Cleaning a Log Cabin

This post title is ‘Cleaning a Log Cabin“, it could also read: “Cleaning a log cabin successfully, and then ruining it by cocking up badly!” which is what happened!

Things were going so well, until I got too keen …… and ….. really cocked up and I have possibly put a friendship in jeopardy.

The Exciting New Timber / Wood Cleaner:

It all started with some excitement, a new product had been sent to me to try out. It’s a cleaner for wood / timber and primarily designed for cleaning timber before the application of our Carefree Protect timber Treatment.

I had been sent a video showing its super powers which I didn’t entirely believe.

Pretty impressive stuff! So, when the box of six arrived I set about finding every bit of rubbish and stained wood I could find and started spraying everything to see what happens. I found on surface dirt, like in the video, it was very very quick indeed. I tried it on a larch gazebo that is at the office currently being used as a carport, it worked well but not as quickly, I think maybe the dirt was a lot more ingrained and had been driven in by passing traffic, It did though bring up the post well. It was squirted onto mouldy timber, rotten timber, wood with fungal spores caused by damp or resin and all of them came up clean, much of it came up like new wood.

It seemed to me it was like a magic potion, and then others joined in, people were all hunting in the yards, warehouses and workshops for wood to clean, it turned into a bit of a cleaning frenzy with my six bottles liberally spread across Tuin.

Then, I noticed somebody had cleaned my experiment log that I’ve used in a few blogs now:

No treatment at all on this poor Log – This made up display boards showing various levels of treatment on logs, This picture was taken January 2017 and it is now August 2017.

This experiment was going really well, a year and a half of being exposed to the elements, along with other logs of varying degrees of treatment to show customers what can happen. A Very useful and scientific experiment you’ll agree. But, some clever bugger thinks it would be really handy if it was half cleaned – unbelievable!

My year and a half experiment ruined! …. Just great, so thanks to whoever at Tuin thought that was a good idea!  It is clean though…. well a quarter of it is.

YES it did clean it really well and bang goes an update blog which I had planned to revisit in January 2018.

At this point, enough is enough, I confiscate the bottles from everyone, suggest they stop mucking about and get back to work. The cleaning fest was over and I decide a proper experiment is needed.

A colleague has a log cabin that I knew had never, ever been treated. I featured it a few years ago in another blog post, at the time it was being used for chickens, I have a little chat, casually mentioning her log cabin and a super duper new wood cleaner for log cabins.

A completely untreated log cabin the home of a group of chickens.

I’m told the chickens have now all but gone, but then it went through a phase as a Guinea Pig home and sanctuary. Lately it is simply a store for general “stuff” that cannot be thrown away … Girls!.

However, it still remains untreated, and is now about 15 – 17 years old.

The Serious Log Cabin Cleaning Experiment 

I offer my services with the new timber cleaning product, my time and effort and promised to transform the log cabin for her, in the name of a thoroughly useful experiment. This is the log cabin before I conducted the experiment. Chickens and Guinea Pigs gone, it is a blank canvas and perfect for a restoration project:

An old log cabin, still untreated and looking in need of some TLC. A perfect restoration project

I would show you a completed after shot of the experiment but we are not quite … ahem … there yet.

So, onto the experiment and at this point it’s best to show you the video I made and you’ll see the huge effect the cleaner had and that the experiment was a resounding success – it did clean the log cabin, really quite remarkably…. I find this video amazing!

Of course this cabin is ancient so it cannot be perfect, that would be expecting far too much but it did clean as the video shows, and it cleaned the logs amazingly quickly. The process can keep working over 24 hours and the label says for really heavy dirt to apply three coats, one hour apart. The video is only showing one coat, but, I think you’ll agree this is pretty impressive even with one coat.

The corner of the cabin has always fascinated me, on the short side the wind and rain bellows up into it, as it’s flanked by a wall and it receives all the very worst weather year round. I find the marking and weathering particularly incredible. And like all timber it never rots if allowed to dry naturally, No rot in this log cabin timber is evident at all.

Corner connections of an old log cabin, heavily discoloured and marked.

After some squirts of the Carefree Timber / Wood Cleaner and allowing it to settle for ten minutes of so the result in impressive.

Corner connection of the log cabin starts to come clean again.

Now I’m fascinated with this side wall as it is so exposed, this is what it looked like

A really dirty side wall of a log cabin that is exposed to the worst of the weather. You can see part of the corner that has cleaned up quite well despite its years of exposure.

Again, a bit of time squirting the cleaner and things are looking a lot better.

Yes there is still some dirt but I was expecting a lot. a damn site cleaner though!

This was just one coat and got to this stage within 10 – 15 minutes, it’s not perfect or as new wood but when you consider how old the log cabin is it is pretty amazing and all done with a few squirts ….. and the squirting is where the problem now starts ………

The Log Cabin Cleaning Cock Up

The squirting …. well quite frankly it is a bit tiresome, at this point I had finished the parts shown in the video, most of the front wall, the corner and the side wall, about two and a half bottles have been used and my hand and wrist is getting sore, in fact my wrist is now really painful.

I start to wonder if there is an alternative to this method. I had promised my colleague a clean log cabin that she could now, finally, choose her colours and treat it (I had asked her not to in the past as I had assured her it would not ever rot, and it makes for a great experiment for me and my blogging), but, now at last she can treat it and I suggested we use the Carefree timber treatment that is so good, afterwards.

I don’t think this stuff is overly cheap, I’m told the price is around £19.50 for the bottle, so far I’ve used nearly £60 worth on this Log Cabin. But it is really quick acting, great results and damn good, it hurts my wrist though which I’m getting a little fed up of – I am old!

I deal with complaints from customers sometimes and I start thinking what complaints can be made from people about this cleaner.

We have the expectations of people but I think that’s covered, I cannot see how anyone can moan about the performance if they are realistic about what timber / wood they are cleaning bearing in mind the age and dirt.

I think about the effort and yes, there is some with the spray trigger which people could moan about. I am told though this can be bought in drums so a powered sprayer maybe better for bigger jobs so that complaint is covered.

I think about the cost. I’ve done some research and cannot find anything like it, there’s lots of claims but nothing I can see with the speed of this product. No one seems to produce videos of it actually working. – Please send me some links if you have found any so I can compare. But, there is a cost implication, this whole log cabin might be close to £100 worth of treatment to get it clean. On top of that you have the proper treatment needed, it could get expensive and in a complaint situation I have to justify it.

It’s at this point i have a great idea, no costs involved, quick, easy, fun and not a lot of effort!

I fetch my pressure washer 🙂

Pressure washer being used on a log cabin – what a great idea!

And at this point please understand a few other cock ups I made before I get onto the main horrendous one. It turns out there is a really big red label on the bottle that should be read.

Big red warning label – A must read.

I hadn’t actually read this, please if you choose to use this product follow it’s guidance. When I saw the door handle I realised I should have!

The handle was very old and in hindsight I should have removed it before applying the cleaner. I should have also used gloves and a mask throughout.

Maybe because I’m 50 in a few weeks my brain is not working as it should, the label says it can cause  irritation, and to use gloves, a mask, protective clothing ….. Doh! … My self and my helper didn’t for most of the application, not good.

I should have also removed the handles before application of the cleaner, they were pretty bad before hand and now I have made them worse….. damn it.

If you use this cleaner, please follow the advice of the red label and protect yourself properly, also remove any metal work in case of it reacting badly with it.

Carrying on pressure washing the log cabin

So I’m now cracking on with the pressure washer, I’m having to get really, really close with the nozzle, as the dirt is so old and ingrained, I’ve even put on a special swirl nozzle and the logs are getting pretty clean. The dirt is lifting, it looks as good as the Carefree Timber / Wood Treatment and costs nothing is you already have a pressure washer.

The dirt is tough to get out though!

Several years ago I used a pressure washer to clean a huge cabin we had just built, it was only a bit of mud splats and we were really careful to keep our distance from the wood, and it worked really well to clean it up.

This time though, to get the dirt out I had to get in close and really go for it. At this stage in the above picture it looked pretty good, I was feeling pretty smug ….. and after £60 worth of treatment this was SOOOOO much better …. WoooooHooooo….. and cost nothing and my wrist didn’t hurt at all.

And then it went bad …. a few hours later it was dry …..

Too close and too higher pressure – ruined the log cabin!

And …. this is what I had done!  Bugger, too close, too high a pressure, too much dirt and I have destroyed the logs.

A Ruined Log Cabin

AND now I have a huge problem! A very old log cabin, never treated, it was doing fine. I could have stuck with the really impressive cleaner but now I have really destroyed the surface …… now I have a problem…..

My advice from now on …. Use the Carefree Timber / Wood cleaner if you have something similar, pressure washing is NOT a good idea!

More to follow, if i can get out of this predicament …….!

Use this stuff though if you want a clean log cabin which you have not treated properly, if at all, then, spend some money on some proper treatment so you never have to go through this.

Carefree Protect Timber Cleaner

Carefree Protect Timber cleaner.

Cracking and Splitting in Timber

Timber – A bit of a pain

Summer in general is a complete pain for our industry, it’s at this point we get customers questioning the ‘quality’ of our timber used in some of our products as some cracks and splits start to appear in items that use posts such as play equipment and gazebos.

Thankfully, it’s not just us either, every single supplier of timber products for the garden gets exactly the same thing.

Summer historically costs the timber industry thousands upon thousands of pounds due to perceived ‘defects’ in timber by customers when 99% of the time no defect exists at all.

Natural Organic Substance.

Timber is a natural substance, we all know that.  And, as it is organic, it is greatly influenced by it’s surroundings and more specifically it is trying to reach an equilibrium with it’s natural surroundings.

Water Content.

When a tree is first cut down (green wood) it can contain over 50% of it’s weight in water.  This water is naturally contained in the wood and is divided into two categories:

Free Water and Bound Water.

Free Water is water that is held within the wood via capillary action.  It can be absorbed and expelled.

Bound water is water within the wood that is bonded via hydrogen atoms.

When timber is dried it will be the free water that is the first to leave.

Before timber is used it is dried when most of the free water is removed (fibre Saturation Point of Wood (FSP)) FSP is achieved at about 25 – 30% moisture content.  Wood is dried to it’s natural surrounding environment and as such is engineered to work within it to about 20 – 25%.

Benefits of dried timber.

  • Decay organisms generally cannot thrive in wood with a low moisture content.  Many wood loving insects can only live in green timber.
  • Dried wood has better thermal and insulation properties.
  • Preservatives and finishes penetrate better with dried wood.
  • Dried wood is generally a lot stronger than green wood.

Equilibrium of the environment

As I’ve mentioned wood wants to be the same as it’s environment both in moisture content and temperature.  This is where we start to see a problem, especially during the Summer months and soaring temperatures. The timber starts to exhibit cracks and splits where it further dries out from it’s original point of FSP.

It is, by its nature trying to reach an equilibrium with it’s surrounding air moisture. During summer this moisture content in the air is going up and down all the time as is the temperature and the wood is trying to do the same thing.

Seasonal Wood Shrinkage.

Regardless of how well dried a piece of wood is it will always grow and shrink according seasonal changes in relative humidity of the air.

Changes in ambient humidity is all that is needed and will always affect timber regardless of any other influences.

A good treatment can slow this process down greatly regulating how fast moisture gets in and out of the timber. Wood shrinks by different amounts in different directions, there is however very little movement in the grain lengthwise.  There is some shrinkage radially and a greater amount tangentially (along the curvature of the growth rings).

Here’s a picture of my gate post at home, the weather we’ve been having is having a major impact on it.  You’ll notice that cracks and splits are appearing and will continue to do so at different rates. Most of the splits are occurring perpendicular to the growth rings because there is more shrinkage along the direction of the rings.  At the moment this piece of timber is still drying to reach an equilibrium with it’s surroundings, the inner core is wetter than the outer but once that has dried to the level of the atmosphere virtually all these splits will dissapear.

Cracked and Splitting timber

Cracked and Splitting timber

Here’s another basic but extreme example.  Because of the different rates of radial and tangential shrinkage, distortion of the wood can occur.  It can also cause radial cracks from the centre of the wood to the outer edge.  This is because the circumference shrinks more than it’s radius and a big radial crack appears allowing the circumference to shorten.

Shorter circumference resulting in a radial crack

Shorter circumference resulting in a radial crack

Here’s my post again showing a crack top to bottom, this is a radial split as above and will close up once the whole of the post has reached an equilibrium either by further drying or expansion as the moisture in the air increases such as Autumnal weather.

Longitudinal crack along the radius of the grain.

Longitudinal crack along the radius of the grain.

Here’s another example, this is a crack that’s just starting to emerge, they can appear very quickly during a hot day and often after installation if exposed in the hot sun or stored in a hot environment such as a garage.

Gazebo Post Crack starting to appear.

Gazebo Post Crack starting to appear.

The same thing happens to furniture when out in the sun or a change of humidity.  This is the timber from my picnic table I photographed yesterday, you’ll notice small cracks are just starting to appear.

Cracks starting to appear in the top of a picnic table.

Cracks starting to appear in the top of a picnic table.

Round poles such as the type used in many play centres, swings and climbing frames also exhibit the same properties and often far worse:

Round pole split along the radius

Round pole split along the radius

What is mainly affected?

The properties exhibited here are mainly found in products that utilise posts such as our gazebos and outdoor play equipment.

This is because the posts are made from a whole tree trunk.  You can see that very clearly with my fence post as an example, this was not supplied via Tuindeco but by a local fence supplier, our posts however will be the same.  This post has been in the ground for about 12 months and supports a gate.fence-post This post is encompassing both the ‘Heart’ and the ‘Pith’ of the tree  and as such it shrinks and swells at different rates.  A whole tree trunk is used as it is considerably stronger than the outside of the tree, If we were to use the outside then we would lose a huge amount of strength, the strongest part of a tree of course is the heart.

Summary

As I’ve said and we all know, wood is an organic substance.  It also tries its hardest to match it’s environment which you may not know.

It moves, swells, and shrinks to do so and is normal timber behaviour.

This should be fully understood and expected when buying any timber product for your garden. Sometimes these cracks can open up alarmingly large but remember it is entirely normal and once the inner core has dried the crack will close up.  Likewise as the moisture in the air increases so will the free water absorbed by capillary action in the wood and once again the cracks will close up.

None of these splits or cracks in the timber will affect it’s structural integrity or inherent strength.

If however, it concerns you I recommend the use of a good quality timber treatment as this will restrict the moisture both entering and leaving the wood.

Basically timber can be viewed as a bit of a pain!

Customers sort through the DIY shops, they buy gazebos or other ‘post’ style products and immediately reject them as being defective, this is simply not true!

Wood, by definition cannot be defective, there is nothing to go wrong other than obvious rot which is very rare in graded timber.

If you experience cracks and splits in your timber, especially when it is obviously milled from a whole trunk it is not a ‘defective’ product, nor is the strength impaired, it simply is timber exhibiting it’s normal state and characteristics.

Enjoy it and embrace it as it is part of it’s charm and warmth we all enjoy.  Watch it and marvel at it’s behaviour, cracks and splits will disappear, open up, wander and move …. is it really a pain or a bloomin’ clever feature of a very basic material we all love?  If you don’t like it, treat it with a good timber treatment and restrict the flow of moisture in and out.  However!  Even the best treatments allow moisture transfer, even plastic does to a certain extent.

The ONLY thing to remove the transfer of moisture is aluminium as found in crisp packets!  Cover your posts in this and they will never crack or split!

A personal Experiment with Cracks in Timber

Update:  11th August 2013

I’m going to try and prove my own waffle, I’m going to focus on my fence post, bear in mind it’s been in the ground for about a year and I’m now going to try and study it.

I plan to photograph it over the weeks, months and maybe years ahead.  It’s all very well me spouting on about the theory.  Some may even see it as excuses for a dodgy bit of timber so lets actually see what happens with this post over time if at the end I’m a liar I apologise.  This is going to be interesting ….. as far as a bit of wood can be …

I’m also going to find a brand new post from one of our Gazebos, stick it in the ground and see what that does as well, for now, my fence post …..

This picture is dated 5th August:

August 5th, split fence post

August 5th, split fence post

Updated picture, today, 11th August 2013

Split post taken on 11th August

Split post taken on 11th August

Some of the radial lines looks smaller to me, or am I just imagining them?  The split at almost 12 o’clock is smaller.

There’s changes but nothing has really closed up.

The week’s weather has had some rain, a couple of storms but not massive amounts, it’s still been pretty warm.  Lets see what the next week or two does to it.

The next time I’ll keep the camera back like the picture above so we can really see the changes ….. if any … or at least compare them better.

Update 29.10.13

A huge change since the last time I looked at the post.  You can really see the change this time and most of the splits have closed up.  Both the heart and the pith are reaching an equilibrium.  Clever stuff wood!

The cracked post a few months on. This pictures is dated 29.10.13

The cracked post a few months on. This pictures is dated 29.10.13

The splits that were showing in the side of the post have almost gone as well.

Fence post cracks are almost gone.

Fence post cracks are almost gone compared to the summer months.

Timber splits in Construction

I enjoy looking at the properties of timber, it fascinates me how it moves twists and turns yet remains the exact same strength.

On a recent trip to a city shopping center it tickled me to see this split in a main supporting post.

Crack in supporting post

Crack in supporting post

A crack big enough for my daughter to put her finger in!

A crack big enough for my daughter to put her fingers in!

Amazing stuff timber! This isn’t defective, it’s not a problem and its strength is not at all affected, I hope not, as it’s supporting a massive canopy in the cities new shopping centre!

Update, 11.10.2018

One of our employees had recently returned from a long weekend away in a log cabin – Lucky for some, I know. Although the log cabin she has stayed in is seen as a ‘traditional’ log cabin, meaning that they mostly use rounded/half round logs in their construction, the timber is similar. Just like almost every type of timber you’ll find, there will be cracks and split, but it hardly affected its use for our employee’s holiday!

She writes as follows:

“So thought this might be of interest, I stayed in a pine log cabin over the weekend and you should have seen some of the splits in most of the logs… I’ve attached some pics, it was interesting to see. (The pics aren’t great, sorry).”

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I think that the pictures show more than enough to prove that even with cracks, the log cabin is still standing strong and is more than suitable for the accomodation purpose it provides!