Can You Paint a Log Cabin? [Yes, But Please Don’t!]

Can You Paint a Log Cabin?
Can You Paint a Log Cabin? Yes, of course, you can paint a log cabin if you want, but please don’t! Staining in a much better option.

Can You Paint a Log Cabin? That’s a common question among log cabin owners and the answer is no. You should not paint a log cabin. Painting a log cabin will destroy the wood. You should stain it instead. 

Let me explain…

If you own a log cabin house then you know the maintenance costs that come with it. From the detergent you use to the frequent inspection of the logs; these kinds of houses require special attention. Wood is a sensitive building material prone to rot, especially when exposed to harsh weather conditions.

A thorough beating from the rain can render you homeless. Protecting your wood from rot, termites, and mildew is your biggest challenge if you own a log cabin house. Some cabin owners resort to coating the wood with paint, but unfortunately, this is not always the best option.

You might still find your logs rotting even after coating them heavily with good quality paint. So, what other options do you have?

Staining wood has proven to be a much better method of protecting it from damage.

Why Stain and Not Paint a Log Cabin?

Whether to paint or to stain is a personal choice. After all, paint offers a broad range of aesthetic appeals. Your cabin may look much brighter and livelier when painted with bright colors, but this move will not protect your logs.

It may even do the complete opposite…

Can You Paint a Log Cabin?

Painting a log cabin is likely to cause more harm than good. While paint protects other things like metals and stone, it actually destroys wood. Unfortunately, logs on cabins are exposed to harsh weather conditions which create the perfect environment for rotting to take place, when coupled with paint.

Why Does Wood Rot

Before logs became part of your house, they were part of some trees in the woods. They were then chopped and shaped to create your beautiful haven. Trees are living objects and obviously, when a living object dies, it rots. Therefore wood is prone to rot regardless, but there are ways to slow down or even prevent the rot. It takes these three elements for wood to rot;

  • Fungus
  • Moisture
  • Oxygen

If you eliminate any one of them, wood will definitely not rot. Fungus exists around us and we can, therefore, eliminate it. Not even with a generous coat of paint. Oxygen is also freely available in the air and we cannot control it.

As for moisture, it’s possible to prevent contact between cabin logs and water though it’s difficult. When these three conditions meet, they begin to at’ your logs slowly by slowly. Rot can have a fatal ending if the logs rot to an extent of collapsing.

Why Paint Won’t Prevent Rotting

When people paint their cabin houses, their intention is to block water from getting into contact with the logs. Given that fungus and oxygen will find their way into the logs’ cells, preventing water from sipping through them will save them from rotting. Paint, however, creates conditions perfect for rot to occur.

At first, the paint will prevent contact between the logs and water. However, paint tends to chip off after a while. Every time it rains, you can rest assured that your paint will chip little by little. This exposes the logs to raindrops which in return, are absorbed into the logs.

This then creates a perfect environment for fungus, oxygen, and water to thrive at the same time. Remember, wood is a porous material.

Ordinarily, the wood would dry when exposed to heat or to the sun. However, the paint you’ve splashed your logs with has merely chipped, allowing for raindrops to sip in. Therefore, your logs are exposed but they’re still heavily coated. This means water can pass through and spread from one cell to another, but it cannot leave with ease. The water is therefore trapped inside the logs.

Pros and Cons of Painting a Log Cabin

Maybe you’re yet to choose between painting and staining because you’ve always wanted a brightly colored cabin house. Well, you’re still at liberty to paint but at least read on to understand the pros and cons;

Pros 😃

• Paint is obviously visually appealing. You can do so much with the wide range of colors available in the market. While stain is aesthetically appealing too, it does not give you as many color shades as paint.
• Bright colors such as yellow, light green, cream and white can create a warm feel in your house compared to the various brown hues of stain.

Cons 😟

• Paint tends to fade when exposed to the sun. Therefore, it’s beautiful appearance may not last long after all
• When the paint begins to chip off (due to rainwater). It has a distressed appearance which may not be what you’re hoping for in the long term.
• It traps everything inside the logs and if they were not completely dried before building, the damage can be extensive since the moisture is trapped inside.

Why Your Log Cabin is Better off Stained

Unlike paint, stain sips through the wood, thus leaving room for breathing. Staining does not coat the logs. It only boosts its natural grained beauty while leaving to breathe. Think of it as the difference between applying lotion to the skin and applying makeup.

Staining your wood is highly recommended because when it rains, the rainwater will be sucked through the logs as expected. However, the water will dry up once the rain stops because nothing is blocking the logs’ outer surface.

Moisture has room to enter and leave naturally. It’s therefore highly unlikely that moisture, oxygen and fungus will be trapped inside the logs for too long. In a nutshell, staining your logs is less likely to lead to rotting.

Staining your logs is likely to save you some money. You don’t need several layers of stain and neither do you have to prime the logs with an undercoat before staining. In addition, staining takes less energy and time. With painting, you have to coat the logs until you achieve uniformity.

However, staining takes the log’s natural (but improved) appearance. You can apply one or two coats and you’re done.

Finally, the stain does wear off with time, but after a much longer time frame compared to paint. Even so, it does not expose your wood to any dangers. You only need to retouch the stain with a coat or two.

It’s important to note that when repainting your cabin, you’ll have to scrape off all the paint before applying a fresh coat. This is not only time consuming and insanely costly, but it can affect your logs negatively.

Can You Pain Log Cabin Interiors?

Now that we’ve established paint is not good for your outer logs, does that mean you can splash your living room’s ceiling with a white coat of paint? After all, the inner parts of your cabin do not get rained on.

It all narrows down to personal choice at the end of the day. You can choose to paint or stain the interior part of your cabin. Paint may not do as much damage in this area because there is minimal contact with water. However, it may trap in moisture if the logs are not completely dry.

Can You Paint a Log Cabin interior?
Rustic Fully Equipped Log Cabin Kitchen.

As mentioned above, logs could have moisture inside them before the building process. Maybe they were not dried properly or perhaps they were exposed to water before you purchased them for building. If any of these scenarios is true, you could trap the moisture inside if you choose to coat the wood with paint.

Remember, wood takes a while before drying and the interior environment does not expose it to heat from the sun. It may, therefore, need more time to dry up.
In addition, if the rooftop is leaking the water goes directly to your ceiling, thus creating room for decay.

Log Home Interior Wall Ideas

Another notorious culprit when it comes to hidden causes of rot is the gutters. They often get clogged with dirt, causing water to drip towards your wood rather than through the right channels.
If you can confidently eliminate these sources of moisture, then you’re free to paint the interior bit of your cabin.

Tips for Painting the Interior Cabin Walls

👍 Ensure the wood is completely dry by checking the roof for leaks. In addition, get rid of humidifiers inside the house and give the wood some time to dry up completely before painting it.
👍 If you’re privileged to build or supervise the building of the cabin, purchase the logs earlier on and give them time to dry up completely before painting them
👍 Lastly, paint the house during the summer. There is less moisture during this season and you’re less likely to trap in moisture

Time-Saving Tips for Staining Your Cabin Logs

👍 Work quickly because stain tends to dry faster than paint. Therefore, you may find yourself painting a second coat over tacky wood.
👍 Stain in a well-ventilated area. Ventilation is not only good for your lungs (in case you breathe in the stain fumes), but it also aids in drying up the stain faster.
👍 Choose a good brand of polyurethane. Polyurethane is supposed to give a good finish to your logs. You may go for brands with stain and polyurethane in one can or pick a brand that dries faster.
👍 Follow the log’s natural grain pattern when staining. Do not go against the grains, otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time achieving an excellent look.

What About Used Engine Oil For Stain?

I remember back when I was 15-years old helping my dad stain a wooden fence with used motor oil that he got for free at a local garage. It worked, didn’t look back, and never rotted the whole time that we lived there. However, I don’t advice using used (or new) engine oil to stain a log cabin.

Use a regular stain that’s made for the purpose. Your log cabin will look and smell better and probably be much healthier and better for the environment too.

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  1. Absolutely SPOT ON article. I would also suggest that you should never and I mean NEVER use portland cement to chink anyplace on your cabin. Cement will draw moisture thus causing any wood that it is contact with to rot. One way I was able to save some dollars: we found on-line supplier to purchase commercial size rolls of backer-rod. We bought 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch diameter backer-rod. You can find short pieces in hardware stores and home centers for “stuffing ” cracks around windows, doors and other places in your home but those short pieces wold bankrupt you for chinking an entire cabin. Invest in a quality chinking material, it will save you grief long term. We have come a long way from using moss and mud to chink a log cabin.

  2. M.D. Creekmore


    Excellent comment! Thank you for posting…

  3. Sharon Gilbert

    I learned a lot from this article. Thank you

  4. Marjorie Harmon

    LOVED THIS POST. Keep more like this coming. Thank you!

  5. “Fungus exists around us and we can, therefore, eliminate it. Not even with a generous coat of paint.” I think is missing a “not”. Shouldn’t it be [Fungus exists around us and we can, therefore, NOT eliminate it. Not even with a generous coat of paint. ] Thanks!

  6. I’ve never seen a log cabin that was painted outside and only inside on spaces with drywall. Isn’t part of the charm of a log cabin the fact that it’s made from wood logs that look like nature? I don’t understand why anyone would think of painting a log cabin. Anyway, I love the look of them, but I think I would actually build a concrete log home. They’re made from concrete but look exactly like wood logs. Very low to no maintenance, don’t have to worry about rot. Best of both worlds. 🙂

  7. Brad Senne

    Great advice – I’m a retired paint contractor of 35 years of my own company. I have ran into many different scenarios of when and how to apply stains on wood. These days woods have a lot of moisture in them, not like the old days of kiln dried lumber so you need to let mother nature take it’s coarse and allow the woods to weather. Some woods require 6 months so don’t rush it or you can trap moisture , this is my next step once the wood has been tested with a moisture gauge. Since it has been in mother natures hands it most likely has a mildew forming on it’s surface I use a mixture of bleach and water half and half mix and spray down your project with a garden hand pump sprayer as this will kill all mold and re bleach the wood let it dry out for a day and you are ready to apply your stain. I hope this helps – Happy Staining !!!

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