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What Type of Beam Finish (Stain) is Best for You?

Updated: 7 days ago

When deciding to build a timber framing home you have to ask yourself, “What Type of Beam Finish Is Best For Me?”

Choosing and applying a finish or protective coating for your timber project is deceptively complex. What first appears as a simple decision becomes complicated. You are faced with a myriad of decisions.

log and timber stain colors
Just a few of Timber Pro UV's many stain options.

Finishes Shown are from Timber Pro UV

You may ask “How can something so simple be so complicated?”. Just choose a product and a color….ding…’re done! Right? Answer: For a small percentage of people faced with these choices the process is simple and direct. These are unique people who have 2 qualities:

1. They have very little fear of regret.

2. They have no enjoyment in evaluating pros and cons.

For the rest of us, the what affects the when. Ideally, decisions that influence your choice of beam finish would be done in advance so the timbers could be finished before they leave our shop. Influencing factors fall into 3 categories

1. Décor or atmosphere considerations (what)

2. Brand or product comparisons (what)

3. Logistics and practical considerations (when)

4. Décor and atmosphere – broadly stated

Your timbers should have a hue which complements the general theme or atmosphere of your desired home/retreat/pavilion etc. For an in-depth discussion on how to go about finding out what type of atmosphere is right for you, you’ll want to attend a seminar or watch the videos covering the topic.

The seminars and the videos include info about timber framing styles, interior design, architecture, building green and engineering.

The multitude of choices you need to make in building your home will affect the atmosphere and can quickly turn into a circle of indecision. So you’ll want to use some guidelines when you start planning and making decisions about your home or structure.

Pre- Construction Meeting Spoof

This is a situation when it is better to finish the timbers later in the construction process rather than in the shop.

Builder: Is it better to finish the beams in your shop or onsite?

Bert: (turning to owners) Do you guys have a color picked out? Would you like to just go with natural oil?

Wife: (looking at husband) Well, I really think the color should complement the cabinets, but we haven’t picked out a cabinet color because we don’t want it to clash with the granite counter top, or the flooring in the kitchen and the family room.

Builder: How soon would you be able to make a decision on the flooring and granite?

Wife: (looking a bit distressed) I don’t know. I would like to talk with Suzy and Jane they have some pictures and ideas I really liked.

Bert: In a situation like this I feel like a wise choice may be to forego the savings of pre-finishing the timbers in the shop. The timbers can be finished in place so you don’t have to make pushed decisions which will give you the chance to make sure you are getting what you want.

Wife: (looking relieved) Yes I like that idea.

You can see the probability for unhappy customers is very high in this scenario. Then I get pulled into the role of a color consultant who needs instant decisions. Because of this, I try to avoid pushing clients for decisions of any kind and make sure they are comfortable with what they want.

What Should You Do?

Another sticking point is what product should you use?

As you know, it is tough to have a hands-down choice, because there are so many products with pros and cons running neck and neck.

Also, I need to be careful in answering the question so that the customer understands the benefits that certain products will bring. I might answer like this: “Knowing your love for the natural beauty, I would recommend Product X because it is quite durable and avoids a plastic impervious coating. You will need to maintain this more often especially the lower portion of the post where they are exposed to more sun and rain.”

Choosing a finish is definitely not easy, as there are many factors to consider:

  • Are the timbers green?

  • Are the desired ingredients in product “X”?

  • How often do they need to be re-finished?

  • Do I need to strip off the first coat before re-finishing?

  • Are there harmful off-gases?

  • How easy is it to fix a damaged area, a scrape, or a dent?

  • How expensive is the product?Is the product organic?

  • When Should You Apply the Finish to Your Timbers?

Finally, we look at the overall logistics and practical considerations.

  • What is more expensive, in the shop or on site?

  • What are the disadvantages of finishing on site?

  • What are the advantages?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of finishing in the shop?

interior timber framing in master bedroom with stone fireplace
Interior timber beams in a master bedroom.

Scenario 1: Pre-Finishing

Pre-finishing requires that you move beams around the shop, set up saw horses, plastic wrap the beams and handle them with extra care. When you find yourself touching up holes, notches or nicks in pre-finished timbers – or pre-finishing a timber which needs to be replaced, (the extra step of pre-finishing add an additional step to an already time sensitive situation) you’ll find yourself thinking: “This is a pain. It would be a lot easier to apply the finish in one fell swoop”

Scenario 2: On-Site Finishing

Conversely, cleaning and masking the beams after that sheet rockers and other subcontractors have inadvertently tarnished the beams, can be a lot of work, especially if the wood is raw. As you are climbing up and down ladders you’ll be saying to yourself: “This is tedious, imagine how easy it would be to apply the finish in the shop, no cleaning, no ladders, etc.”

In summary, factors that tend to dictate when your timbers get their coloring and protective coating are:

1. Whether or not you know what type of finish and color you want.2. Personal preference of the builder: – what he perceives as the path of least resistance.

FYI: When comparing cost, pre-finishing tends to be about the same on-site finishing.

Thank you for your interest in this report. You’ll find more valuable information on this website regarding design/construction tips, insight, and comparisons which you can use for building your dream timber home.

Thank you,


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