In an idyllic winter scene, like in a postcard or a Christmas card, you can see cozy-looking log cabins that look so sturdy and ready to shelter you and keep you warm even with thick snow all around. Log cabins normally are associated with rural life in the United States and Canada although log construction can trace its roots in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
The idea of a log cabin construction is to stack tree trunks one of top of another, and where the logs intersect, corner notches were cut so the logs can overlap. Over the years, more notching techniques were developed to ensure that logs fit well together and more weather tight and to reduce the amount of fillers – called chinking when using rocks and sticks or daubing when using mud or moss, to fill the gaps.
There are many different types and variations of corner notches to choose from. Some of them are:
- Saddle notch (round notch) – placed near the end of a round log, so called because it resembles a saddle like a wide U or a rounded V shape.
- Square notch – used when the log has been hewn into a square and square shaped pieces are removed from the top and bottom of the log.
- Dovetail notch – can be used on a square or round log. The notch is cut on the end of the log at an angle to make inward-pointing wedges resembling the tail of a dove.
- Half-dovetail notch – as the name implies only has one edge flared. The other side is flat.
For a beginner, the saddle or round notch is the best choice where half circles are cut at the top and bottom sides of a round log for a better fit. You will need a straight saw (or a chainsaw), shallow sweep long handled gouges, mallet and a scribing tool.
A scribing tool is the most important tool to achieve a perfect fitting log. It is used to trace and transfer the contour of the log below to the log that will be placed on top of it.
Here are the steps to make the notches on round logs.
- Roll the log into position on top of the bottom log and secure it with a log dog so it does not roll over.
- Use your scribing tool to trace the contour of the bottom log onto the uncut upper log that should be notched. Begin about midway along one side of the log to the other side to draw a half circle.
- From there you can either invert the log so you have access to the end where you need to make the notch or you can remove the log and place it on a sawhorse or on the ground to make your cuts. Choose the one that will provide you with the easiest way to work.
- With a chainsaw or a straight saw, make several straight cuts down on the inside of your traced contour, ending on the outline of the semi-circle. If you are using a chainsaw, then you can make diagonal cuts on the straight slices so you can remove the wood or literally scoop the wood out.
- To finish off the notch, use a shallow sweep gouge to remove the rest of the wood and complete the cutting of the round notch. You will be making notches on both ends of the log.
- Bring the log back to the foundation and check if the notches fit perfectly on the bottom log and make adjustments as necessary.
Building log notches takes time, practice and precision and a lot of manual work. Get the necessary tools that you will need to make notches and do some research. Ensure that you wear safety gear when using sharp tools. Pretty soon you will be building your first log cabin.