How to Chink Your Log Cabin; Log Cabin Chinking Techniques, Materials and Cost

How to Chink Your Log Cabin; Log Cabin Chinking Techniques, Materials and Cost

When it comes to building, purchasing or maintaining a log cabin, you can’t go far without discussing log cabin chinking.

Chinking is the material that fits between the imperfect joints of logs to ensure a “seal” from external elements (e.g. rain, snow and sleet) whilst eliminating heat loss and air infiltration.

In simple terms, chinking is the flexible sealant used during your log home’s construction or maintenance to seal joins between the logs, gaps, holes and checking.

Log Home Chinking today has replaced the traditional portland cement and daubing which historically was used on log homes over 200 years old.

Since the origin of log cabins, chinking has long been a hallmark of these beautiful homes.

However, log cabin chinking today can be a complicated topic:

  • Should you use cement based or synthetic chinking?
  • How much does log cabin chinking cost?
  • How can you make your own chinking (what’s the best chinking recipe)?
  • What are the techniques and methods to apply chinking to a log home?
  • What is caulking and is this different from chinking?

So, continue reading as we simplify log cabin chinking and answer all of your questions…

Why Do We Need Chinking?

Why Do We Need Chinking?

We need chinking for our log cabin to:

  • Create a “seal” from external elements (e.g. rain, snow and sleet) whilst protecting the logs from pooling/standing water which could result in rotten logs.
  • Eliminating heat loss and air infiltration to maximize your cabin’s energy rating by correctly insulating the cabin.
  • Prevent against bug and insect infestation through tiny gaps in your log cabin’s wall.

Logs aren’t perfect.

Logs can twist, kink, cup and bow.

Changes in the environment, humidity, sun and shade exposure and geographic differences can cause logs to move as their moisture content changes.

Logs also have an uneven nature and structure.

Consequently, it’s near impossible to build a log cabin with logs that notch perfectly together without any gaps.

A build like this, would also be a bad thing.

As your log home settles and the logs expand and contract (due to the factors above), if there wasn’t a gap for the logs to move into it would cause further twisting and bowing of logs.

What is Chinking?

What is Chinking?
In short, chinking is the material which is placed between the logs of a log home.

Chinking is to logs as mortar is to bricks.

Chinking is a flexible material used to fill gaps where logs don’t meet completely. Essentially, chinking a log home will ensure logs which don’t fit together perfectly have a nice seal.

This “nice seal” is the best maintenance free form of protection again moisture and air infiltration, insulation and fire barriers for your log home.

Not all log cabins require chinking. Why?

It depends upon the notch used.

If the cabin has an air-tight notch (e.g Scandinavian Chinkless) it won’t require chinking.

All other forms of cabin notches will (e.g. dovetail, corner and butt and pass).
Chink Zone Insulation

What Material is Chinking Made From?

Today, log home chinking refers to a flexible elastic sealant that resembles the appearance of the old portland cement which historically was used to seal logs together.

Prior to cement-based chinking; traditional chinking was made from a mixture of clay, sand, lime, silt, ash and dirt.

The inner layer was traditionally known as “daubing” and the out-layer more commonly known as “chinking”.

Chinking in summary should allow your cabin’s logs to breathe whilst also protecting your cabin from the external elements discussed earlier.

Types of Log Home Chinking

Today, we have two main schools of thought for chinking materials:

  1. Mortar Chinking
  2. Synthetic Chinking

Types of Log Home Chinking

Mortar chinking continues the traditional approach of chinking log homes and is mainly used for do-it-yourself log cabins (i.e. cabins built from scratch).

Synthetic chinking is made from either acrylic or petrochemical elastic compounds which have the ability to expand and contract with your logs.

Synthetic chinking is commonly water based, however, a few are oil based.

So, what are the major differences?

PRICE

Typically mortar chinking is 10% of the price of synthetic chinking. We will discuss this more in the price section later.

From experience, log cabin kits use synthetic chinking and self-build cabin owners use mortar chinking.

Whichever chinking you decide upon, it must have good elastic properties.

Understanding that your cabin will settle and planning for it with flexible chinking is important.

Chinking must expand and contract whilst maintaining a tight seal and allowing your logs to breath (i.e. not trapping moisture).

So, Mortar Chinking or Synthetic Chinking?

It depends.

If you are building from a log cabin kit home you probably will use synthetic chinking as the logs will need to settle in their new climate and environment.

If you are building a cabin from scratch then you will probably use a self-made mortar chinking; providing the logs have been felled locally and have properly dried out.

This is not a strict rule.

In reality when building your log cabin, you can choose from either material.

However, from experience, self-builders will use mortar to give a more authentic finish and save on cost.

What’s the Difference Between Caulking and Chinking?

You might have heard of the phrases caulking and chinking being used interchangeably, however there is a difference.

The main difference between caulking and chinking comes to their purpose.

Both are somewhat similar in material.

However, caulking is exclusively used for smaller logs (e.g. 6” or less in diameter) or for smaller gaps between logs.

Typically, if the span or depth between the logs is less than 1 inch then caulking should be used.

Caulking can also be used to fill checks (i.e. horizontal cracks) in logs too.

If the span or depth between the logs is greater than 1 inch then it’s time to use chinking.

Chinking is used on larger diameter logs too (e.g. 6” or more diameter) and is compatible with most notching techniques (e.g. traditional and dovetail).

Chinking can fill a span from 1 to 5 inches in width.

Caulking is often a smoother finish, whereas chinking is a much coarser textured finish.

How much does Log Cabin Chinking Cost?

Cost of Log Cabin Chinking
The cost of chinking can depend upon many factors.

  • Size of Chink Lines (1 inch to 5 inches)
  • Square Footage of Cabin
  • Height of the gable wall to the ridge

Log cabin chinking is priced upon per foot or per pail (i.e. bucket).

Pails typically come in 5 gallon sizes.

If the chink line is 1 inch in height and 1 inch in depth you should be paying $1.20 per foot of synthetic chinking and $0.15 for mortar chinking

For Example

A Cabin which is 20FT (width) x 24FT (length) x 9FT (height). Using 12” girth logs you will be stacking roughly 9 logs high.

88 linear feet (perimeter of your cabin) x 8 one inch chinking lines (number of logs high -1) is 704 linear feet.

This is multiplied by two as you chink inside and outside.

The total is then 1,408 linear feet of chinking.

If you were to chink the cabin using synthetic chinking the cost of chinking would be $1,689.60.

If you were to chink the cabin using mortar chinking the cost of chinking would be $211.20.

Both of these prices exclude labor and backing rods.

Backing roads are typically $0.25/foot and labor can be roughly priced at $8/foot.

Now you understand what log home chinking is and the materials it can be made of; it’s time to discuss methods and techniques for applying chinking to your log cabin.

How to Chink Your Log Cabin

Chinking a log cabin.

It appears to be a very easy task.

And it can be.

But, it can also be tedious, awkward, time-consuming and requires lots of patience!

Applying chinking to your log home yourself is entirely possible, you just need to follow basic rules and methods.

A quick tip

If you are planning on making your own chinking, then scroll down to chinking recipes.

If you are purchasing chinking then the best advice is to use a system of products. Purchase your chinking and stain from the same manufacturer as their formulas will have been tested to be compatible.

Now you are ready to chink.

Applying Chinking

Chinking Gun
When it comes to chinking, getting comfortable with your tools, is a must.

Once you get comfortable with using your tools ; quality and speed will come too.

Applying the chinking involves four stages:

  1. Log Preparation
  2. Backer Rods Installation
  3. Application of Chinking
  4. Clean-up!

Top-tip

Before you have chinked your cabin; you will need to decide upon the stain you are using (if any).

A basic rule of thumb:

  • If you are using an oil-based stain then chink first and stain to complete.
  • If you are using a water-based stain then stain first and chink to complete.

The first stage for chinking is to prepare your logs.

Your logs must be free of surface level dirt. This includes pollen, mildew, dust, oil, wax and sawdust. Read here for more guidance on cleaning logs.

Once clean, the logs should be from 40°F (4°C) – 80°F (26°C).

This ensures the logs’ surface is not too hot to evaporate the water in the chinking or too cold. If the logs are too cold the pores tighten and prevent the chinking from adhering.

The second stage to chinking is to apply a backer-rod.
A backer-rod, or homemade substitute, provides a “bond breaker” which provides a surface the chinking won’t adhere to.

A backer-rod allows the chinking to only adhere to 2 surfaces (i.e. the top and bottom log) providing more elasticity and movement in 2 dimensions as opposed to 3.

In simple English, the chinking will move freely along a vertical axis with the logs.

A backer-rod is typically a synthetic foam which is inserted between the cavity in the logs. A foam backer-rod is typically a grip strip.

A homemade backer-rod can be made from clear tape or typical fibreglass cut into one-inch strips.

Homemade Backer Rod

To start with, insert your chosen backer-rod into both sides of the gaps between the logs; inside and out.

After lightly pushing the backer-rods in, make sure there is an air pocket between the two pieces of backer-rods.

If you are using a mortar chinking, you will need to install chinking nails.

Chinking nails should be galvanised nails angled into the lower log every 2-3 inches on your cabin. This will hold the mortar in place whilst curing. Bend the nails up towards the top log once nailed into the lower log.

All the preparation is complete. Time to apply the chinking.

Methods for applying chinking

There are the four main methods for applying chinking.

  1. Trowel
  2. Grout bag with a nozzle
  3. Chinking gun (bulk loader)
  4. Chinking pump

Not one of the four methods are better than any of the others.

When purchasing chinking it comes in either 5-gallon pails or chinking guns.

If your chinking is homemade then you will probably use a grout bag or trowel.

Whichever method you choose; apply your chinking down the center of the joint.

Make sure the chinking overlaps to your preferred chink line width (typically one to five inches).

Start by running smaller bead lengths. You should aim to cover 10 linear feet per hour. My suggestion would be smaller 1FT bead lengths for your chinking.

Typically, a chinking gun is used with a 2-inch nozzle. The gun can be used in combination with a foam brush.

Once the chinking has been applied, take the foam brush and flatten the chinking’s surface.

Some quick tips from experience:

  • Only chink in smaller 10-minute sections
  • Chink lines should be 1/7 of your log’s diameter
  • Good contact with upper and lower logs is essential for adhesion
  • Aim to cover 10 linear feet per hour
  • Chinking depth should be ½ inch
  • Allow good time for curing

Chink Zone Insulation

Finally, clean the logs!

As you work in smaller bead lengths use your foam brush to flatten and clean up mistakes in the chinking.

If you are using a 2-inch nozzle use a 1.5-inch brush.

Keep the brush clean and work it whilst the chinking is moist to keep the edges clean as you go.

Correct your errors as you make them!

Log Cabin Chinking Repair and Maintenance

Chinking should last for between 20-30 years, providing it has been applied using a correct technique with backing rods.

The only way this can accelerate is if the cabin has experienced hot temperatures or lots of exposure to rain.

When we speak of chinking repair, typically we are referring to older cement paste chinking, as most modem synthetic chinking isn’t 30 years old.

The most common form of chinking maintenance is for sealing smaller gaps, splits or cracks in the logs.

These defects are known in the industry as “checking”.

Rule of Thumb
Any check over 2 inches should be filled; regardless of whether it’s a vertical or horizontal check.

To read more about maintenance of chinking, you can read here.

For a typical log cabin, you shouldn’t expect to chink more than 4 gallons per year which will cost roughly $200 for synthetic chinking.

If when repairing your cabin’s chinking, you aren’t looking at checking, what you are probably seeing is failing chinking.

If your chinking has failed. It’s sometimes best to start again.

If only smaller sections have failed, cover the chinking with clear tape and chink a fresh layer of chinking over the top.

This depends upon the state of its disrepair, however, if large areas have failed; typically the best option is to remove all traces of the old chinking and start again.

How to make your own chinking – Log Cabin Chinking Recipes

Make your own chinking

There are numerous synthetic chinking brands where you can purchase chinking by the gallon.

Creating your own chinking can complete a self-build project perfectly.

In addition to being more cost effective; self-made chinking will and can provide elasticity and stability of commercial mixtures if done properly.

You will need to ensure your chinking mix is porous enabling your logs to breathe properly.

There is an argument that portland cement can be too hard.

However, some of the successful recipes below use portland cement. Go figure!

Mixture per batch Materials Used
1 part clay
1 part coarse sand
1 part lime
Clay, Sand and Lime
1 part pre-dyed cement
1 part fine sand
Cement and Sand
2 part portland cement
1 part oakum
1 part grass
Cement, Oakum and Grass
1 part lime
2 part portland cement
3 part masonry sand
Cement, Sand and Lime
1 part portland cement
3 part coarse sand
Cement and Sand
4 part clay
2 part wood ashes
1 part salt
Clay, Ash and Salt
6 part sand
2 part portland cement
1 part lime
Cement, Sand and Lime

Make sure you use the same materials though-out your batches.

Stick with the same materials and be consistent with your mixes.

A good rule of thumb

When adding water to cure your cement, the texture should resemble creamy peanut butter.

So, to conclude this article on chinking.

What does bad chinking look like?!
Bad Log Cabin Chinking Example

Have you ever chinked a cabin yourself? Are you planning on chinking a cabin? Do you have any questions on chinking a cabin? Get in touch. We would love to hear from you!

Comments

  • We are building a cabin 16×16 with square sawn white ash logs (emerald ash borer) 6×8 w 2″ space
    what recipe would be best

    • Hi Jim,

      It’s a good idea to test a few different recipes. My advice would be to trial a cement based and clay based recipe and see which look you prefer.

      Thanks,

      Dave.

  • What brands of chinking are oil based? Which has worked the best for you? Also, oil based caulking brands for log homes. Our 30 year log home was recently blasted, sanded, and stained with Twp. The original Perma check chinking is still in place. I’m looking toward the future with maintaining my home with an oil based stain. Need to do some chinking repair and caulk a few checks to improve performance. Thanks!

  • Building a tool shed with an exterior of landscape post to resemble a log cabin what material would you use for the chinking? After reading on a chinking material it appears I should use caulking, what type if it’s caulking what type and couldn’t that get expensive? Thanks

    • Hi Steven, Are you looking to purchase your own chinking or make it? My answer will depend upon which technique you will use.

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