Introduction: How to Make Log Ends Perfectly Flat & Parallel

Picture of How to Make Log Ends Perfectly Flat & Parallel

I like to make stuff out of logs, and lately I've done a couple of projects where I needed the ends to be perfectly flat and parallel.

For most log projects you could probably just use a chainsaw and get the ends close enough.

However, when "close enough" isn't good enough, here's the method I use. This requires some scrap plywood and basic tools like a router, drill, level, and clamps.

Step 1: Make a Leveling Jig

Picture of Make a Leveling Jig

The first step is to put together a simple leveling router jig. I made all of these pieces out of scrap plywood to use with my router. If you don't have a router, I've had this Porter Cable one for years and love it.

The sizes for the pieces are noted in the photos. This kit can accommodate a log up to 12 inches in diameter.

A long, flat sled is made to which a router can be fastened. This was made from a piece of 1/2" plywood, with two stiffener pieces that were glued and screwed in place along the sides. These keep the main board from flexing and bending.

Two other straight pieces of plywood are used as guide rails for the sled. These are screwed directly to the log itself.

I actually use a third piece as a clamped-on rail, which simplifies the process of getting the rails perfectly level. How these are all used is shown in detail in the following steps.

Step 2: Get a Log, Shim It Plumb

Picture of Get a Log, Shim It Plumb

Now that you have a router jig ready, you need to position and shim up your log so the sides are as plumb (vertical) as possible. I shimmed mine up with some paint stir sticks.

Once you have it where you want it, be careful not to move it at all.

This log I'm using is several years old, bone-dry and rock-hard. Not sure of the species.

Step 3: Attach First Rail

Picture of Attach First Rail

The first rail is attached to the log with screws.

I have pre-drilled and countersunk a pair of clearance holes in each of my guide rails. These allow screws to be driven into the log to fasten the rails quickly.

The rail is positioned so it is about 1/8" to 1/4" above the highest point of the log and a 2" screw is driven into the log through one of the rail's clearance holes.

With a level, the rail is pivoted on the first screw until it is perfectly level. For the second screw, I prefer to pre-drill a hole in the log to ensure accuracy. This is done through the clearance hole in the rail, and then a second 2" screw is driven into the log to lock the rail in place.

If this rail is not perfectly level, I pull the screws out and try again. Getting this first rail perfectly level is crucial.

Step 4: Attach Second Rail

Picture of Attach Second Rail

Now you need to attach the second rail.

You could try to fasten it perfectly level with the first, but that requires some kind of magic I do not possess.

. . . So I actually fasten it anywhere lower than the first rail. It does not need to be level; only completely secure and with no part any higher than the first rail.

The third rail piece is clamped to the second one. Now a level is used to finely adjust the third rail until it is perfectly level with the first rail.

When it is level, make sure those clamps are on there good and tight.

Step 5: Begin Routing!

Picture of Begin Routing!

I use a 3/4" straight router bit for this. As suggested in the comments, a surfacing bit is recommended to achieve a much smoother finish.

I position the bit so it will remove about 1/4" of material from the highest point on the log end.

The router sled is used to guide the bit over the log end in careful passes to remove material. I have found that working the sled back-to-front works best, pulling the sled toward me for each pass beginning on the right side of the log and moving to the left. I don't remove any material on the return-to-back pass. This way, the majority of chips and sawdust shoot to the rear, rather than into my face.

However, I still wear a full-faced protective shield for this--the kind you'd use when working on a lathe. This is the one I have, and it works really well.

As viewed from the top of the router, the bit rotates in a clockwise rotation. The type of passes I've described above are called "climb" cuts, which will tend to pull into the yet-to-be removed material if you're moving too fast and not holding the sled firmly, or if you try to remove more than about 1/2 the width of the bit in material with each pass. These are things to keep in mind that will help you achieve a cleaner finish.

Remove wood in layers (I suggest only up to 1/4" at at time, at most) until the top end of the log is perfectly flat.

Step 6: Remove Rails, Trim Remaining Wood Bits

Picture of Remove Rails, Trim Remaining Wood Bits

When the top of the log is perfectly flat you can remove the guide rails.

I used a flush-cutting pull-saw to remove the remaining bits of wood on the sides.

Step 7: Repeat for Other End

Picture of Repeat for Other End

Now you simply flip the log over, and repeat steps 3 though 6.

I'm working on a table that is perfectly level, so there is no need to shim the end that is now facing down.

However, if you are working on a surface that is anything but perfectly level you may need to level and securely shim the log again.

Then route away!

Step 8: Done & Clean Up

Picture of Done & Clean Up

When the second end of the log is done, you should have two ends that are perfectly flat and parallel to one another.

There is always a lot of sawdust and wood chips to clean up, but it's worth it!


Peter MC1 (author)2016-01-25

A great idea. I made one and found it worked well. I made one change in that I made both side plates adjustable which made levelling much easier.

MartinD30 made it! (author)2015-10-15

I have used this technique many times. the only thing I would add is that it is easier the more logs your have. I made 5 for our library and lined them all up. It worked great but is a slow process.

Dwargh (author)MartinD302015-10-16

Wow! They look nice and comfy!

seamster (author)MartinD302015-10-15

Very nice! Those look fantastic.

MrS5 (author)2016-03-02

Great tip! :) Unfortunately I don't have access to a router but when I do, I'll certainly be using this technique.

Anurida Granaria (author)2015-12-23

This old chippy would have stubbornly done away with the third rail & sweated & strained & cursed himself silly.

'The third rail piece is clamped to the second one.' is surely the happiest method & one I would not have thought of.


KagedCreations (author)2015-10-30

Now this is useful. I'll be trying it out in the near future. Thanks for sharing

OscarB19 (author)2015-10-26

I am working on table placemats out of log and don't know if is it better to wait for the lumber to dry or cut the 1/4 inch slices while still fresh and le them dry

seamster (author)OscarB192015-10-26

Ooh, that's a tricky one. Waiting for a log to dry out properly can take years, and unless you seal the ends really well, the log will crack quite a bit. On the other hand, cut slices from a green log will dry out quicker but will likely cup and warp (and still crack).

That's not a very good answer I guess, but more of a heads-up as to what to expect. My thought would be to start with a very old and dry log in the first place, if you can find one.

I'm curious what you decide to do, and how it works out! Please keep me posted :)

pojken (author)2015-10-25

I'm assuming that the table is a level surface. If so, you could position the guide rails by adding "legs"on each side.

Make two equal length legs and attach them to the guide. Make another exactly the same. Then shim the log until it's vertically level (or whatever you're wanting). When you attach each, both will be the same height and level exactly.

Then use the same method you demonstrate.

Cool. Wish I had a workshop to make stuff by hand.

andybuda (author)2015-10-19

removing a tree stump in the first place was a hell of a job for me, due to fence post concrete and having to dig 2ft below ground level for some footings. i used a reciprocating saw,pressure washer and a pump. worked well.. car jack levered the stump from concrete after a few hole were drilled

mf70 (author)2015-10-17

Great idea!

I've tried to do this "by eye," using a power planer, but never got things really flat. I will have to think how to adapt this to a planer instead of a router. It would make a smoother surface and be much quicker.

TwelveFoot (author)2015-10-15

Soft (brown) maple, by the look of it.

bobwojo (author)TwelveFoot2015-10-15

I would say Ash, based on the insect damage. The Emerald Ash Boarer larva leaves tracks like that, the damage to the living part of the tree is what ultimately kills the tree.

seamster (author)bobwojo2015-10-15

I wondered if it might be ash. Here's a shot of the log before I peeled off the bark. Perhaps that will help more positively ID it.

Any thoughts?

TwelveFoot (author)seamster2015-10-16

Definitely not ash bark (good try though). I'm still sticking with maple, I've seen maple with nearly identical insect damage.

luckyz2 (author)seamster2015-10-16

going by the bark I would say it is Beech

TwelveFoot (author)TwelveFoot2015-10-15

Blerg, why did I say brown? SILVER maple.

That's the one with the cool little helicoptery seeds.

MoTinkerGNome (author)2015-10-16

Seamster, think this would work with a tablesaw and a dado blade?

seamster (author)MoTinkerGNome2015-10-16

I'm sure a person could build a dado sled/jig of some sort and make it work . . . but I think there are better and safer options. My first choice would be to use a band saw with a sled.

If the log is too big or unwieldy (or the band saw is too small . . or there just isn't one available) then I'd use this router option.

If there's no router, then it's time to get one! :)

Dark Solar (author)2015-10-16

Really like the product. Have you considered making something like 24"-36" square box frame that would let you slide & lock the levelling rails into position rather than being obligated to put holes in the piece? Thinking something with carriage bolts, washers and wing nuts and maybe a few more routed slots. GRRRR on the paint stirrers.e actual shims any day. ;)

sharpstick (author)2015-10-15

To fasten the rails to the log so they are parallel, attach the first rail, then turn the log over on a flat surface, shim the log as desired, then attach the second rail.

Good thinking

rayleb (author)2015-10-15

nice way to make the jig, excellent instructable

imakeembetter (author)2015-10-15

excellent jig! great write up as well you got my gears turning, and that's a dangerous thing for my wallet =-P thank you.

gingerbaker (author)2015-10-15

Perhaps a simpler method would be to use a table saw - raise the blade only about 1/16" above the table, place log on flat table, move back and forth across blade until it sits flat; repeat other side?

like others have said, you'd need to be very experienced, you would also need to produce a sled and align it very much like seamster has built, and you would need to produce a safe method to feed the log. I think it would be more complex on one log, but with a Dado or similarly wide blade you could save time on a production run 10 or 20+ pieces using a table mounted tool. If it were me I'd look into adapting a bandsaw or use this or a similar jig.

Codswallop (author)gingerbaker2015-10-15

That would only work if the log end were already flat. Also it sounds dangerous. I would not recommend it.

Kinnishian (author)Codswallop2015-10-15

I think principally you could put the rails on it still and run it around without striking the rails.

Generally I agree this is something you should only do if you're very experienced with tablesaw. i am not on that level for sure

Bettybstt (author)2015-10-15

Clever. I like the trick of simply clamping another rail to that second one for leveling. That could come in handy! Nice work!

danzo321 (author)2015-10-15

OK, I am looking at the one with the flexible handsaw cutting the remainders. The log top seems to have lots of gouges.

seamster (author)danzo3212015-10-15

Good eye. The surface is flat, but the finish is not as clean as it could be. That's a result of using a standard straight bit rather than a planing bit, as well as not doing the careful climb cuts I described in step 5. (The section showing in that photo is one of the first areas I did on this log, before I started being more careful).

That visible roughness was removed pretty quickly with some sanding.

danzo321 (author)seamster2015-10-15

I'm a member of Unplugged Woodworking on Facebook. Mostly old guys who LOVE planes. They would plane these logs ends flat and slick.. and enjoy doing it.

sparks (author)2015-10-15

Thank you for the time you put into this, I've always been doing it the hard way.

cawilloughby (author)2015-10-15

This works too, if you have a chain saw....

seamster (author)cawilloughby2015-10-15

That's a great technique. I use that basic approach but on a smaller scale whenever I'm making things out of cardboard tubes and what-not. Good stuff! Thanks for sharing that video.

DougM2 made it! (author)2015-10-15

We used to make an oversized mitre box with a "V" bottom to hold round timber. We'd shim one end using "snake" sandbags until the axis of the log was parallel to the box. Then, simply use a chain saw and follow the "box" end vertical frame to cut the log flat. When one end is cut, flip the log, sandbag/shim till the flat end is perpendicular to the frame of the "mitre box" and cut that end.

Sanding removes any cut marks (as with the router concept) and a sharp chain is an absolute must for an easy, no-force cut.

pfred2 made it! (author)2015-10-14

I've trued up a log to put my anvil on. It is surprisingly difficult to do. Then when they dry they never stay flat either. I've used a similar router sled technique to plane another log flat lengthwise.

zacker (author)2015-10-14

awesome... I was wondering how I was going to do this... great idea, thanks!

The Green Gentleman (author)2015-10-14

If I had to pick one aspect of your 'ible on the train rail anvil to do a zoom-in, it would have been this one! Very in-depth and detailed. Thank you!

Yes indeed! I glossed over the process in that instructable, so when I needed to do this again I figured I'd do a proper write-up! :)


mikeasaurus (author)2015-10-14

Excellent write-up, Sam. This is exactly how I've always done it, and the results are always satisfying. This trick also works to make a flat top to a piece in any orientation, provided you've braced it correctly.

seamster (author)mikeasaurus2015-10-14

Thanks, Mike! I need to get a decent planer bit, but this does the trick.

Seth of choas (author)2015-10-14

if it starts to wobble (because of imprefect ground or smallitems underneath), you can also carve a small dome in the bottom to fix that

antoniraj (author)2015-10-14

Nice work... What are you going to do with the log ?

HLM017 (author)2015-10-13

Brilliant.I have one log like this and could not figure out how to correct it.

BeachsideHank (author)2015-10-13

The 3/4" straight bit will work just fine, if a smoother finish is desired, a planer bit will give excellent results:

It is designed for cleaning dado bottoms and end work, I have a 3/4" and 1-1/2" size and the shearing cut leaves a near- perfect finish.

seamster (author)BeachsideHank2015-10-13

Great tip!

I did notice that the straight bit was prone to tearing out the end grain if I did anything other than a careful climb cut. I'll have to get a planer bit; I had no idea they existed, so thank you!

MoTinkerGNome (author)2015-10-13

Absolutely Brilliant, I have always wondered how one does this and now I know... I am going to build a nice stone firepit and was working on split wood stools these would be perfect for bases for drink tables.

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Bio: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is ... More »
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