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How to build a log cabin with dovetail notches

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Picture of How to build a log cabin with dovetail notches
Of course the first thing you need is logs. A good source may be someone who has a portable sawmill in your area. Contact woodmizer sawmills to get a list of owners near you.

If you have your own trees, have someone saw them for you.

 
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Step 1: Dovetail Jig

Picture of Dovetail Jig

The easiest and fastest way to notch the logs is with a jig

My site has plans to build your own if you want : http://logdovetailjig.com . By building your own, you can have a custom set of jigs that will work for your particular log dimensions and end up with the gap between the logs that you want.

Our example cabin for this instructable is 11'-8" x 16' using logs that are 7" thick x 9" high. The gap will be 2.5 inches. Yours could be other sizes. The plans are custom designed for whatever dimensions are specified.

After you decide on the cabin dimensions, add 4 inches to each and use those numbers to cut the logs to length.

So the logs for this example would be cut 12' and 16'-4".

The jigs shown are for half dovetail notches and take about 2-3 hours to make.

Step 2: Attach the first jig

Picture of Attach the first jig
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Lay the log on a side and mark a line down the center using a chalkline. The jig also has a centerline marked on it with holes cut out that make it easy to align the jig with the log.

The jig attaches to the INSIDE face of the log. (The face of the log that will be on the inside of the cabin. This is facing upward in the photo)

Leave about 2 inches between the end of the log and the jig end piece. Attach it to the log with 3 sheetrock screws. 

You will measure from the perpendicular edge of the jig as shown in the photo.

Kotteman3 years ago
Maybe the wrong place to ask but, why is it so that in USA the log-cabins have big gaps between the logs so you need to fill it up with something, like clay and synthetic stuff?
Here in Sweden we don't have such big gaps between the logs but the houses are still very comfortable to live in.
http://www.brodernahalvarsson.se/default.aspx?lnkId=25&parent=12,25&pid=23
spylock Kotteman2 months ago

I think it must be a measure to save logs,and time,If I were to build one I would plane the tops and bottoms,and have no gaps.As you know one dont have to plane to get the logs to touch,but because of the logs not being all straight,one may have small cracks in a few spots that when filled would not be that noticeable..

I don't know about proper gaps but I do know that in Florida we don't get cold enough to beat down termites and any cabin made of natural wood will be little more than a lunch for our insects. It is also difficult to get permits for any kind of wooden dwelling as our frequent hurricanes turn boards into high speed missiles.
awtkins glorybe2 years ago
Several log houses in south Fl. and in Dade some of the lest damaged by Andrew. U can get get homes permitted in Dade and that is the hardest county in the USA when it comes to wind damage stats.
(yes I also know about limber missiles, I wish I still had the picture of a 2x12 driven through a tree at about 20' high)
Nicholai2 years ago
thank god for instructables. in in an architecture class and my insructor wants us to make a scale model of a log home. i got assigned dovetail and have been going crazy trying to figure it out.
luvit3 years ago
this is bad for trees and nature. please see the instructable to build a house out of trash. tanks.
rc jedi luvit3 years ago
i wonder, if these last longer than conventional construction, then they may be better for trees. maybe we should give it a chance.
beakman rc jedi3 years ago
Properly maintained, log buildings can last a VERY long time. There are still many log structures in my area that are over 200 years old. That can't be said about too many traditionally built buildings -- and I would bet they've incurred far more maintenance costs over the years if they ARE that old.
glorybe beakman2 years ago
They are climate dependent. Tropics eat wooden homes quickly. Cold keeps wood safe as bugs do not prosper in cold weather.
beakman glorybe2 years ago
Most definitely the climate plays a part. My area gets good and cold during winter, killing off quite a number of the insects. But we also get 90 -100 degree, high humidity summers, and these buildings still hold up very well.
mountain_man (author)  luvit3 years ago
The trees I used were all dead when they were cut. Killed by beatles. So rather than rotting or burning (either releases an equal amount of carbon), they will become part of a building. A building with no sheet rock walls. Almost no insulation. No fumes given off.
i love log cabins. besides, if i built a house out of recycled glass bottles, i can no longer throw stones at others.
maclog3 years ago
kotteman - I think you are thinking of the round notch method and the v shape along the bottom of each log. Very snug method, takes longer.
Kotteman maclog2 years ago
If you know what you are doing it doesn't take longer, but it also depends on what kind of notch method and tools you are using. A dovetail notch made with pre sawn timber and a chainsaw is made quite fast. But if you make a Dala-notch with round timber and only use hand tools that takes about 30-45min for a expert to do but with chainsaw, scary fast.
Ferguson1993 years ago
You shouldn't have gaps that big. But, it does look nice.
Tinworm3 years ago
excellent jig!
KOMAH43 years ago
Very cool! Good jobs, if the logs are not totally dry (kiln dried) then they will settle about 1 inch per foot of height. The opening frames must be able to accomodate the settlement.
Wow, so much easier than the traditional approach! Good on you for streamlining the process. :D
From what I've read in some parts of northwest Europe this is the traditional approach. The dovetails make the logs fall together rather than apart and there are some log cabins that are hundreds of years old and might be a little warped, but the walls are as structurally sound as ever since they basically have to rot into the ground before those joints come apart.
Actually we have a cabin where we spend our summers. The cabin was moved there in the middle of 1800's so we estimate it was originally built over 200 years ago. one log from the backwall has rotted away and the cabin is slightly leaning towards it. all of the log ends are a little worn out and eaten away. otherwise it is in good contidion
mountain_man (author)  carpespasm3 years ago
This is also very typical of Appalachian cabins in the USA. I also see alot of 1800s cabins here in MT built that way.
mattbomb3 years ago
dude your using caulking. why dont you use expanding foam. or even better mud and moss. hey its free
If you use something rigid, it will crack over time (less than a year) due to the expanding and contracting of the logs with humidity. Mud and moss is a more traditional approach but it has a huge draw back: Mud and moss retain moisture which means that in less than 3 years, you would have to build a whole new cabin due to structure being destroyed by fungi of one sort or another.
Good on you for the hard material not working, but using the traditional clay won't rot out the wood in a few years. There are examples over 100 years old that have been more or less maintained as they were built. The devil is in the details; what wood did you use, how good are your corners, what sort of corner did you cut, how did you pack the daubing in and shape it. These are a good sort as they shed water away from the inside. I can't see really well, but it looks like the daubing is shaped flat against the outside of the wall which wouldn't hold up as well as concave and slightly recessed, like what you see on a regular brick wall.
I completely agree. Clay works great. Mud and moss on the other hand...
well moss would work for a good insulator but. what about using it for the roof
mountain_man (author)  mattbomb3 years ago
It isn't caulking. It is an acrylic product designed for log construction. It comes in tubes, or 5 gallon buckets. Foam isn't good for this as it has no UV protection and isn't necessarily water proof.
All I can think about is the squeezing from a tube. Let's see. A very conservative 5 squeezes per foot times top, bottom and middle equals 15 squeezes per foot. With 10 foot logs, that is 150 squeezes. With seven spaces per wall, that is 1050 squeezes. Times 4 walls, this is a very conservative 4200 squeezes. Oy vey! My hand hurts just thinking about that! Nice jig though. The video certainly helped my understanding of the way it really worked.
mountain_man (author)  hammer98763 years ago
The chinking suppliers sell and rent much more efficient systems for applying the chinking.
Thank goodness!
or fill them with concrete with a chinking
well use a bit of foam then spread a thin layer of the "acrylic product" over it.
bugs and other small vermon like to eat/live in expanding foam
ya i guess. ill shut up now
Congrads, very well done
skunkbait3 years ago
Great instructable! A few years ago, I bought a few acres up in the hills for hunting. It's accessable by 4x4 only, and we haven't put up a cabin, yet. This really gives me some good ideas!
germeten3 years ago
As for chinking, how about paper-crete, (shredded paper, sand-cement mix) or shredded paper, bucket of tar and clay powder, or asphalt and clay/or other aggregate.
Sure use the Asphalt...........then try to spend the night in the cabin with that strong smell.......asphalt not a good idea in cold weather either.
dchall83 years ago
That is a huge jig. I like it.

Why do you leave a gap between the logs?  Along the line of huge jigs, why not build a jig to put a peak (or dome) on top of each log and another to put a matching groove on the bottom so that they interlock?  Seems like you do away with almost all of the chinking.  Or maybe you could lay the chinking into the groove before you drop each log onto the lower one. 
Sorry if I may seem like I am stepping in here........Guess I am............... I have built a few different styles of "log cabins". It clearly depends on what materials are used to start with for the logs. Crowning the log so the log landing on it accepts it is a very good way all around. This prevents any water from seeping inward also, decreases bug infestation, wind, and re-chinking in a few years. Care must be taken in this process due to if the logs are "kiln dried" or sun dried over a year. Kiln Dried shrinks the log about 20% in some cases. Sun Dried shrinkage is minimum compared to kiln. Practice by making a model from spruce. This will help in the design and help prevent any snags later.
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