One of the most noticeable features of log homes, new or old, is chinking. It distinguishes the look, but it is most definitely a sealant first and a cosmetic second.
As far back as log cabins go, there have been all sorts of attempts to seal out water and other undesirable items by installing various materials in horizontal voids between log courses on walls: wood slats, mud, or a combination of mortar mixed with horsehair or whatever else could be found. Most of these products did not have any degree of flexibility, or they did not adhere to wood that well. The results were cracking cement caused by the stress of the logs shifting or shrinking, allowing separation between the chinking and the log surface.
The most significant development in log-chinking application occurred when chinking became a reliable and durable component. The first synthetic chinking was produced in 1981. Early formulations lacked elongation and freeze-thaw stability, but significant changes to improve the adhesion, flexibility and longevity now allow log-chinking application to be accomplished in a much wider range of temperature extremes. There have also been additions to the color palette to keep up with homeowners’ desire to mix and match shades and hues of today’s finishes.
Chinking can be applied right out of the pail, using inexpensive tools that can be purchased from most hardware stores: a drywall pan to hold the material and a trowel to get the material onto the backer that has been used to fill the void in the log courses. For some log-chinking application, folks choose a grout bag, which resembles a cake-decorating bag, only larger. They trowel the chinking compound into the bag, then twist the top closed and squeeze the material out of the bag as desired. Professional applicators sometimes employ a commercial chink pump to move the chinking compound from a pail or hopper through a hose with the proper-size nozzle to fit the application into the desired area.
Once the material has been placed in the joint area, it is then smoothed out with a trowel to remove unwanted air and ensure a good seal along the log surfaces. Once the initial “tooling” has been accomplished, the surface is then lightly misted with water, and the final smoothing is done to achieve the desired finish. The appearance can be smooth or rough, depending on the homeowner’s preference.
Today’s chinking is specially formulated to work in conjunction with anticipated log movement when properly installed at the correct thickness over the recommended backer across the face of the joint. Chinking will have as high as 275 percent elongation, which is much more than any log can move. Also, today’s engineered log homes have less movement than in the past, although there is some minor movement associated with climatic changes in all structures. Basically, everything is affected by moisture and temperature to some degree.
Today’s chinking requires little maintenance, unless there is some type of physical damage to the product. Periodic cleaning will keep it looking as good as the day it was applied.
The hard part is keeping people from trying to feel chinking before it cures, which results in indentations or fingerprints, usually right at the front door. Small separations can easily be repaired by applying a small bead of chinking into the damaged area and smoothing out with a small brush and water. Most chinking issues are the result of improper application or trying to make too little go too far. Read the directions prior to application, and you should not have repairs to make.
Chinking can be stained to change its color, but it will not take the color as wood does, so the results may be undesirable. Specially formulated chink paint employs much of the same raw material as the chinking, so the two are completely compatible with each other.
The decision whether to chink is yours alone. If you decide you prefer the looks of chinked logs, choose a chinking product that not only enhances your home’s looks, but also protects your home.