The Book: Your Log House
12. Setting Wall Logs
Among log builders, you may hear statements
like these, “I know an old Finnish log builder
who uses the Norwegian notch,” “I understand
that the Swedish saddle is the best notch,” or
“My great uncle, one of the best log house builders
in the country, swears by the Russian round notch.”
How about the “Lithuanian lateral groove”
or the “Polish profile projection”? The
“Latvian goatherd’s gouge” might be
a useful notching tool.
Through my reading, exploration, and
experimentation, I have, like King Solomon, come to
the conclusion that “nothing is new under the
sun” – or at least, very little.
History reveals some interesting facts
about the development of log building. First, forms
used today actually existed in such places as Japan,
Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway,
and other places hundreds of years ago. Also interesting
is that many builders arrive at, what they believe,
are authentic innovations. Most of the time, these conclusions
are arrived by past and contemporary builders faced
with similar building situations.
Once, dropping in on a building site,
I found a colleague employing a notch, arrived at totally
on his own, that is almost identical to a saddle-type
notch used in Sweden some several centuries ago. My
friend’s notch was different from the old one
only to the extent of missing one final top slice with
the axe. He had moved from the round notch of his time
to early experimentation with what would become the
popular “shrink-fit” notch of today. So
it goes. And really, all any log builder does is refine
traditions. It should be tremendously gratifying to
discover that he can, on his own, come to exactly the
same conclusions as the experts did before him.
In his book, Notches of all Kinds,
B. Allan Mackie avoids all the racial and mysterious
overtones by simply identifying notches descriptively.
Thus a round notch is simply called a “round notch”
and if it has the profile of a sheep’s head buried
in its cross-section, it can be identified as a “round
sheep’s head notch.” Generally speaking,
the racial and national prefixes are misleading and
confusing. They also tend to confine log building expertise
to particular nationalities.
The dovetail notch pictured on the previous
page has a bit of the look of a dove’s tail. It
existed in Scandinavian countries so that the corners
could be cut flush to allow for covering with shingles
or siding. The United Empire Loyalists carpenters, having
no national tradition of log building, adapted what
they knew of cabinetry corners. They were forced to
hew homes out of the Canadian wilderness after 1783
and after their expulsion from Revolutionary America.
Having described foundations and general
layout in the previous chapter, I can now describe the
placement of the first logs.
The very first course (or round) of
logs consists of half logs and somewhat flattened, full
diameter logs. In order to arrive at the correct chalk
lines, use the step-by-step layout procedures described
in Chapter 9 (Timber Layout). Both types of logs illustrated
in Figure 40 can then be sawn into shape.