as it getting dirty (least of our problems) we can also have other problems as the logs, doors and windows will expand and contract due to moisture transfer happening too rapidly causing the timber to expanding and contract too quickly. It may also cause warps in doors and windows and splits. This article explains this a lot more – Moisture Content in Log Cabins and Wood.

Purpose of a log cabin timber treatment.

I’ve said what happens if we don’t treat a log cabin and that it really is a good idea. So now we are committed to doing it what are we looking for in a treatment?

  • UV protection – we need to protect it from the sun, and the sun and it’s light is a bugger, it’ll dry out timber, cause cracking, distortion and lots more, it’s a real bugger for wood.
  • Weather proofing.  Wood loves water, it soaks it up, it wants it, it’s a property but we’re meanies and need to keep it at steady 14%. We try to protect it from absorbing water. We try to protect the joints and stopping any water marks from coming through. This is also very important for the doors and windows. If we allow it to soak in water above 20% it will start to rot.
  • Reaching an Equilibrium … the bloomin’ thing keeps trying, see this post: Cracking and Splitting in timber.  We really don’t want this with our log cabin.  Stopping this will save us a lot of time and will make it last for years.  Stop the equilibrium I say! Moisture Content in Wood
  • Creature proofing … Pesky creatures, fungi, worms,etc.  A good treatment will stop the pesky critters.
  • Elasticity – As I’ve said the thing is moving a lot, even with a good treatment stopping the absorption and shedding of moisture, we need a treatment that can cope with this so high elasticity in also important.

What timber treatment should we use for our Log Cabin?

Hm, now this bit can be a hotbed of law suits.  Firstly anything expensive, we only recommend Sikkens, Kingfisher, Sadolins or our own European brands shown in our website or brochure such as Koopmans, Embadeco or Embalan and more recently the super treatment from Valvoline Max-Release Protectant – now known as ‘Carefree Protectant’ which is heralded as a revolution in timber treatment and from what I’ve seen the stuff is amazing

If it’s a cheap treatment we don’t recommend it especially ones designed for sheds or fences or which can be sprayed on.

Please don’t be tempted to use anything cheap! Any complaints we have had with cracking timber or mould algae, excessive shrinkage etc have always been found to be caused by a cheap treatment, use at your peril but we will not offer any guarantee if you have used it, i can always tell as well!

Please do NOT use a cheap treatment, all the problems that have been reported with a log cabin can often be traced back to this.

Expensive is the way forward, you get what you pay for and it’s certainly pertinent when regards to treatment. If you use treatment beginning with the third letter of the alphabet and only given it two coats and then complain in a few months time that you have splits I will tell you to apply five more coats of the same treatment or treat it again with something expensive.

If I was to get technical we need a depth of treatment of between 80 and 120 microns. This is the equivalent to two to three coats of an expensive treatment. To accomplish the same depth with a cheap one may take up to 10 coats and this is where the problem comes when customers use a cheaper treatment and give it two coats, you may as well not bother. It’s good on a shed perhaps but no good at all on a log cabin as we need to inhibit its movement. Anything less than 80 microns is not going to do anything.

When asking a treatment supplier always specify it’s for “Planned, smooth Spruce” and let them advise you on the best treatment for that style of timber.  Rough sawn treatment is not all compatible.

A great source of advice is Brewers, they’re a professional trade paint supplier and may have other ideas and I’ll always agree with them, they are the people who know treatments! Most of the time they will recommend two undercoats of preservative with two top coats of Sikkens.

My old log cabin was painted 15 years ago with Sikkens, all I do is give it a quick wash each year and that’s it, I do recommend it.

But, we have this new stuff:  CareFree Protectant.

It can dry in 15 minutes, be painted on wet, it’s clear and still provides UV protection.

I’ve even seen it coat grains of sugar in a glass of water and the sugar didn’t dissolve! Clever stuff and now I’ve used it it is amazing, I even tried painting it on wet timber in the rain and all the water wicked away as I was painting (I’m not going to formally recommend painting in the rain though).  Amazing! We’re now using this on everything on the show site including Larch and Hardwood furniture / fencing.

CareFree Protectant the new name for MaxRelease Protectant:

With our changing weather conditions our wood / concrete gets a lot to endure rain , sun, wind and frost . To keep your wood / concrete in optimum condition MaxRelease has developed the best protection . The water-borne coatings without organic solvent penetrates into the wood / concrete and thus provides a protective layer against moisture, sunlight , wind and rain for all types of wood and wood products , such as fences , decking , garden furniture , garden poles , log cabins , gazebos , larch and hardwoods , and concrete products such as garden poles and fence systems . It forms a thin layer on the substrate , so that the structure of the wood and the concrete remains pretty visible.

Benefits of Carefree Protectant :

  • Long-term protection against moisture
  • Low maintenance
  • Easy to apply and easy to clean
  • Excellent colour stability with minimal fading due to sunlight
  • Less fungal and algae
  • Impregnating
  • Corrosion resistant
  • Water resistant
  • Inhibits the natural transfer of moisture
  • Prevents kalkuitbloei in concrete

CareFree Wood Protectant is easy to use . Wood Protectant is a quick-drying material and will dry within 15 minutes ( depending on temperature , humidity, type of substrate ) . There is no primer or other type of primer is not necessary in order to bring . To Wood Protectant This makes the long-term protection of wood and concrete in a simple and quick job . MaxRelease Wood Protectant must be stored frost-free.

Having used this extensively now, I really do recommend it!

Damp Conditions

Regardless what log cabin you buy, from us or anyone the Carefree is excellent and one of its properties is protection against humidity.

Now this is clever stuff, it’s water soluble and goes on really well.  It will stop the formation of damp spores and is highly recommended for the inside of a log cabin if it is shut up for months on end or subjected to a damp atmosphere.

Just quickly note on hot tubs, Log Cabins are great as a hot tub enclosure but make sure you use a vent, this also applies if you are storing lots of damp tools.

Carefree Protectant Timber Treatment

When do I treat my Log Cabin?

Now this is something I’m asked all of the time.  My stock ‘official’ answer as within the brochure and literature is “Always paint / stain / treat your cabin BEFORE installation”

But, oh my goodness that is a real pain, you get paint in the grooves, on the corners and joints, it’s harder to install.  You get sticky patches that then get sticky on your fingers, that then leave finger marks on the inside of the logs.  It’s a nightmare!

So you’ve had the official answer, the unofficial and my opinion only is just build the cabin and paint it later. In all the years I’ve been doing this I haven’t had a comeback.

One hint I would give though is when you come to paint it, remove the top of the door and window fascias and paint behind them, otherwise when it expands, as it will in winter months, you’ll be left with a white line that’ll need painting again.  It will never match up so always do it first and beat the sneaky blighter creeping up on you with the annoying equilibrium thing timber does.

How much do I need?

Another question I’m always asked and this one is tricky.  It’s all down to the coverage recommended by your chosen brand.  But for instance our stain covers 14 – 15 sq.m and the the paint covers 5-8 sq.m. It does vary on the type and brand of paint or stain your are using.  It’s best to work out the log cabins dimensions and calculate it and then give this measurement to your supplier, or do what I do and guess and if you run out get some more.

Roof?

I’ve had customers ask about treating the roof. My answer is always why bother? If the final roof covering is applied properly there really is no need.

Summary of wood treatment for Log Cabins

So, in summary what have I said:

  • Don’t panic over getting treatment on your log cabin if it’s wet or raining when you unpack and install your cabin.
  • You have a little while before you need to worry, especially if you have a pressure washer or a jet hose so you can keep in clean
  • You do NEED to treat it to make sure it lasts and helps to inhibit the transfer of moisture.
  • Clean it with a bleach solution for spores or a jet of water for dirt.
  • ALWAYS keep it well ventilated.  Ventilation and allowing timber to dry if wet stops all Rot. Here is further information on Ventilation in a log cabin
  • ONLY use an expensive treatment so you know that you will be getting a depth of at least 80 microns.  The more expensive it is, the deeper it will be and the longer your log cabin will last and more importantly, if you’re lazy like me, you probably will not need to do it again for a good whiel. Do NOT use the lower end of the market to treat your log cabin I guarantee you will have problems as they do not inhibit the transfer of moisture which is important with log cabins. Please see this article for more on Moisture and inhibiting it in wood.
  • Watch out for the natural equilibrium of timber, inhibit this with a good treatment and make sure it is high in elasticity.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s advice. If it says three coats give it three coats. It is all about the depth attainable of the final finish.

Depth of Treatment and Moisture

Please see another post on the depth of timber treatment and the correct moisture content for log cabins.

Please see another post on the depth of timber treatment and the correct moisture content for log cabins.

More information on the Depths of Treatment and Moisture content of your Log Cabin

One final note, customers will often leave their cabin install until the ‘weather is better’ or look for a ‘weather window’. In my opinion it is always better to get it up and worry about treatment later, don’t let a bit of rain put you off!

The joy of a log cabin install in the wet. I remember this morning, we had to remove a layer of snow off the roof and then it rained all day while trying to install the insulation and roof shingles.

The joy of a log cabin install in the wet. I remember this morning, we had to remove a layer of snow off the roof and then it rained all day while trying to install the insulation and roof shingles. You too can have this much fun installing your cabin in the wet.

I have written another post on Treatment following a customer’s question that needed a little more advice: Treatment of a log cabin – A Customer’s Question you may find this interesting.

5 thoughts on “Log Cabin Treatment Panic

  1. Thanks for the article. I’ve just erected a cabin and given it a coat of wood preserver. I’m going to stain it with Sikkens but it looks like we’re running out of dry weekends in the near future. It sounds from your article that I shouldn’t worry too much. If I left things until spring should I do anything to re-prep the surface? Just wash it down? Put on another coat of preserver?

    On another topic, the timber bearers of my cabin are getting wet in the rain (the concrete base is too big, in hindsight). The bearers are on a damp proof membrane, which extends approx. 100mm out beyond the walls. I was thinking of wrapping the membrane up over the face of the bearers and fixing it in place with a timber batten so that any rain water collecting on the base only ever touches the membrane and not the bearers themselves. Is this a reasonable thing to do? I’m in two minds as a damp proof membrane over the bearers might trap any moisture inside… or would any moisture wick up through the first log that is in contact with the bearer and dissipate that way?

    • You didn’t say what wood preservative you have used or how many coats. But I am assuming there is only one coat. This will help but you could experience some warping with the doors and windows. Not a problem really with a turn button to hold them if you do find this. A cabin is fine for a few months as long as you understand it can move as it absorbs and expels moisture.

      Wood by it’s nature is a wet material and is made up of loads of straws, all wanting to suck in moisture. This will have an effect and none that we cannot rectify.

      You should be fine until next year, give it a good wash down and a light sanding and then treat again. We like to see 80 – 120 microns which is two – three coats of a good treatment. This will stabilise the timber and any tendency to warp or move will be pretty much gone.

      Regarding the bearers, if it was me I would cut back the DPM flush with the bearer and then apply a bead of silicone between the base and the foundation beam. This is also a good idea if your base has undulations within it. We don’t want water getting underneath the floor.

      I hope this helps

    • I always recommend painting / staining the inside of the doors and windows. This helps greatly to stabilise the wood reducing the chances of a natural warp. If a building is used regularly and is well ventilated there is not usually a need to paint / stain the inside other than for aesthetics.

      However, if a building is shut up for a long time there is likely to be a buildup of moisture within the building which may affect the cabin. The same would apply if a Damp Proof Membrane has not been used.

      Additionally if you have a source of damp such as a fridge, freezer, spa, sauna etc then it is a very good idea to treat the inside. One of our treatments we offer is an impregnation fluid which is excellent for inhibiting the formation of damp spores on the inside of a log cabin.

We'd love your comments on this.....