How to Make Log Ends Perfectly Flat & Parallel

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About: 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 Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

Intro: 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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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!

3 People Made This Project!

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46 Discussions

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Peter MC1

2 years ago

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.

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MrS5

2 years ago

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

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Anurida Granaria

2 years ago

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.

Thanks.

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KagedCreations

2 years ago

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

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OscarB19

2 years ago

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

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seamsterOscarB19

Reply 2 years ago

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 :)

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pojken

2 years ago

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.


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andybuda

3 years ago

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

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mf70

3 years ago

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.

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bobwojoTwelveFoot

Reply 3 years ago

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.

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seamsterbobwojo

Reply 3 years ago

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?

IMG_4769.JPG
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TwelveFootseamster

Reply 3 years ago

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

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luckyz2seamster

Reply 3 years ago

going by the bark I would say it is Beech

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TwelveFootTwelveFoot

Reply 3 years ago

Blerg, why did I say brown? SILVER maple.

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

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MoTinkerGNome

3 years ago

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

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seamsterMoTinkerGNome

Reply 3 years ago

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! :)

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Dark Solar

3 years ago

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. ;)

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sharpstick

3 years ago

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.

1 reply