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    Western Log Home Supply Archive Page
    Monday, June 22, 2009

    In the summer of 1968 I was working for the U.S. Forest Service in southeast Alaska, cruising potential timber sales. During these trips to the various islands, I came across active logging sites with the proliferation of freshly cut stumps. The growth rings on these stumps made me wonder just how old these “old growth” forests were.

    Growth Rings in Living Trees

    Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock

    In the spring of 1968 I had been on a forestry field trip to northern California and Oregon and saw everything from giant redwoods to slow growing ponderosa pine. A cross section of a ponderosa pine at one of the Forest Service buildings pointed out the fact that this tree began growing before Columbus set sail from Spain. Wow!!

    When I counted the growth rings of the Sitka spruce and Western hemlock in Alaska, I was disappointed to find out that they were a mere 150 years old, plus or minus 15 years. This was an even-aged stand of timber that regenerated after a large die off of the original timber. Even at this “young” age the hemlock was beginning to suffer from rot and the stand was in decline.

    Eastern Red Cedar

    I grew up in the unglaciated region of northeast Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. Due to the lack of glaciation (the technical term for this is a “nunatak” area), the region is quite rough and hilly. Large sandstone bluffs overlook much of the area which is very picturesque when one floats down the Mississippi river on a summer day. Along these bluffs grow Eastern red cedar trees…barely clinging to life as their roots try to pry moisture and nutrients from the sandstone outcroppings. Recently I cut a cross section from a dead cedar growing on the edge of a precipice. (These small, gnarly trees are known by the German word krumholtz.) The growth rings were so close together that it was extremely hard to determine its age, even with a magnifying glass. Simple math gave me a rough figure of 150 years of age. However, some of these trees have been found to be over 500 years old. They grow slowly with very little photosynthetic area and thus, can survive for hundreds of years with little moisture and nutrients.

    Bristlecone Pine

    Another type of vegetation that grows in a very demanding environment is the bristlecone pine located in various areas of California and Nevada. This trees species has been found to have lived a precarious life in the harsh mountains for some 5,000 years. By cross checking dead trees lying about the area, a chronology of tree ring dating has gone back some 7,100 years. When trees grow alone in the absence of any other vegetative competition, the only factor that will limit their growth is moisture. Thus, one can get insight into the climate in that area spanning thousands of years. This is important data for climatologists and glaciologists. Archeologists use tree ring data to date timbers found in ancient dwellings in the Southwest and can accurately determine when a certain building was constructed.


    In the dry western United States, sagebrush dominates the landscape as it needs very little moisture to survive. The big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is the major player in these dry areas. Many of these specimens are 100 years old and they too can lend insight into drought conditions for a particular area.


    The giant sequoia of California is not only very large, but very old. Specimens have been found that precede the birth of Christ by a thousand years. The redwood tree also tops the list of trees that can live to a ripe old age. These trees reside in an area with excellent growing conditions including fog and its resultant moisture. Redwoods are quite impervious to rot and fire and can continue to grow with few pathogens to worry about.

    So much for the age of living trees. What about those dead trees that are entombed in the muck and rivers of the world. We are not talking about petrified specimens that have been turned to stone, but wood that has been preserved in an environment not conducive to rot.

    The Fossil Trees of Axel Heiberg Island

    On Axel Heiberg Island west of Greenland, a forest has been found that has been buried for 45 million years in the mud of that cold environment. The trees in this forest once grew to be 150 feet tall and lived to be 1,000 years old. However, the existing climate changed and they died and were buried. For 45 million years they lay where they fell, covered in sediment and waiting to be discovered. Remember, these trees are not petrified, but are still real wood that one of the researchers probably used to brew his coffee. There are many layers of trees and tree stumps in this location and some were able to be identified as dawn redwoods even though over the fallen tree trunks of an earlier forest, a new forest grew up.

    The Terminal Moraine of Long Island New York

    When the glaciers retreated from the northeastern United States, they left behind a terminal moraine which is now known as Long Island, New York. Another remnant of this glacial retreat was a lake located north of New Haven, Connecticut. As the area became forest once again, dead trees, leaves, butternuts and beech nuts floated into the lake and were buried. Clay washed into the lake and settled to the bottom covering the dead vegetation. With little oxygen, a wet environment, and a low temperature, this organic matter survived without rotting. There it lay until the area was eventually mined for the clay to manufacture bricks. As these remnants of a distant time came to life, people wondered just how old they were. A scientific tool known as radio carbon dating solved this puzzle.

    Some of the oldest specimens uncovered in the pit were sycamore, which were carbon dated to some 6,200 years before the present. The author has a cross section of an oak specimen that died 4250 years before the present. An Eastern hemlock was dated to 1,250 years ago and was in such excellent shape that the author could tell how it grew and died. (There will be more on this in a later article.) The beech nuts were so well preserved that when they dried out, they opened up as if to drop their seeds. The author of this article stabilized a section of sycamore and made a gun stock from it. Alas, civilization kept marching on and now this paleo-biological laboratory is a dump for used tires.

    Various tree species entered the landscape at different times in the evolutionary path of the earth. As the climate changed on the planet, some species became extinct and new species adapted and proliferated. Two interesting species that have survived for millions of years are the ginkgo and the dawn redwood.

    Ginko Biloba

    There is one species of ginkgo that now remains and that is Ginkgo bilboa. It has been cultivated for centuries in China and Japan and is used for temple gardens. It is now used extensively in the United States as an ornamental tree and has has attained heights of nearly 100 feet and 27 feet in circumference. One specimen has even reached the ripe old age of 1200 years. The point of this article is that the ginkgo has been identified from fossil records from the Tertiary period, or about 60 million years ago. It is remarkable that it still survives after all of these millions of years and in the same form.

    Dawn Redwood

    The other interesting tree species is the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) that has been found in the fossil record from the Mesozoic Era. It was a great surprise to the scientific community when a grove of Metasequoia was discovered in China during WWII. After the war the species was studied in its natural state and in 1948, Harvard brought some of the seed to the United States for propagation and study. It has been planted in various parts of the United States and makes a beautiful ornamental planting. Unfortunately, man may be the final arbiter in its survival after all of these millions of years. Illegal seed collecting in China threatens the regeneration of this small stand of natural dawn redwood in China.

    Now that you have read this article you may never look at a tree in the same way again…whether it is large or small. When you see a lone tree growing along a water course in the Great Plains, you just might wonder what that tree has experienced as it kept its lonely vigil on what appears to be a desolate landscape. Did it hear the rumble of mighty herds of bison a hundreds of years ago? Did the gnarled oak in the heartland feel the weight of thousands of passenger pigeons on its mighty limbs? Did the small, twisted Eastern red cedar growing on the bluffs of northeast Iowa see the boats of early explorers ply the Mississippi river, or hear the final cannon shots at the Battle of Bad Axe when Chief Black Hawk was defeated and his land taken away for one last time? I hope that I have piqued your interest in this small treatise on paleo-botony!

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    by: Western Log Home Supply
    Friday, June 5, 2009
    I have spent my last 15 years promoting finishes and sealants for log and wood structures. In this time, I’ve visited hundreds of buildings to work with owners, contractors, architects, and other various who all have the goal and desire to achieve a look they had in mind and to keep it looking this way for the least amount of money and maintenance costs for years to come. If the rest of you are like me, you’ve also spent a fair amount of time studying the information and opinions offered on the web. I read a lot of comment, both good and bad, about the various finish products on the market. Consumer experiences range the full gamut. Opinions and experiences from others prompted me to chime in and hopefully add some value to the ongoing discussion.

    After carefully studying the prices and types of the various products available, the number one question consumers seem to be asking time and time again is:

    "How long will your stain last?"

    As to the durability and life span of any stain or finishing product, there are three basic factors that apply to all finishes on all log structures:

    1. The actual quality of the product and suitability for its purpose
    2. Surface preparation techniques employed
    3. The environment the finish will be expected to perform in.

    A high quality finish (defined by the quality of resins, additives, and application research) applied to a properly prepared surface will undoubtedly outperform and remain more durable than a lesser quality or non-suitable product in almost any environment. This is a fact that is proven by conscientious application contractors, homeowners, and manufacturers for many, many years.

    Product Quality

    A wood stain or finish is generally the sum of three parts: a solvent, a resin, and a pigment. Be it water based or oil based, the solvent’s purpose is to evenly distribute the resin and the pigment over the surface of the wood. When a finish is applied to a structure and it has dried, the solvent has evaporated and its work is done. You are now left with a resin and pigment on the surface of the wood. The resin in a finish is the material that carries the pigment and binds it to the surface. The resin also serves as a barrier to the moisture elements of our environment that can bring damage to wood. Performance enhancing additives that add water repellency, mildew/insect resistance, or UV absorbers may also be found in the overall resin technology. The pigments in a stain are what give us the desired color and also what provide almost all of the UV protection. Aside from the resins, pigment represents much of what is being touted as the “solids”. These “solids” are very small microscopic objects that create a barrier between the sun and the wood. Imagine a thick piece of glass or clear plastic suspending some objects like coins or flat rocks. The glass would be the resin, and the coins/rocks would be the pigment.

    Logs behave differently than dimensional lumber or siding. Their mass and their natural physical characteristics naturally make them more vulnerable to “changing”. Logs cut, shaped, and moved from one location or climate to another will eventually adapt to their environment, be it a few feet away or in another state or country. They can twist, settle, shrink, check (crack), and continue to adjust to local humidity levels. All of these factors place a much larger strain on the coatings and sealants used to protect them. High quality products used in the log construction and maintenance industry must use resins that when cured have the ability to flex, adhere, and suspend a sufficient amount of pigments to not only protect the surfaces of the logs, but to protect the resin itself. These resins and this technology are generally not included in the products found on the cheap shelf in the big box stores. The more economical products are not designed to accommodate the needs of log surfaces.

    Surface preparation

    While there are many arguments as to the best and most suitable prep methods, the durability and longevity of a log finish is directly related to its ability to adhere to the surface its being applied to. Power washing the right way can be a sufficient prep method; however has its limits and weaknesses.

  • Power Washing

    To properly power wash a structure, the existing coatings or existing surface damage should be removed to the point a sound and clean surface is reached for the new coating to properly adhere to. Power washing is most suitable for light maintenance and recoating over currently performing previously stained surfaces.

  • Media Blasting

    The ultimate and best method for surface prep is to mechanically remove damaged surface wood or existing non-performing stains through the means of media blasting, sanding, grinding, or brushing with various available equipment. These methods ensure a clean, textured, and sound surface for application of quality stains. Mechanically preparing surfaces is a major step in ensuring the long life and beauty of a log home finish. There is a ton of good information about this provided through most resellers dedicated to the log home market.


    Imagine your log home as a piece of your best furniture. Would you set your grand piano in the driveway and expect the weather to leave it alone? This is one of the best ways to look at your investment. People who have good experiences with finishes are generally following the guidelines being provided, AND they are applying finishes to structures that do a good job of protecting themselves.

    The largest enemies of logs and finishes are:

  • Water
  • Sun
  • Debris
  • Blowing wind that may contain dirt or sand.

    Large overhangs, covered porches, proper water drainage systems, and large surrounding trees all contribute to the success and durability of finishes for log homes.

    Does your house protect itself?

  • Do you have areas where snow piles up?
  • Are you stacking firewood against your home?
  • Do the gutters or drainage systems channel water away from your home?
  • Does water falling from the roof splash off your deck onto your walls?
  • Is your sun exposure on certain walls more than it should be?

    This list can literally be very long, but common sense tending to these areas will make the critical difference in how long your finish will last.


    So how long will your stuff last? Nobody can really answer that question perfectly, but the facts remain. If you invest in a quality product, study and employ the best surface prep methods, and understand or modify the environment for your log structure, you will maximize the life of the product you choose to use. Doing the above will almost certainly double or triple the life of a finish and the beauty of your structure for years to come.

    I was recently in a paint store where I saw a large sign that read, "Only rich people can afford a cheap finish." When you do the math, this is absolutely true. Over time, not adhering to these principals will cost much more money, frustration, and potentially structural damage than is not necessary and completely preventable.

    Scott Stropko

    Contact Us

    Recommended Log Home Stains:

  • High Sierra

  • Capture

  • Cascade

  • Symphony Interior Stain

    Log Home Stain Definitions

    be it water or oil, all stains use some sort of a solvent base who’s primary purpose is to blend and suspend the resin and pigments in such a viscosity allowing us to move the resins and pigments evenly and beautifully over the surfaces we are coating. Most suitable solvents, once applied, will dry away and leave the resins and pigments adhered to the surface to protect the logs.

    All durable protective finishes contain pigments in either a premixed color or may allow for a solvent base to be custom tinted. The pigments in any stain not only determine the finished color desired, but are the element in stains that do most all of the protecting from the damaging UV rays. Clear products do not ever offer long term, low maintenance propositions for any log homes with any kind of exposure to the elements.
    This can also be termed as the polymer or the binder that is responsible for suspending the pigments and making sure they are attached well to the log. Not only do the pigments in a stain protect the underlying wood, they protect the actual resins that suspend them.
    *in a lesser expensive stain, or one with little R&D work, the chance are the stain will not end up being as durable because

    Western Log Home Supply

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    by: Western Log Home Supply