Wood Working Tools for Small Log Construction

Master these eight wood working tools for bucking, milling, drilling, digging and more and you will have the skills and confidence to complete any small-log wood working project from brush clearing to log cabin construction.

| February/March 1998


For quick cuts in small logs, nothing can beat a bow saw with coarse-cutting blades of Swedish steel.


Most tools needed to build a pergola, small gazebo, or other rustic structure using timbers of well under 12 inches in diameter are a mix of those employed in wood-working, brush clearing, and log cabin building. In rough lengths, these small logs seldom reach 100 lbs. This is in contrast to building with full-sized logs, which require heavy-duty felling and bucking gear, a horse or tractor to skid them out of the woods, and mechanical equipment or a large work crew with logger's equipment to lift and manipulate them.

Felling and Bucking

You can get small trees down with an ax or bucksaw the way even the largest timber was hand-felled till the middle of this century. Much easier is to use a chainsaw. But you don't need a great, roaring 20 pound, 5 cubic inch felling saw that can cost the better part of 500 dollars. I use an Echo 3400, a 7 pound, 1.8 cubic feet saw used by arborists or "tree surgeons" who climb around in lawn trees and appreciate its light-weight, brisk power, and easy "in hand" starts. It's great for light clearing work, and for topping and limbing in the woods, but lacks the oomph to cut log-sized firewood. At 250 dollars or so, it is more saw than you need for a single small log project. I also have a 3.5 horse power electric saw trade-named Remington that cost under 50 dollars at a local hardware store, though you can pay almost 200 dollars for much the same machine with a better-known woodworking name. It cuts slower than the Echo and requires 110V AC power and a long, outdoor extension cord. But if kept sharp, it will do the work and do it more safely than a gas saw. The chain out at the tip of an electric saw can bind in a cut, forcing the cutting bar sharply up and back toward the operator. But the electric motor lacks the power of a gas engine and this "kickback" poses less of a hazard. Indeed, even a novice can use the tip of an electric for milling, shaping, and carving out notches in small logs — a practice that is not recommended using a gas-powered saw.

To coax a small tree to fall where you want it, you don't need any more than a long rope or two. Tie one end as high up the trunk as you can reach. Put tension on it in the direction you want the tree to fall and cinch the free end around another tree or to a well-set stake. I run the rope between tines of a garden fork, cinch it tight and sink the tines to the hilt in the soil. If a small tree gets stuck half-way down you can usually pull it down by hanging on the rope.

Log-Holding Tools

Round logs want to roll and you need something to hold them securely for shaping and trimming. My favorite "tool" for this is a forked tree or a pair of forked trees. Logs can be jammed into the crotch of the fork(s) and immobilized. Lacking forks, you can fasten a board at your working height between two close-growing trees, place the short end of the log on the board and angle the long end off sharply till you exert tension on it. A stake will hold it firmly in place.

Equally effective at even the most remote location is a Black & Decker WorkMate or other brand of portable work bench with a built-in table vise. Mine folds flat for easy storage and transport, and has folding legs

From felling to finish work, shaping logs the way you want them. that open to provide a choice of two working heights. Using dogs or holddowns that fit into holes in the 24-inch long table clamp, it will hold logs to 12 inches in diameter and will hold them level when used in conjunction with a folding sawhorse or two to hold the other end of the log.

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