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In the last couple of entries, we've covered a range of hand tools used to peel and prep logs to use in log cabin building. This time, we'll look at some mechanical or power methods to do this job. Once you get your logs peeled and prepped, we can move on to the next step in building.
If you are comfortable using a chainsaw, then the attachment called a Log Wizard may become your best friend. This is a planer head type of attachment that fits on about any gas powered saw (mid range is best). The idea is that the chain moving around the bar is not used for cutting wood but rather it is used to spin the planer head that is bolted to the end of your chainsaw bar. The two planer blades then chew through the bark and take the place of the peeling spud and drawknife . The end result is a cleanly peeled log that, depending on how you use the Log Wizard (i.e. the length of your strokes and the pressure applied), can look like it was peeled with a drawknife, adz, or a planer.
You don't have to stop at peeling logs with the Log Wizard. It can do rough notching and shaping of logs. If you want to make a pointy end on fence posts, this tool can do this rough shaping quickly. If your project requires notches that don’t need to be really precise, the Log Wizard can make them fast. If you have a portable lumber mill to make your own boards or beams for building, use the Log Wizard before you start milling to remove the dirty, gritty bark from your logs. This will prevent damaging your expensive milling blades. If you damage the blades on the Log Wizard, you can re-sharpen them or replace them at a low cost.
As mentioned above, the chain doesn't do any cutting so, for added safety, you can use cutterless chain instead of regular chain with the sharp cutters flying around. You can also take old, dull chain and grind off the cutters.
Another way to get an adzed or drawknifed peeled look is to use a Curved Base Planer. Imagine a regular power planer that, instead of sliding along—flat base surface of planer to flat surface of wood--this planer has a curved base. This allows you to sweep along the log or timber and shave off strips of wood that gives the surface a hand-hewn look. It’s easy and quick to use and saves a lot of muscle work. If you are starting with a log with thick, dirty bark, you’ll want to use a bark spud or the Log Wizard above to remove most of the bark.
Many people love the look of logs that have been water peeled. This is a method of peeling logs that uses the power of water coming out of your pressure washer to blast off the bark and leave the surface silky-smooth. It’s almost impossible to resist running your hands along a log peeled in this manner. This smooth layer is the hard, winter layer of wood. If you picture a cross-section of a log where you can count the growth rings, the lighter, thicker portion of each ring is the summer growth, and the darker, thin part is the winter wood.
There are some important things to think about before you fire up your pressure washer and blast away at your logs. First, the logs should be cut in the spring or summer (when the sap is flowing) and undamaged from the logging process. The high pressure stream of water will stop when it hits the winter layer of wood but if there is a tear, or gouges from tongs, several layers of growth rings may have been damaged and it's difficult to get one smooth layer as you keep "blasting" into a deeper layer wherever there is damage to the log.
Second, you will have to be very careful with your logs during the building process if you water peel to keep the surface smooth. You can’t sand out damages easily like you can with other peeling methods. You’ll sand through the darker winter ring into the lighter colored wood and you’ll end up with a light patch next to the rest of the darker wood. This sanded area will soak up more of the finish/stain you apply to the wood.
Third, consider the stain or log finish you will be applying to your logs. It is really hard for stain/finish to penetrate through the hard, winter layer of wood and you may have more frequent maintenance down the road to keep the surface protected. It’s best to wait for the wood to dry out prior to applying finish and using a wood cleaner and brightener before staining will help the surface absorb more stain.
If you do decide to water peel, consider using a nozzle that sends out a rotating stream of water instead of a single, direct stream. A RotoMax nozzle attaches to your pressure washer and makes a circular rotating pattern of water. This will make the work go much faster-often saving more than an hour per log. The water pressure should be 500-1000 psi if you are using a regular nozzle and 2000-4000 + psi if you are using a RotoMax nozzle. Different RotoMax nozzles are available depending on your pressure washer. Again, use extra caution if there is any logging damage to the logs as these nozzles can “catch a tear” in the wood rapidly and blast down to the next winter layer.
Next up we’ll discuss tools and methods to move your logs or timbers both on the ground and as you build. You can see many more tools and information at our web site.