Is the Clear Topcoat Really Necessary?


When talking about wood stains one question that is frequently put to our customer service representatives is "Is a topcoat really necessary?” Actually a more accurate question would be, “Is a topcoat worth the extra cost and effort to apply?"

Rather than giving a simple answer we will discuss the benefits of topcoats and let you decide after you read this.

When we examine a wood stain there are certain parameters that govern its formulation:

  1. It must hold the pigments in suspension and form a thick enough film for proper color generation and ultraviolet.
  2. It must have UV protection.
  3. It must be able to withstand all types of weather conditions from arctic freezing temperatures to broiling desert heat.
  4. It must breathe to allow water vapor to escape from the wood yet prevent liquid water from getting in.
  5. It must remain elastic so that it can expand and contract along with the log movement.
  6. It must be able to retain its color for several years.
  7. And most importantly, it must adhere tightly to both bare wood and/or a previously applied coat of stain or, in some cases, a topcoat.

That’s a lot to ask of a single coating. In order to satisfy all of these tasks certain trade-offs inevitably must be made. Each affects the ultimate performance of the stain.


Clear topcoats, on the other hand, must meet some of the same parameters such as being breathable, maintaining flexibility and withstanding extreme weather conditions. But they don’t have to hold pigments, retain their color or adhere to bare wood.

This enables us to impart a different set of characteristics to topcoats such as film hardness, surface smoothness and a different UV protection system that is not possible in the stain itself.

We used to say that topcoats extend the life of the stain. That is still true, and our Lifeline Advance topcoats (Gloss or Satin finish) extend stain life longer than we ever thought possible. And they do much, much more.

First of all they significantly improve the look of the finish. In the past we thought that topcoats should essentially disappear from view. However in the process of formulating our Lifeline Advance topcoat we discovered that we could actually enhance the color, clarity and depth of the underlying stain finish.

The second thing we found with our new Lifeline Advance was its ability to keep the surface clean.

Since we can design the topcoat to form a slightly harder film than the color coat, it is much more resistant to dirt. This film retains the flexibility and elasticity required of a high-performance log home finish. In addition, the hard smooth surface makes it quite easy to clean off any dust or pollen that may accumulate on the surface of the logs. A simple wash down with Log Wash and a garden hose will remove any grime that may hide the beauty of your home.

Another feature a smooth topcoat provides is greater resistance to mold, mildew and algae. In addition to water, these organisms need something to grip onto. If the spores land on a hard smooth surface that rapidly sheds water, they won’t have an opportunity to germinate and spread. So the surface of the logs stays free of unsightly mold spots and patches of algae.

Of course the best feature of a topcoat is the protection it provides to the underlying stain color coat.


Years ago cars left the manufacturer with a coat of paint. More expensive cars may have had several coats of paint but no matter how many coats were applied after a few years the paint job still turned dull and started to fleck off. Then car coating experts discovered the benefits of clear topcoats.

Today’s car finishes remain shiny and last longer than ever thought possible all due to the application of a clear topcoat over a color base coat.

We used this same concept and technology for designing our new clear log home topcoat. Lifeline Advance helps prevent the color base stain from degrading by protecting the entire finish system from dirt, wind, water and sunlight. So, is a topcoat worth the cost and effort? You bet it is. In fact, we're so sure of the benefits of our Advance Topcoat we extend the warranty of Ultra-7 and Ultra-2 exterior stains to five years when a fresh topcoat is applied in year three.

Lifeline Advance is available in Satin and Gloss finish.


Last modified on Friday, 30 August 2019 21:37

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