Montana Log Homes

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Log Railing Repair

A Log Railing ‘Quick-Fix’

There are two ways to repair most things.

The right way, and the… “I’ll do it the right way later”methods.

Time, money or convenience often dictate when maintenance projects get handled. Some chores, such as a roof that leaks require immediate attention regardless of the timing or inconvenience, but others can be put off if proper stop-gap measures are taken.

When you are looking at rotted or insect infested wood, there is only one way to attack the problem and that is to replace the wood and seal it properly. Water is one of woods worst enemies and if it is left to pool or soak into raw (or untreated) wood, the wood will begin to deteriorate almost immediately.

Anyone that deals with log homes knows that wood checks (splits). This checking does not usually affect the member’s strength, but if the checking appears in such a way as to collect water, it can become a big problem – very quickly. Most log home owners know that when such checks appear, especially on horizontal surfaces, the opening should be filled (caulk, etc.) as quickly as possible to prevent damage or deterioration.

When I was performing a recent maintenance routine of re-staining our deck and horizontal handrails, I discovered that a bottom railing member had a significant split that ran for 3-4 feet. This checking was not new and it had already begun to weaken the wood and significant damage was now visible. The “right way” to repair this railing is to replace the bottom rail.

Unfortunately, this was a project I just couldn’t make time for right now, but I didn’t want to go through another winter without some kind of damage control. Left untreated for another 6-8 months, this railing member could collapse. Unfortunately, this was one instance where using duct tape wasn’t quite the best solution.

Buying some time…

To buy me one more season before I had to replace this rail, I decided to plug the hole(s) with expanding foam, thus halting any new water intrusion. You are probably familiar with this product, often used to insulate gaps around windows or pipes that enter the foundation of your home. You can buy these products from any hardware store or local builder’s supply.

The foam expands to form a snug fit and will ooze out of any cracks as it swells. After the foam dried (24 hours), I caulked areas where the foam did not seal as tightly as I’d hoped and sanded the areas flush. Finally, I applied new stain according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

The DIY repair photos

These pictures show how I temporarily repaired our railing.

This is NOT the correct way to repair such a problem, this is little more than a “Band-Aid” fix that buys a little more time until the repair can be made the right way. Such a repair offers no strength to the railing and could cause a safety issue. I used this in a low-traffic area of our deck and will replace the bottom rail next spring.

Below, see how this project unfolded and how well the foam was able to fill the holes and accept a finish to blend with the wood.

DIY Photos & Descriptions

The following two photos show the same section of rail where the foam oozed from a hole on the side. Note that after the foam had dried, the excess was cut off with a knife and the foam/wood sanded flush. Although not offering any structural benefit, the foam and fresh stain will halt any new water intrusion or damage to the wood.

Same section of log rail (Before & After)

The next photo shows a close-up of how the foam packed the creviceon the top of the rail producing a watertight seal. The foam accepts stain so it can be blended with the look of the surrounding wood.

I can’t emphasize enough that this was a cosmetic repair ONLY. When wood rots to this degree, it cannot be ‘fixed’, it must be replaced. Critical support components such as stair treads, railings, etc. need to be maintained so as to prevent additional damage to the structure or harm to people. However, the tips on these pages can be employed for repairing non-critical maintenance such as large gaps in logs.

Be sure to read my related article about deck building and maintenance, “Planning to build the perfect deck?