wet weekend at Roundrock

I made a solo trip to my little cabin on Friday for an overnight, with the promise of chores and the threat of rain.

My little cabin has stood mostly neglected for more than a decade. When the man who built it handed me the key to the door, he said that I must remember to stain the exterior every three years. Somehow, “next season” was always the time I was going to get to that job.

Well, I’m getting to it finally.

The eastern-facing side, which is what you see when you arrive or fool around by the fire ring, was showing some of its age. Much of the original stain had faded out of some of the “logs” there and a few near the bottom were specked with mildew (or is it mold?). I had once tried spraying the mildew (or mold) with a bleach/water mixture, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. And one other time — likely years later — I tried scrubbing away the mildew (or mold) with a stiff brush, but that accomplished about the same.

The log siding under the porch, protected from rain and sun as they are by the roof above them, showed the least age, and since that is where we spend most of our time — siting in comfy chairs overlooking the sparkling lake — the chore of re-staining the cabin somehow never seemed urgent. Plus there was the mud nest that the phoebe had built on the wall under the porch roof. That had been there for years, and we watched each summer as she successfully raised several broods. It seemed wrong to destroy that.

But a few conversations with my neighbor Craig, and a little gentle but insistent prodding from me, lead to him agreeing that I could use his pressure washer to clean the “logs” of my cabin prior to staining them. And the stars aligned last weekend for this to happen.

I had asked at the hardware store in town about renting one of theirs, and the price was right, but the problem was having a sufficient supply of water to do the job. Sure, I had a 2.5 acre lake just down the hill, but lake water, the man at the hardware store assured me, was too dirty to use in a pressure washer. Fortunately, along with a pressure washer, my good neighbor Craig also had a big old truck with several large stock tanks on the back and a deep well that provided plenty of water to fill them.

When I got to my cabin late Friday afternoon, Craig’s big old truck was already parked beside it, ready for the next day’s big old task.

From the left that’s the east-facing exterior of the cabin, Craig’s big old truck, and my red Prolechariot. (Also, you can see the slowly diminishing mineral block in the foreground that doesn’t seem to be doing anything to prevent the critters from eating my cabin.)

We agreed that they (Craig and his father-in-law, Tom) would come by my cabin on Saturday at 11:00 with the rest of the equipment and show me how to use it. And promptly at 11:30 they arrived. Tom has more or less lived at his own cabin (a little over a mile and half from mine) for a long time. (It helps that he has heating/air conditioning as well as a full kitchen, television, and a flush toilet!) Yet in all of his years, Tom professes that he’d never visited my cabin. I appreciate that he respects private property, but I think he is fibbing. More than once in the past he commented about how beautiful my lake is, which, of course, he couldn’t know unless he visited it. (Also, this man is building his own ultralight airplane!)

I had never used a pressure washer before, but more than ever I understand having the right tool for the job! Craig got all of the attachments made and the flow going while Tom held the wand and pulled the trigger, test spraying two logs on the east-facing wall.

I was immediately surprised and impressed by what a few seconds of pressure washing did to the two-foot section of a couple of logs on the side of the cabin. What had looked like a pretty good patch of cedar showed itself to be filthy but then suddenly clean. I had no idea. (Also, gone instantly, was my wife’s original suggestion that we just stain the cabin without washing it first.)

Nor did I have any idea how big the job before me was when Tom handed the wand to me and stepped back. The pressure from the nozzle was constant, but the closer I got it to the wood, the more dirt it would remove. I was learning as I was doing, and all the while I was getting wet. I had once calculated that the exterior wood of the cabin came to about 750 square feet. The pace I had to maintain to clean the logs properly — and I could easily see the difference if I did it right — meant I had several hours of work ahead of me. (Add to this six windows that needed to be worked around gingerly. I had taken out their screens so I could use the pressure washer to spray out their exterior sills, filled as they were with dead bugs.)

Tom and Craig, meanwhile admired the view of the lake from the cabin porch and then made themselves comfortable in the chairs over by the fire ring. They would answer any questions I threw at them, but otherwise they seemed content to sit under the shade of the trees.

What you see above is typical of what I saw as I worked. I truly had no idea how dirty the logs had become over the years. I’m not sure if I was merely washing away the dirt or ablating the wood itself. When I got to the porch, which has a concrete floor, I noticed a lot of cedar-colored wood fibers gelling on that floor.

You can also see the flaw in my technique. I was cleaning patches rather than swaths, as shown by those vertical contrasts on the left. I figured these would go away as the wood dried or certainly once I had fresh stain on, but Craig corrected my mistaken notion. The stain, he said, would likely enhance this contrast. But we didn’t discuss this until I was all finished (finally) and the equipment was taken apart and loaded onto his big old truck.

And so, I wasn’t finished. I now had misgivings, and I knew I would regret these markings forever, and Craig said something like “Well, the equipment you need is still here,” so we put it all back together and I took a second shot at the cabin walls. My goal was solely to smooth these vertical contrasts, and I pretty much did, but I also found on my second pass, that there were several logs under the porch roof that I was able to clean even more thoroughly. (I think I was less vigorous there on the first pass because I believed the logs were protected and thus not so dirty.) And so, just as the clouds that had gathered during the long morning finally began sending down fat raindrops, my work with the pressure washer was finished.

These three are shots Craig came back and took after the rain had stopped and I had gone home. To my jaded eye the cabin is glowing. He sent me a text saying I used about 250 gallons of water. That would have been a lot of three-gallon buckets of water hauled up from the lake!

So now I have to let the wood dry, which is going to take some time since we have rain in the forecast for the next ten days, and then get about staining it. I don’t want to darken the color; I really just want to enhance the grain and protect the wood. I am hoping to use a sprayer for most of the work rather than a brush, but I’ve never used a sprayer before either.

So the adventure continues.

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2 Comments on “wet weekend at Roundrock”

  1. That’s a good-looking cabin!

  2. markparis Says:

    It’s hard to get a nice, evenly cleaned result with a pressure washer, whether it’s used on wood or concrete.

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