TinyHouse43's Building Blog

From Texas-sized 2 Tiny House For Three

Beetle Kill Blues

As you may have figured out by now if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, our gorgeous Beetle Kill Ponderosa Pine siding from the wonderful folks at Sustainable Lumber Co in Montana has turned into quite a beast for me personally since I’m the one with the “vision” of how the house should look and also the one who’s been doing the prep work on the wood itself. It’s such a gorgeous, unique looking wood that, really, should be one of the easiest materials to use if, like us, you want to a stand-out wall of siding, piece of furniture, floor, ceiling, etc. The natural variations of the blue stain from the fungus the Mountain Beetles leave behind in the tree create amazing swirls throughout the wood, but that very beauty has proved a bit more difficult to harness into a cohesive “look” in regard to how our house has turned out with other unexpected (but welcome) changes. Interestingly, though, the very technique I thought had ruined the wood (at least as far as the original look I had in mind when choosing it) may turn out to be the best way to make the wood fit with the rest of the house’s now very different look that rather organically developed with the addition of some other very unique design elements.

TinyHouse43 - BigGreenHouse

Our Big House in May 2014 before we did a major overhaul on the overgrown raised beds. Hey, we kinda like that “English Garden” look. HOAs… not so much!

See, when I initially envisioned our Tiny House, I had our Big House on the brain. It’s a (very) large bungalow style Craftsman style with light green siding, cream trim, and accents of light yellow and a rusty brown-red. It fits perfectly with our planned neighborhood turned incorporated “Town of _” that’s billed as “Cape Cod style,” (in fact, our house sits at the end of Cape Cod Blvd on a cross street), and having a large percentage of family on the East Coast and growing up in a little yellow house with black shutters has always drawn me toward that type of house exterior. I planned to make not a carbon copy of the Big House but one that reflected that general sense of style. I’d also decided to combine some of the motif of our very favorite house plan that we, at one point, were planning to build in Washington (we call it the Auberdine) before the traveling tiny house option became a viable choice. It features a stone “wall” around the lower third of the exterior with either a blueish-purple or greenish-blue upper section (depending on which website’s photos I was looking at) and loads of beautiful cedar trim. My idea was to have the beetle kill act as the stone wall with its varied colors and patterns, then use a painted blueish-gray board & batten on the upper half, and divide them from each other with a crisp white belly band. That look called for the beetle kill to have its lie staining heavily enhanced and the overall look of that section of wood to be a subtle blueish-gray.

Plan HWEPL69294 on Eplans.com that I originally found in a magazine collection of eco-friendly plans in 2009 or 2010. We’ve been in love with it ever since, especially since it reminds us of our favorite areas in World of Warcraft called Ashenvale and Auberdine. Nerdy, right?! 😉 There’s another listing at ArchitecturalDesigns.com that shows lighter exterior colors.



Between the shakes on the porch and the board & batten on the side, we now have a TON of exposed cedar. The belly band and two sides of trim around the front window are cedar, too, but they’re a much lighter color (read: easier to stain a different color if we wanted to). We never knew there was such a variety of cedar colors!

Well, I’ve pretty much created that exact look with the beetle kill between brushing on Sherwin Williams’ Blue Shadow stain over the wood’s blue stained sections and then coating the whole side with Benjamin Moore’s Sea Gull Grey stain. It’s lovely, really, but now it makes no sense with how the rest of the house has turned out. That, dear reader, is due to my discovery of a really cool reclaimed wood store in Dallas called Reclaimed DesignWorks. There I was able to pick up two shades of rustic reclaimed barn wood – one with a planed gray face and the other with the naturally worn and heavily textured brown most think of when they envision “barn wood” – and their inclusion in the design as window trim and (most prominently) as the entire front facade of the house radically changed the way the house looks and, well, feels. It’s all quite organic, really, both in terms of having so much reclaimed natural materials and in the way one decision rolled into another and so radically transformed the overall “feel” of the house’s exterior that the very idea of painted anything on the house seems contrary to what it has become. No, the house took on a decidedly more rustic feel that I would have never expected to like (I am actually NOT a fan of the more rustic cedar clapboard style seen on most early and many newer tiny houses, though I most definitely see their appeal for tradition’s sake and light weight materials if nothing else), and as a result my brain has been in a tailspin trying to figure out how to incorporate the beetle kill with the almost excessive amount of raw cedar we now have exposed. Part of me thinks I should just get over it and paint the cedar board & batten as planned and call it a day, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’ve resigned myself to finding a better way to treat (or in one side of the house’s case, strip, clean, and re-stain) the beetle kill to match the way the house looks now vs. what I initially envisioned.


Here’s what the Penofin Ultra Premium Red Label in Transparent Clear did to the beetle kill. Yipe!

When I very first went to stain some of the beetle kill I was using Penofin’s Ultra Premium Red Label in Natural Clear, and it immediately turned the blue staining in the beetle kill a lovely shade of brown. I was horrified because I’d just spent $286 on 5 gallons of the stuff and now had to return it all, but I did keep the one gallon I’d opened. I decided to use it to seal the backs of the boards since they still needed protection, and I then sought out a completely clear waterproofer that would leave the beetle kill completely natural looking yet protect it from the elements. It was only when we rearranged the numerous piles of wood we had stored in the TH that I realized the Penofin had penetrated all the way through the full thickness of the boards in many places and STILL managed to turn some of the blue staining brown. In a bit of a panic I searched high and low to find beetle kill pine treated with something that made it look how I’d envisioned it in my head, and that’s when I came across the Benjamin Moore Sea Gull Grey option. I’d already bought four other blue-gray tinted stains to try, and my tests led me to think the best combination would be to stain the natural blue streaks in the wood with an actual blueish stain and then coat the whole piece in a gray based stain. Thus, the beetle kill’s current look was created.


I found this image of beetle kill stained with Benjamin Moore’s Sea Gully Grey on Pinterest. There’s a lot more natural blue fungus stain in this wood than in ours however.


Here’s how ours turned out, though I actually used an even darker blue stain called Blue Shadow from Sherwin Williams to pre-treat the blue fungus stain and make it even more pronounced. Only problem was that it virtually erased the wood’s natural grain leaving the blue streaks looking painted on.

Unfortunately, though, I feel like doing so was a mistake for three reasons. The first problem was a rookie mistake created by not sanding down the test pieces before actually testing the stains out. Mill glaze is real, people, and it most definitely affects your results! Second, after I did it I immediately regretted swiping the Blue Shadow over the wood’s blue stains because having sanded it down the wood soaked up WAY more of the stain than I was expecting, which made it look like I basically painted on some random blue streaks. Lastly, when I coated the entire side with the Sea Gull Grey it did indeed tone down the Blue Shadow parts, but now it looks almost monochromatic even though there are still obviously much darker sections scattered throughout. The point, my friends, is that the beetle kill looks nothing like I had envisioned it would either in result or in conjunction with the rest of the house. DOH! I’ve now spent another $80 buying a Penofin brand stripper, brightener, and cleaner (plus some additional stain samples) to attempt to reverse the “damage” and return the wood to as close to natural as the products will allow.

The new game plan is to take a piece of the cedar and test out ALL the stains I own on the rough side (since that side faces out), and only AFTER deciding how the cedar will look will I attempt to determine what stain to used on the beetle kill. That way I’m making the beetle kill fit the house rather than trying to force the rest of the house to fit the original plan for the beetle kill. Right now I’m leaning toward using the same original Penofin I purchased (will have to buy it again… /le sigh) since the brownish tones of the test pieces would actually work really well with the way the house looks today. Still, though, once we decide on how to treat the cedar board & batten we may find we can still find a way to preserve the bluer tones in the beetle kill instead. That would be my preference, especially since I’ve used blue throughout the whole house as a featured accent color, which in itself is weird since I’ve never really liked blue before. I’ve got samples of Penofin’s Verde stain in Willow and Pine plus one from the Blue Label in Mendocino Mist to test on the cedar, and I’ll be trying out the others I already have on hand from Olympic, Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore, too.

I also picked up a sample of the Red Label’s Transparent Redwood after explaining to Annie from http://www.DecksDirect.com that I actually wanted the belly band of the house to look like the much redder cedar board & batten (never knew there was such variety in the cedar species in regards to coloring), so hopefully that’ll help fix that design issue. Yes, the parts I WANT to be the reddish cedar aren’t and the area that needs to be a much subtler color are super deep red-brown. Go figure! Hopefully we can find a stain to soften the board & batten color to our liking without having to resort to painting it since neither of us can picture that look anymore.

***Since starting this draft the samples arrived, and I’m sad to say none of them will work on either version of the cedar we have. We’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to having natural looking cedar and, more than likely, natural looking beetle kill, too. Not that that’s a bad thing, really, but it is a different thing. Just going to take a bit of getting used to is all. Check out the following photos to see what we did 2/19 with our new samples and products.



Yeah….no. The Willow and Pine turned the cedar piece almost black, and the Mendocino Mist looks too similar to what I’m trying to remove from the Beetle Kill. The center piece is also cedar, but it’s the stuff we used for the belly band. The Redwood at the top is too orange on the smooth side of the wood, which is what we have facing out, and the other colors… well, no. I even tested it on a piece of unsanded beetle kill just to see what happened. Definitely too cartoonish for our taste!


Here’s how the Redwood stain sample turned out on the front window trim cedar. It’s the same type as the belly band, but because it’s turned rough side out it soaked up the stain really well. It’s a bit more orange than I would have preferred, but it definitely does compliment the rest of the cedar we have all over the house.


Here’s the 3-step stripper, cleaner, and brightener I used on a section of the beetle kill that I’ve already stained. Works pretty well, particularly since I didn’t follow the times exactly.


Here’s what the Beetle Kill ended up looking like after being stripped, cleaned, and brightened. I didn’t use a timer to hit the exact leave-on times, so I’m betting it would have worked even better if I had. Still, I was pretty dang impressed with how different the wood looked after the procedure, but I actually like how it seems to have left the natural fungus stain somewhat enhanced by the stains I put over it. The wood was still very wet in that third picture, but it looked much closer to its natural state when it dried.


We think mimicking the very dark barn wood in this front wall section will make the belly band do what it was intended to – provide visual separation of the two very different siding materials.

So, we still have a ton more work to do, but we did make a couple more design decisions after seeing all the samples laid out. The belly band and at least the main fascia boards are going to be stained a dark ebony similar to how dark the center board of our front wall barn wood looks. We’ve concluded that we still need a darker belly band to help differentiate the two siding sections, and since we just haven’t had any luck with staining the natural rough cut dark red cedar or the beetle kill, we’re pretty much waving the white flag and planning to clear coat them both. I’m going to use the Benjamin Moore Sea Gull Grey to “swipe and wipe” a thin coat over the natural fungus stain on the side of beetle kill we just installed because the tests show it will enhance the stain without covering up the wood’s natural grain like the Sherwin Williams Blue Shadow did. I believe that will help unify it with the side I’m stripping down a bit better since some of the blue stain is still visible in the natural fungus stain (which I love, actually). The beetle kill will either have the Seal-Once clear coat waterproofer applied or we may decide to live with the color change the Penofin Transparent Clear makes on the yellow pine simply because the Penofin just seals and protects so well. We’ll make that final decision after I finish stripping the one side and adding the Sea Gull Grey to the other side. The fascia boards on the front gables will have the Redwood stain used on them to coordinate with the blue window’s trim and give it a look similar to the Auberdine house we love, and I’m contemplating using it on the fascia boards around the dormers for a bit of contrast, too. After all, we did use two different roofing materials for the same reason – seems logical to continue the pattern.

I am egregiously behind in training for the half marathon I’m running on 3/1 (also signed up for a 5k the day before – starting to think that was a bad idea), so while work may be going on at the tiny house it will likely be a week or two before I get the chance to post anything significant. I will post photo updates on FB for the time being as Brandy sends the to me, so be sure to check them out there from time to time. Off to run I go!!


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