How Often Do You Need to Stain Your Log Home or Cabin?


Keeping your log cabin or home properly maintained is really important if you want it to last.

Log cabins can easily last for several decades or even long if you take care of them.  On the other hand, poor maintenance can ruin a log cabin in a matter of years.  A well maintained cabin will stay sturdy and be a nice, cozy place to get out of the elements longer than you or I will be around.  It’ll block the wind and rain and keep you warm and dry if you treat it right.

One of the most important parts of log cabin maintenance is finishing or staining the exterior logs.  But the question is, how often do you have to do that?  The short answer is, you should stain your log home or cabin every 3 to 7 years depending on the kind of stain you use and how much your cabin gets exposed to things like wind, rain, sun, hail, and other harmful elements.  Let’s dive in further to help you figure out exactly how often to stain your log cabin or home.  We’ll also go into detail on other aspects of log cabin staining.

How Often Should I Stain My Log Cabin?

Like we said above, the short answer is every 3 to 7 years.  But let’s get a little more specific, that’s a fairly broad range.

The first time your cabin gets stained, you actually shouldn’t wait as long.  It’s best to add another 2 coats of stain to your cabin after about 2 years.  Every time you add stain, some of the old stain remains.  But with the first staining, there was no old layer of stain underneath.  So inspect your stain after about 2 years and consider adding another 2 coats.

The actual number depends on the stain that you use.  Water-based log stains don’t tend to last as long as the oil-based stains.  You really have 3 options for types of stains.  Water-based, oil-based, and emulsion.  An emulsion is actually a mixture of water and oil.

Water-based stains for log cabins tend to last somewhere on the shorter side of this timeframe.  Usually 3-5 years.  Oil-based stains usually last more like 5-7.  Emulsion-based stains are usually somewhere in between as you might expect.

But this isn’t the only determinant of how long you stain will last.  The quality of stain that you use also has a big impact.  Some stains are higher quality and will just last longer.  The quality of a stain is usually reflected in price.  And you’ll find that the more expensive and higher quality stains tend to be oil-based when it comes to log cabin or home stains.  So these stain type and quality go somewhat hand in hand.  That said, if you buy a store brand log cabin stain from a big-box home improvement store, it’s not going to last as long as some of the other reputable brands out there no matter what the stain uses as its base.

Other factors will have a big impact too.  How much wind, rain, snow, and hail that your cabin sees will impact how long the stain lasts.  Likewise, in windy areas the soil type will impact it too.  If you have really sandy soil and live in a windy area, then your cabin is going to get sandblasted whenever the wind picks up.  That will decrease the life of your stain.  The humidity of an area will play into the equation too.

The point here is that predicting the exact life of the stain on your cabin is almost impossible.  There are just too many things that will impact that.  As a rule of thumb 3-5 years for water-based and 5-7 years for oil-based is a great place to start.  Lean more toward one side or the other of those ranges based on the quality of stain you buy and the area where your cabin is.

Lastly, there’s a simple test you can do every now and then to see if your stain is in good shape or if it needs to be redone.

Use a hose with a sprayer, or even a spray bottle, and spray a few areas of log on the outside of your cabin.  If the water beads up then your stain is in good shape.  If it ever starts to absorb into the logs, like it would on unprotected wood, then it’s time to re-stain your cabin.

What Stain Should I Use For My Log Cabin?

Always use a stain that’s made for log cabins.  Don’t use deck stain to stain your cabin!  That’s not what it’s for.  Deck stains are designed for flat surfaces and don’t allow the logs to breathe the way the log stain does.  Some stains that are described as “exterior wood stains” are perfectly fine for cabins.

Probably the most recommended brand of stain out there is an oil-based stain by TWP.  Other top brands are

  • Permachink
  • Sansin
  • Sashco
  • Sikkens

The best way to select a good stain for your cabin would be to talk to a contractor that builds and stains cabins.  They’ll have the best idea of which stain will work best for your specific area.  The next best option would be to go into a paint and stain store in your area and talk to the person at the counter.  They should know also stains and be able to let you know which products they sell that are the best for your location.  Just be aware that if you go into a branded paint store (like Sherwin Williams) then they’re only going to recommend their products so you might not get the same advice you’d get from a builder.

Whatever you do, make sure you get a stain that is designed to be used for exterior wood products.  It’s best to get a stain that specifically lists logs, log cabins, or log homes as an appropriate application.  Or just search for the brands listed above to find some great stain options for your cabin.

How Much Does it Cost to Stain a Log Cabin Yourself?

I’ll start with a simple answer and then help you work out more exact numbers for your situation in a minute.  a 2,000 square foot cabin takes around 35 gallons of oil-based stain.  For stain plus supplies, this cabin costs around $2,000 to stain.  That said, I can’t just make an easy generalization and say that it costs about $1 per square foot of living space to stain the exterior of your cabin.  It’s actually more complicated than that.  So here we go.

A good oil-based stain for your cabin will cost around $50 per gallon.  You can definitely find some more and less expensive than that.  Plus, if you buy in 5-gallon buckets, you’ll save a bit on your per-gallon price.  And if you’re staining your whole cabin, you’ll be using quite a bit.

It takes two coats of stain each time you do it if you want to get it done right.

Sizing your log cabin or home

Now, you need to figure out how many square feet you’re going to be staining.  Let’s make this as simple as possible.  For walls, just measure the length of the wall and multiply it by the height.  That’s how many square feet that wall is.

For walls with a pitch on them, it’s only slightly more complicated.  Whether your wall slants from one side down to the other, or there’s a pitch in the middle somewhere, you do the same thing.  Measure the height of the tallest point.  Now measure the height of the lowest point.  Add those together and divide your answer by 2.  Now multiply that number by the length of the wall.

For example, if my wall is 20 feet long and is 9 feet high on the two ends.  In the middle, it’s 15 feet high.  I’ll take the shortest and highest heights and add them together.  9 + 15 = 24.  Now I divide by 2 to get 12.  I take that number and multiply by the length of my wall.  That’s 240 square feet.

Now that you have your actual square feet, you need to adjust for the fact that logs are curved.  So you’re actually staining more square feet than you just calculated.  Add up all the square feet of all of your walls made of logs.  Take that number and multiply it by 1.25.  That’s a good estimate for the square footage of all your walls.

Now, you need to measure the length and width of your eaves so we can stain them too.  If your eaves stick out 3 feet in all directions, then it’s fairly easy.  Take the length of each of your walls and add 3 to it.  So if my wall was 20 feet long, I’ll say that one eav length is 23 feet.  Multiply it by 3 since my eaves are 3 feet wide.  Do that for all 4 walls and you’re set.  This gets a little more complicated on the sloped walls that will have eaves that are actually longer than the wall.  But you can get a round number estimate by taking the length of the wall plus the 3 feet of eave on the end and multiplying it by 1.5.

So if my wall with a pitch was 20 feet long, I’ll add 3 feet first.  I’m at 23 feet.  Now multiply by 1.5 and I’m estimating the length of that eave to be 34.5 feet long.  Multiply that by the 3 foot width of the eave and I get 103.5 square feet for that eave.

Now add in a bit more for all the trim and fascia boards and a little on top of that just to make sure you have enough.  To do that, take the total square footage you calculated and multiply it by 1.1, or even 1.2 if you want to really make sure you don’t run out.

This is how many square feet you’re going to need to stain.  One gallon of stain should cover anywhere from about 100-225 square feet.  Smoother surfaces take less stain, and newer wood takes less stain.  If your logs are rough, plan on 100 to 125 square feet of coverage per gallon.  If your logs are smooth, plan on about 175 to 200 square feet per gallon.

Now we can figure out how many gallons we need of stain

So now take your total square footage to stain and divide by the coverage you expect to get from your stain.  This is how many gallons you need for one coat.  Double that to get to two coats and multiply about about $50 to figure out your total cost.

Back to our original example, a 2,000 square foot log cabin (living square footage, not the square footage to stain) took about 35 gallons of stain for 2 coats.  If your cabin is reasonably close in size to this then you can estimate that you’ll spend around $1,750 just for stain.  Let’s call it $2,000 total for stain plus supplies like brushes, rollers, etc.

How Do You Stain a Log Cabin?

Once you’ve selected and purchased a good stain, you can get to work.  Staining a log cabin can take some time and be a lot of work, but it’s actually rather simple.  Here’s what you do.

  1. Wash the logs first.  At least hose it down to get dirt, cobwebs, and other stuff off of the logs.  If you have access to a pressure washer, use that to get it good and clean.  Then allow the logs to get good and dry.
  2. Once the wood clean and dry, you’re ready to stain.  The best way to do this, believe it or not, is actually to put the stain in a garden sprayer, like you use for killing weeds, and spray it on your cabin.  Then use a brush to go over it to smooth out any drips and make sure the whole log got stained.  Applying stain with a sprayer is a lot easier than applying it with a brush.  You’ll likely spill a lot less overall and get good coverage on the logs.
  3. When you’re all done with your first coat, start back at the beginning and do it all again while the stain is still wet.  Just make sure you’ve given every area 20-30 minutes of dry time between coats.  It usually takes longer than that to finish the first coat, so you usually don’t actually have to wait.
  4. Once your second coat is done, give it 3 full days to dry.  Then go back and repair any chinking that needs to be repaired.  Cracks in chinking can be fixed at any time, but this is a great time to get those fixed since you just looked over your whole cabin.  The same goes for caulking around doors and windows and anywhere else there is caulk.

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