Introduction: How to Build a Log Cabin With Dovetail Notches

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.

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 : . 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

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.

Step 3:

Picture of

We said the log we were cutting was for the wall that is 11'-"8 inches log.

Calculate the interior dimensions of the cabin:

This is the outside dimension minus 2 times the log thickness.

So for our cabin, the short wall interior measurement is 11'-8" minus 6 inches minus 6 inches.

That equals 10'-8".

Align the other jig to the centline of the log and so that the perpendicular edge is at 10'-8":

Attach it with screws

Step 4: Chainsaw Blocks

Picture of Chainsaw Blocks

The jig plans have instructions for making and attaching the saw spacers to the chainsaw bar.

They are needed to allow the saw to run along the jig without cutting into it.

Step 5: Saw the Notches

Picture of Saw the Notches

Roll the log over and saw the notches using the jig to guide the saw. After making the two cuts for one notch, remove the scrap piece of wood and make a second pass. This will make the saw cut very smooth for a good fit.

It takes about 4 minutes to complete notching on one log.

See a video on youtube:

Step 6: Stacking the Logs

Picture of Stacking the Logs

Stack the logs!

Step 7: Chinking the Logs

Picture of Chinking the Logs

I used permachink which is a synthetic log chinking product. "Log jam" is similar.

Install foam backer rod in the joints. Apply the chinking. Moisten with a spray bottle and smooth with a small trowel or modified putty knife.


RickyH44 (author)2018-01-08

How many tubes of chink did you use and how much did it all cost to chink the whole house minus the foam tube?

Mojmir Matta (author)2017-08-15


How do I make a product if I have wood dimensions - 15x15cm wood?

Does anyone know anything about it?

I would need a full connection, not a half log cabin.

luvit (author)2010-08-09

this is bad for trees and nature. please see the instructable to build a house out of trash. tanks.

tom.holmes.92123 (author)luvit2015-01-10

For every tree cut at least 5 are replanted< so your argument dosnt hold water

luvit (author)tom.holmes.921232015-03-11

for every 2 mcdonalds bags i find its like 1 pair of free socks. ketchup packets are like free dinner.

pacific_virgin (author)luvit2016-04-20

PLastic bags??????? ouch

pacific_virgin (author)luvit2016-04-20

There is nothing better than proper forest management. If you had it your way the entire country would burn up in forest fires. You can build your house out from garbage and live in a garbage house that will probably burn down.

Just like Hunting. Proper hunting rules and regs are proper animal control and stop destruction. proper forest management will stop destruction and forest fires. I am building a House from WOOD..

UstaskiVojnik88 (author)luvit2015-09-27

Listen you hypocritical garbage eater it seems you use the computer so much to tell others that they are killing the environment that your electric output leaves more of a disturbance to nature than any of us do

Cant Hardly (author)luvit2015-03-10

Live in trash if you like, but I am not Oscar the Grouch, and this is not Sesame Street.

luvit (author)Cant Hardly2015-03-11

i live in a cardboard box & have cable internet, just off maple ave.. i'm grouchy sometimes.

DuaneD1 (author)luvit2015-06-01

Doesnt cardboard come from trees? Dont your internet use electricity which comes from coal plants which hurts the ozone? Doesnt the computer, phone, tablet you use have heavy metals and use electricity? Isnt the plastic made from petro ingredients? If you drive, then really? Yes, do not throw stones when one does the same thing, actually worse then what they complain about.

If what you say is true about living in a cardboard box and using internet, then he is doing less harm to the environment then you. He is helping the woods by thinning and allowing other trees to flourish and the under brush to grow giving home to animals and more oxygen.

Whats your do? Pollute or add to it.

luvit (author)DuaneD12015-06-12

you're awesome. i love log cabins, too. -- you remind me of a time when a co-worker, who was on a low-carb diet, said, "Don't eat the pizza crust, it's nothing but carbs. Instead, eat another piece of pizza without the crust." -- i'm pretty sure he was the real son of Mother Earth.

Cant Hardly (author)luvit2015-06-12


rc jedi (author)luvit2010-08-09

i wonder, if these last longer than conventional construction, then they may be better for trees. maybe we should give it a chance.

beakman (author)rc jedi2010-09-17

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 (author)beakman2011-05-15

They are climate dependent. Tropics eat wooden homes quickly. Cold keeps wood safe as bugs do not prosper in cold weather.

beakman (author)glorybe2011-05-18

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)luvit2010-08-12

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.

luvit (author)mountain_man2010-08-12

i love log cabins. besides, if i built a house out of recycled glass bottles, i can no longer throw stones at others.

mindoftao (author)2016-03-29

great instructions, thanks for posting. Wish I lived in a place with space for one, mow down a few concrete buildings and build a log cabin. bad for the environment? that critic is probably sitting in a house bigger than this cabin.

bmayeaux (author)2016-03-07

If I want to build a larger cabin that would entail joining logs end to end is there a jig for that or a procedure to do it correctly?

DanielM169 (author)2015-10-13

DanielM169 (author)2015-10-13

Could you please email me the pics you used here. I'm in KY and my mobile is the only way to connect and the pics are not down loading. I've worked 24 years as a Navy Builder and would love to do this for my retirement project. I have so many examples because I'm 20min away from an old settlement that they preserved the log cabins from early 1700s. I figured between you an those examples I can be away on my trapper cabin build soon.

hitachi8 (author)2014-12-18

i know am gonna get flack for this but, its the truth, what do you fear?:

your notches are totally wrong. this not that important because as we all know, its the end result that counts, and with those big gaps i have to say i never seen such a monstrous job before.

the notches serve a purpose, to hold the log together preventing them from rolling BUT most important, to bring the gap between each log to the closest thing possible. we did better with simple hand tool 2000 years ago, now with all our technological advancement people cant accomplish the most basic task.

let me tell you a story:

Richard Proenneke

Kotteman (author)2011-01-09

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.,25&pid=23

spylock (author)Kotteman2014-02-02

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..

glorybe (author)Kotteman2011-05-15

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 (author)glorybe2011-09-01

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)

Nicholai (author)2011-11-11

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.

maclog (author)2011-03-06

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 (author)maclog2011-05-16

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.

Ferguson199 (author)2011-02-27

You shouldn't have gaps that big. But, it does look nice.

Tinworm (author)2010-09-28

excellent jig!

KOMAH4 (author)2010-09-19

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.

jessyratfink (author)2010-07-28

Wow, so much easier than the traditional approach! Good on you for streamlining the process. :D

carpespasm (author)jessyratfink2010-07-29

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.

kuppazki (author)carpespasm2010-09-17

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)carpespasm2010-08-01

This is also very typical of Appalachian cabins in the USA. I also see alot of 1800s cabins here in MT built that way.

mattbomb (author)2010-07-28

dude your using caulking. why dont you use expanding foam. or even better mud and moss. hey its free

Jobar007 (author)mattbomb2010-07-28

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.

doughboy1661 (author)Jobar0072010-07-29

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.

Jobar007 (author)doughboy16612010-08-08

I completely agree. Clay works great. Mud and moss on the other hand...

mattbomb (author)Jobar0072010-08-09

well moss would work for a good insulator but. what about using it for the roof

mountain_man (author)mattbomb2010-07-28

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.

hammer9876 (author)mountain_man2010-07-29

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)hammer98762010-07-30

The chinking suppliers sell and rent much more efficient systems for applying the chinking.

hammer9876 (author)mountain_man2010-07-30

Thank goodness!

mattbomb (author)mountain_man2010-07-28

or fill them with concrete with a chinking

mattbomb (author)mountain_man2010-07-28

well use a bit of foam then spread a thin layer of the "acrylic product" over it.

mikemmcmeans (author)mattbomb2010-07-28

bugs and other small vermon like to eat/live in expanding foam

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