staining the cabin

My wife and I, plus our two canine helpers, spent the weekend at our little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks with the goal of beginning to stain the freshly pressure-washed exterior.

I mentioned here before that when the man who built it handed me the key to the door (ten years ago next month!) he said I should stain it every three years. And so a decade passed without me doing this big chore. Fortunately, the pressure washing mostly restored the wood (or washed away the dirt and stripped the original stain so at least it looked restored).

They photo above, with one of many large walking sticks we found on the cabin — this one was about four inches long without its front legs extended — shows the “logs” under the porch roof. These were the least dirty and best retained the original stain, but after mastering the mad skillz of deploying a pressure washer, you see how I got down to basics. I loved the look of the wood, and I half wished I didn’t have to stain it, but I needed to protect it, and I organized a three-day weekend at the cabin to get started.

We brought along three gallons of the stain that Craig and his father-in-law recommended. I had calculated the square footage I needed to cover (about 750 square feet of logs and soffits and ceiling), read the greatly varying coverage reported on the cans (anywhere from 200 to 400 square feet), and figured that we could make a good start of the job, and then I could determine how much more stain we would need.

I had brought a ladder from home to reach the high spots, and my wife would work on the window frames then the lower logs. We had our brushes, our masking tape, and our drop cloths, plus we had just about perfect weather, with an unbroken vault of blue sky above us. (You could set a novel in a place like this!)

And so, we began. The wood was thirsty. My biggest worry was overlapping brush work. I really didn’t want the stain to be marbled with darker and lighter spots due to double application. I needn’t have worried. The cedar logs took the stain evenly despite the number of passes my brush made over it. (The only place where there was even the slightest bit of obvious overlapping was on the finer grained tongue-and-groove soffits and porch ceiling, but even then it was only noticeable because I was looking for it.)

With this worry out of the way, I was able to work more quickly, and in less than an hour I had all of the ladder work done (except for the entirety of the porch). My wife had moved at a similar pace, finishing the window frames and staining the lower log siding swiftly and smoothly. Having made much faster progress than I expected, we broke for lunch (sandwiches and cold, refreshing beverages).

After lunch we returned to the work. Each of us had a separate gallon to work from, and it seemed to me that we were actually going to have enuf stain in the three gallons to finish the entire cabin.

I think we spent 4.5 to 5 hours working that Saturday, and in that time we stained three sides of the cabin. We still had about a half gallon of stain left besides the whole unopened gallon. All that was left for us was the porch, which was actually the hardest part because of the ceiling and the extra soffit and the support posts and the desire not to get any stain on the concrete floor there.

But we’d done enuf for our first day, so we cleaned up as well as we could and put our gear away. Then it was time to build a one-match fire to cook our burgers over. It happened that only two days before the area had received nearly three inches of rain. I feared that the tinder would be too wet to catch, but that wasn’t the case. I soon had a fire roaring, and we added logs as well as the last of the scrap lumber I had brought from home to get enuf coals to shovel under the grill for our (and the dogs’) burgers. All of this happened in daylight (since my wife hates to cook in the dark for some reason), and after we’d finished eating our food and drinking our cold beverages, we continued to stoke the fire as the sun set.

A barred owl hooted occasionally, and far-off farm dogs barked, plus what sounded like fireworks came from well to the southwest, but it was too late in the season to hear a whippoorwill. Still, the fire burned and crackled, and the crickets chirped, and the full moon rose through the trees to the east. There is a point with a campfire when you have to decide whether to add more wood and stay with it longer as it burns or stop stoking it and let what’s there burn to ash. We reached that point and decided to stop stoking. We still had work to do the next day. I eventually quenched the few remaining coals with a gallon of water, and we retreated to the cabin.

Of course it smelled like wood stain inside the cabin, and despite repeated washings with soap and water, I’m sure my hands were part of the reason. But rest came easily after a day of work, and even the dogs let me have most of my bed this time.

I woke as I habitually do sometime after 3:00 a.m. and stepped outside. The forest was quiet, which is something I rarely experience except in winter visits. But then I crawled back into my warm bed, the approximately 44 degrees outside on the porch was not so wonderful to someone with barely anything on. Somehow I managed to fall back to sleep for another two hours, but the sun was preparing to peek over the trees to the east, and there was breakfast to be had as we waited for the temperature to rise enuf to apply more stain to more wood.

Breakfast consisted of instant oatmeal (pretty much a staple at the cabin) prepared on a propane stove. There was also fruit, and my wife made herself some instant coffee that she declared acceptable. I had my iced tea (unsweetened, of course). The dogs disdained their kibble and would only eat their soft treats (and any of our food they could cadge).

Then came the second day of work. Once again, I did the ladder work, which involved the eaves and the entire ceiling plus the first three logs from the top. My wife did the rest. By careful maneuvering of the drop cloths, and some additional taping, we managed to make our way across the porch, staining as we went, and barely getting any drops on the floor. Because the ground slopes away from the front of the cabin more steeply than elsewhere, some of the ladder placement was sketchy and challenging. But by then I had been up and down the ladder dozens of times, and I was so near the end that I didn’t let myself worry about things like falling to my death.

By lunch time, reader, we had finished. I had taken Monday off at work so we would have a three-day weekend to do as much work as we could, and we managed to do all of it in less than two days. (Yes, I found that I could have been more thorough about pressure washing some parts of the porch, but it’s all so much better than it was.) Plus we still had about a third of a gallon of stain left. And here is the result of our labors:

It’s actually a little darker than I had hoped, but it may lighten as it dries. Even if it doesn’t, it’s fine. It looks good, and I feel that the wood in protected (for another three-to-ten years). Next up is repainting the door and frame. The critters have chewed up much of the lower door frame, and I doubt they’ll respect a fresh coat of paint, but it will look good.

So on Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed home, leaving ourselves an entire Monday free to do with what we would. (And what we did was tend a barfy three-year-old as his mother coped with her own stomach cold and her infant daughter.)

__________

My cabin sits about a hundred feet uphill from my lake. Much of the cabin is surrounded by gravel, and it’s been a ten-year job to keep the weeds from overtaking the gravel. Part of the solution is to have four inches of gravel on the ground, but even that’s not enuf sometimes. I also have begun experimenting with landscaping fabric under the gravel, to prevent weeds from finding light. I don’t want to use herbicides on the weeds since I’m so close to the lake, so I also use the old tarp you see above, moving it to various gravely places to sit for weeks or months to starve the weeds of sunlight. The best time to do this is during the growing season, and the move I made last weekend (just to the east of the fire ring) will probably remain there all winter.

This old tarp was our original shelter in the days before we had the cabin. It did a pretty good job, trussed in various ways to stay taut and shed water and snow. Where the cabin now sits there was once this:

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One Comment on “staining the cabin”

  1. markparis Says:

    I think the cabin looks good. It’s actually a little higher than I expected.


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