In a classic fish-out-of-water tale, someone (that would be me) thought it would be a great idea to send me, a desk jockey with only theoretical knowledge of log home maintenance, to a workshop on the subject.
Dubbed "Zero Failures," the workshop is run by the folks at Sashco Inc. at their headquarters in Brighton, Colorado, and is an intensive two-day course dedicated to log home maintenance.
Over the course of the weekend, I got both classroom and hands-on training in the application of caulk, chinking and stain—a far cry from my typical routine. (Just so you know, my hands are generally hovering over a computer keyboard or kept busy with a pair of knitting needles, so my experience in home maintenance was purely literary prior to taking the course.)
Before diving into the world of logs, it’s fair to say my feelings were mixed. On one hand, I was looking forward to getting an up-close look at the products I write about for my freelancing gig. On the other, I was worried about looking like a big idiot in a room full of professional contractors and home-building experts.
Once I arrived at the workshop, though, I saw that my fellow students included everyone from painting contractors to men and women involved in the retail sale of log homes. There even were two home owners who just wanted to catch up on the latest log home maintenance techniques.
We were from all parts of the country, ranging in age from 28 to "none of your darn business." With 23 students in the class, it was the largest Zero Failures seminar ever taught. Generally, class sizes average between 12 to 14 students.
Easy Does It
All of the seminar attendees stayed at the same hotel, and first thing Friday morning, we piled into the shuttle bus for the short drive to Sashco. We were greeted with a hot breakfast buffet, T-shirts, hats and what seemed like 20 pounds of printed material in a three-ring binder.
We started the seminar in a classroom (painless enough), with a welcome from the instructors—Wayne Summons, vice president and technical director; Tracy Hansen, president of Storm Busters Inc.; Robin Kupernik, laboratory manager; and Andy Spoelstra, chemist. Following the introductions, we learned the mantra for the day: "Logs Ain’t Wood."
"Logs ain’t wood," I learned, means a log home has its own needs and peculiarities. Just because you may know how to handle certain tasks in a stick-built home doesn’t mean that same knowledge applies in the world of log homes.
A Wall of My Own
After our classroom work on surface preparation (where I learned that proper preparation techniques can add years to the life of your coatings and your home), we went outside into a big white tent where we were greeted by a line of individual log walls—one for each of us.
Our first task? Remove all of the coatings left by students past. Our tool? A corn-cob blaster.
For sake of comparison, cob blasting is a lot like sandblasting. A condenser applies pressure to the crushed corn cobs, which shoot out of a hose at lightning speed. By directing the speeding cobs at a section of log wall, you quickly (and safely) strip away old finishes and degraded wood surfaces. The trick is to move slowly and steadily, back and forth over the section you are working on. Too much time spent on one area may remove healthy wood fibers.
Who Ya Gonna Call?
After pulling on the Tyvek suit and booties, strapping a ventilator on my hip and putting on a large blue plastic helmet, I felt like an extra from "Ghostbusters." But once I got started, I had a great time—enjoying the instant gratification as the old stain disappeared in seconds.
While feeling pretty cocky about my blasting skills, I still wouldn’t recommend taking on this chore for hours on end. The blaster puts a fair amount of pressure on your arms and shoulders, and I’m sure my arms would have given out after 15 minutes.
The Stain Game
After lunch we were back in class for a rundown on stain technology.
Stain choices can seem wildly complicated when you start trying to select just one. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all product, and each stain has its strengths and limits. The most important point: Selecting a product is just as important as proper application when it comes to the longevity of your walls.
Another important step: choosing quality tools. By picking the right tools for each job, you take a big step toward maximizing the length of time your coatings can hold up and do their job. The longer they last without having to be refreshed, the more money you save.
Then it was back to our walls to master the art of stain application. With our new knowledge of products and tools, we used a sprayer, then went over the freshly sprayed logs with a brush to force as much stain as possible into the wood. Tip: Good penetration is another key to stain longevity.
Check It Out
The next morning we learned about wood preservatives, then went out to our log walls for a little hands-on wood-preservative application. A fact of log home ownership is that, depending on the amount or type of exposure to the elements that they get, logs may crack or "check" as the instructors call it. How you deal with it varies according to how large they are, how much exposure to the elements they get and what pleases you aesthetically.
Options include pre-treating the logs during construction, installing wood preservative rods deep within the logs in wet areas or sealing some of the larger checks with chinking. As with the stain-selection process, there really is no overriding way to prevent checking. Fortunately, this natural occurrence doesn’t effect a log home’s stability.
The Seal Deal
Next on the agenda: "Log Dynamics for Sealants," or the science behind chinking and caulking. These products are perfect for log homes because they’re made to stretch (logs expand and contract depending on the seasons or humidity levels). The key: Choosing chinking and caulking products that will work best with your home’s logs.
When they don’t, you get a "sealant failure"—the sealant tears or peels away from the logs, sometimes taking some of the underlying wood with it. Needless to say, this is not a good thing, but it’s easy to avoid. In the classroom, we learned how to select the best sealant for our logs, how to combine that knowledge with the wood preparation tips we had learned earlier, and how to ensure good joint design, all of which contribute to a tight seal.
Though the classroom knowledge was very helpful, I have to admit: I was pretty bad at chinking. We used a machine to apply the material, then went back and smoothed it out by hand. Some of us were much better at it than others. You find out pretty quickly if you’re destined to be a good chinker or not.
At the end of the weekend, my fellow attendees asked if I was ready to trade in my laptop for a caulk gun. My answer? Not quite. I think I would definitely fall into a heap on the ground after a week doing log home maintenance as a full-time job. But as a workshop graduate, I do feel that I could save money maintaining my own log home thanks to what I’ve learned.
By making informed decisions on product selection, and by deciding what maintenance tasks could become DIY projects and what would be better off left to an expert, you’ll set yourself up for savings, which is always a good thing.
For more tips on maintaining your log home, check out the July/August 2006 issue of Log Home Design.