own log furniture can give a great deal of pleasure and
sense of pride. In the past we have answered many questions on this
via e-mail, the response has been overwhelming and the time has come to
make this information available to enthusiests. The information
in these articles is the result of my experiences with building log
and I make no claim to know all there is to know. I have found
of this kind is very hard to come by on the internet and we all hope
find it useful.
Introduction to Building
The Pioneers built log
furniture both out of neccesity
and for its rich beauty. Today we like the way log furniture allows us
to feel at one with nature. There is no right or wrong way to build log
furniture, as some people prefer the look as rustic as possible while
prefer a sleeker more finished look. This being said it is important
your furniture stay tight over time. We will discuss this further in
Personally I like my furniture "rustic"
and we build
what I call "Rustic Elegance". To achieve this style, special tools are
required and each piece of furniture is individually built. The wood is
hand peeled and sanded, the machining gives a medium uniformity on the
tennons while allowing precise fit.
More rustic furniture can be built with simpler tools. For
using a hatchet to form the tennons can produce an excellent effect. A
drawknife can be used to peel the wood and the marks left behind
log homes and furniture from days gone by. The one major difference
sanding and using a drawknife is that the drawknife can cut away many
the neat features that nature has put in the wood.
There are ways to get even more rustic, by leaving the inner
layer of bark on or by leaving some of the limbs intact, both present
challanges. If you are lucky enough to find one or two posts for your
bed with a distinctive limb sticking out just right, then you've got an
excellent place to hang your cowboy hat or tie.
If you are the type who likes your log furniture less
there are companies who build machined furniture. Building your own
of this style may be out of reach. The tools used to create these
are not available at the local hardware store. The advantage to this
of furniture is that the people making it can produce it at lower cost
and the consumer is still getting a quality piece of furniture made of
real wood. This is something that is becoming more rare all the time,
a trip to most any furniture store will confirm. So whether you live in
a log home or not and you want a special attachment with nature,
your own log furniture can offer a real sense of pride and achievement
which is hard to find anywhere else.
For the most part log furniture is made with
dry wood and standing
dead is the most accessable. The drawknife is the tool of choice for
bark and it leaves behind a distinctive mark. Using long strokes is
but if you have a piece of wood with lots of knots this can be quite
on the arms. If you choose to use green wood and let it dry before you
build, then the bark can sometimes be simply peeled off while still
This is called "sap peeling" and generally works better in the
This is an excellent method and if you have access to a kiln the
are very desirable.
The cracks that appear in dry wood are
not really a problem if you position them corectly when building. Kiln
drying produces far less cracking than air drying but may be
in price and availability. Wood will generally take about a year to air
dry and moisture content must be down to 16% or less before it becomes
workable. When using standing dead the main problem encountered is the
fact that you don't know how long the tree has been dead, therefore you
may encounter rot. This is really discouraging if you don't discover it
until after the holes are drilled and you are sanding, thus putting
and effert into firewood. Sawmills are another source of wood but i've
had the same problem with rot when getting wood from them.
Firekilled is a good alternative to all
of the above
for several reasons. First of all, you are not killing a live tree to
your favorite piece of furniture. Secondly when the fire goes through
forest it will generally burn the rotten trees to the ground but
trees will remain standing and dry nicely. The bark will eventually
and most will fall off, the remaining bark can be removed with tools
putty knives. Another advantage is that with the branches burnt off it
is much easier to select the pieces that you like and there are are
more trees in a close area to select from.
Whichever method you decide on will be
by your geography, you may not have access to firekilled or you may not
be allowed to cut green trees by law. Species selection will also be
by geography and it would be difficult to cover them all here. We are
here in my area, in that the pine grows tall and straight with little
and there are just enough disformed trees to get those special pieces.
However you get your logs, the best part of building your furniture
most likely be in the logging process. It's great to get out of doors
hunt for that special piece of wood.
The drawknive is the
granddaddy of all log furniture
building tools. A drawknife can be used to peel the logs and make the
This does require some effert however and there are easier ways. There
is also one drawback to using a drawknife and that is "planer glaze".
is the closing of the pores of the wood as a result of the cutting
This is less of a problem on inside furniture but is not good for
where stain will be used, as the stain is'nt able to properly penetrate
The biggest challange is the mortise and
this is the joint that makes log furniture so appealing. There are
joints that can be done such as dovetails but we will discuss the round
mortise and tenon. The best way that i've found is the centerline
This is where you drill a pilot hole in either end of the work piece
rotate it over a saw blade. Another popular method is with a chucking
this is like a pencil sharpener and the work piece is pushed into it.
system is very restrictive when you are dealing with very crooked
and really only works on uniform logs. One main advantage to the
machine is production. This method is far faster than standing over a
saw turning the piece by hand. It is also possible to get different
heads for your chucking machine but these tend to be rather expensive.
So back to the centerline method, when
the pilot hole it is imparative that you drill in a line aimed at the
end of the workpiece. This can be accomplished with a jig and some
or there are systems on the market. The system that we use was built by
ourselves and has no restrictions on the length of piece to be used.
same is true for the saw which we use, we have made 14 foot rails and
done 6 inch diameter logs. The saw utilizes a 10 inch round blade with
a chain saw chain for cutting teeth, these can be obtained for weed
and are used for thinning trees. You will need a minimum of a 1 hp saw
motor and a 2 hp works better. Our saw blade turns at 1375 rpm,
above the saw blade is an adjustable pin on which to rotate the log (
size 5/8" ). Different styles of tenons can be made by changing the
of the blade and by changing the angle of the pin to the blade.
After mastering the tenon the next step
is to drill
the mortises. A radial drill press will allow you to drill holes on an
angle, this is desirable when building beds and stair rails. The drill
press that you use must be secure and a 3/4 hp motor works fine ( any
power and you're liable to get hurt ). The drilling bits to use are
boring bits", these are simalar to a forstner bit but much beefier. You
should be able to accomplish most tasks with just two bits, a 2" for
and a 2 1/4" for the rails.
If you decide to sand he logs instead of
drawknife you will want a sander that will be capable of doing the job
( no cheapies here )These are the main tools needed to build with but
years of messing around you will have some special tools and probably
that you have built on your own.
Building rails is the
best place to start when learning
to work with logs, the work is repetative and you will soon master the
art of making spindles and rails. The most common size for deck rail is
6" posts, 4" rail & 3 1/2" spindles, rails have 2 1/4" tenons
2". This is the most common but some people like 12" rails while others
like 2" spindles, so it's good to be able to do everthing in between.
When building deck rail the most
to keep in mind is the deck that you will be attaching to, if the deck
won't support the rail it won't matter how well the rail is made it
not be stable. The deck should have a minimum of two joists all the way
around and be built secure. Take care when collecting your measurements
as there is very little room for adjustment, if your measurements are
then the rail has a better chance of being tight. The tenons on the
should enter the post 2 1/2" and when measuring the top rail it is good
to take into account the taper of the post.
The easiest method of securing the posts
deck is to notch the post so that half of the log sets against the
and the half that was notched out sits on top of the deck. By doing
the center of the rail will be right at the edge of the deck. The one
to look out for here is that the deck floor matterial does'nt overhang
the joist, if it does then it must be trimmed back or notched out. The
post is secured to the deck by two 1/2" bolts, lag bolts can be used
are not recommended. It is better to have a nut and bolt in case the
loosens up over time, it can be easily tightened whereas with a lag
it is too easy to strip out and then you have a problem.
Spacing is the most difficult part to
using a 3 1/2" spindle and you want a 4" spacing you want to drill the
holes at 7 1/2" apart. Sounds easy, but it seldom works out, so the
thing you do is take the measurement between the posts and subtract the
first spacing on either side. This would be 4" + 1 3/4" ( half a
) X 2 Then determine the number of spindles required by dividing the
by 7.5 Next divide the number of spindles into the distance to give the
exact spacing. For example the spacing on a 70" rail would be 70 - ( 4
+ 1 3/4 ) X 2 = 58.5, then 58.5 / 7.5 = 7.8, round off to 8 spindles
divide into 58.5, 58.5 / 8 = 7.32" This is roughly 7 3/8" and the first
spacing can be narrowed up to 5 1/2 this will now work out to equal
of 7 1/4". If this looks complicated it's because it is complicated but
it is worth the bit of effort to figure it out. Spacing is the first
that most people will notice if you do it wrong, the good thing is that
it is very hard to tell the difference between and a 7 1/4" spacing a 7
5/8" spacing while looking right at the two side by side.
Stair rails present even greater
I will add a page devoted to that at a latter date.
Building a bed
If you have tried the
rail from the previous page
you are now ready to start building a bed. Beds are actually quite
to build compared to some deck rails. You want to start by selecting
pieces, match up two 48" posts & two 36" posts, the head
and select four rails. The beds that we build are not just bed frames
actual beds, the box spring sits on the top rail which has been notched
out to accept it.
Start by building the headboard posts,
side by side and turn them so that the crack is facing away to the back
of the bed also keep in mind any feature that the post may have and
it in a suitable manner. You don't want the crack in line with the
or the lower rails ( you don't want to drill through a crack as it will
make a weak joint). Next mark the top of the post showing the postion
the headboard and the rails. If you are using a 6" post you will need a
square piece of 2X8 block to screw to the bottom of the post. The block
should be marked off into quarters to find the center of each side,
cut a thin groove on all 4 sides of the block in about an inch. Now
the post in the center of the block with the headbord side up and with
a chalk line mark the center of the post from end to end. With a 2 1/4"
wood boring bit drill holes at 9" & 44" , 2 1/2" to 3" deep.
the post so that the rail side is up and drill holes at 5" and 13",
for other post. The footboard is done the same way except that the
holes are at 9" and 32".
The next step is the head board and foot
these pieces are cut to 61" for a queen size bed if you have 5 1/2"
This will give you 60 1/2" for a 60" box spring. Put a 2 1/4" tenon 2
long on these pieces and build a set of blocks with a 2 1/4" hole to
the tenons. You require a radial drillpress if you wish to have your
on an angle, if you are going to have your spindles straight up and
follow the procedure for spacing deck rail spindles and drill 2" holes.
Five spindles look good on a queen size bed. If you are putting the
in on an angle use 9" spacing from center on the to rail and 7" spacing
on the bottom, this will give the proper fan pattern. Once you have the
top and bottom headbord rails done put them together with the posts and
measure for the spindles. The spindles should have 2" X 2" long tenons,
if you make the center spindle a bit longer, force will be needed to
the rail together to get it to fit the post. This will help keep the
tight. Repeat for the foot board.
The rails are cut to 85" and get a 2
1/4" X 2 1/2"
long tenon. The hardest part of building this bed comes in notching the
top rail for the boxsping to sit in. It can be done on a table saw,
a circular saw or with a chain saw. We use a 10' long radial arm saw
have tried all of the others in the past. The notch should be cut at
from the top down to the top of the tenon and the horizontal cut should
be from the top of the tenon to center cut.
If you have made it this far its time to
and put the bed together. We use cables to hold the bed sturdy, secure
5/16 X 4" eye hooks to each post. These should be at 45 deg to the
that you drilled for the head board and the side rails and at the
of the top side rail. This will be 1" below the boxspring, next attach
1/8" cable to one eyehook and the other to a turnbuckle. When attached
diagonally from post to post and tightened this makes for an extremely
secure bed. When the measurement of both cables is equal your bed is