Log Cabin Notches for Beginners Cover

Log Cabin Notches for Beginners… Which Corner Notching System is Best?

If you’ve started to read about log home construction methods, you will know that the options are vast, this is true for log cabin notches too.

This large choice of log cabin notches can introduce confusion about which notch to use and why.

Choosing the right corner (i.e. notch and scribe type) for your log cabin is important as it will impact the aesthetics, cost, build duration and weatherproofing.

If you’ve not already read about the different log cabin construction methods, start by reading that article first and then continue reading this article on log cabin notches.

Why are notches important?

If you are new to building a log home, then scribing is a technique used to create a notch.

When you construct your log cabin, where each two log walls intersect, a notch is scribed to enable the locking of the walls; notches are used to join the corners of your log cabin together.

Typically, each notch is scribed (i.e. cut) by hand, or using a template/jog, to create an air-tight seal preventing air infiltration and weatherproofing your log cabin.

Scribing a log cabin notch

The design of a log cabin notch (i.e. corner) should make the log home structurally sound and weathertight, there are four common designs that craftsmen have been using for centuries to build cabins:

  1. Scandinavian Saddle Notch (Traditional Full Scribed Notch)
  2. Full Dovetail Notch
  3. Butt and Pass Notch
  4. Corner Post Notch

Below you can see a picture of all four notch types to give you a better understanding.

Four different log cabin notches

In addition to the notch corners above there are also; v-notch, diamond, half-dovetail and square notches. However, we wouldn’t recommend that beginners explore these scribing techniques and have focused on the four most common designs used for traditional log cabins.

This article will take you through the four most common notch techniques discussing:

  • All about the notch type
  • Why would you select this notch?
  • How to Scribe the notch (with video tutorials)
  • Benefits and Shortcomings of the notch

Once you have finished reading this article, you will understand which log cabin notch is the best for your specific home.

If you are rushed for time and don’t have enough time to read the entire article we’ve summarized all four notch techniques in a handy table.

Full Scribe/Scandinavian Saddle Notch

Scandinavian Saddle Notch

The most traditional of all notches… the full scribe saddle notch.

A saddle notch is not just one particular notch; it is a family of notches which can differ in size and shape. It is used to join two logs together perpendicularly to form the corner of the cabin.

The saddle notch has a curved semi-circular scribe in each end of the log, this allows it to fit perfectly to the log below and form the corner.

The most popular saddle notch is the compression fit saddle notch. This particular notch came to North America from Scandinavia. Del Radomske, a Canadian Log Home builder and inventor reinvented the early Scandinavian technique to allow the logs to get tighter as they shrink and settle.

Top-tip

Many people, who use saddle notches, overscribe them when building their log home (i.e. make the scribe too big) to prevent gaps.

This means for the first few years, there will be a small gap which can be filled with insulation, but as the logs settle, the gap will close creating a perfectly air tight log home.

Alternative Saddle Notches

The full scribe method can also have a hand-cut groove along the bottom side of the log running the full length; parallel. This allows the log to fit perfectly with the log below, as it’s a flush finish as opposed to a natural log’s curve.

This is not essential and you can still create saddle notches without committing to the full scribe method. It you opt to do this, you can use chinking to fill any gaps where the logs don’t meet completely.

Why Use a Scandinavian Saddle Notch?

Whist this notch scribe is not the easiest or quickest method to build your log cabin, it will produce an airtight, beautiful traditional looking home – if done correctly.

This notch type also requires minimal maintenance (especially if you opt for full scribe/no chinking) as it won’t require chinking.

So, if you’re looking for a traditional finish for your log home, which requires minimal maintenance, then this notch is the right choice for your log home.

Construction Technique (How to Scribe Fit a Log Home)

As discussed above, the Scandinavian Saddle Notch technique is difficult, but, it can certainly be learned by someone without prior craftsman experience… you will just need a few spare logs and patience!

The technique is time consuming, due to the required chiseling to achieve the scribe. Below are the basic construction steps to achieve a saddle notch. I would recommend that you watch the video tutorial below if you’re going to attempt this scribe.

Construction Steps:

  1. Lay your log parallel on-top of the existing logs
    • Obviously there will be a gap between the logs. This is because the most recently placed log will be held at either end by the two perpendicular logs.
  2. Secure the log in place
    • You can do this using either log cleats or a log-dog.
  3. Level the log
    • You can use a spirit level to ensure the log is perfectly parallel to the log beneath it.
  4. Scribe the log
    • Measure the largest gap in the cavity between the recently placed log and the log beneath it. With this measurement take a scribe compass and mark around, at either end of the log, where you need to scribe.
    • Take a chisel and scribe the log where it’s been marked, once scribed you can also use a chainsaw to remove the deeper parts of the scribe.

This video is a good example of how to achieve a scribe fit, and make the perfect saddle notch.

Equipment you will need for this notch:

  • Two log dogs or log cleats
  • A spirit level
  • A tape measure
  • A compass tool or Scribe compass
  • A chisel and a hammer
  • A chainsaw
  • Safety Equipment

Benefits and Shortcomings:

  • This creates a very strong structure which can stand up to almost any weather condition.
  • The logs provide the exterior, interior, structural element, and insulation all in one go, if it is done correctly, no chinking or further insulation is needed.
  • This notch will produce an airtight, beautiful traditional looking home.
  • This method is time consuming and requires experience or patience to construct.
  • Plumbing, electrical and other utilities can’t be hidden behind the wall as in regular brick and mortar homes so need special procedures.

Full Dovetail Notch

Log Cabin Dovetail Notch

A dovetail is a carpentry technique to create a joint that interlocks with a corresponding joint.

The Dovetail notch uses the same dovetail technique for log cabins. A series trapezoidal shapes are cut into logs to allow them to “interlock” together.

A dovetail notch is used for Appalachian style log cabins. This notch predates written history and has been used in Europe for centuries.

The dovetail notch is less common in modern day log home construction, but is a very intricate and beautiful design which when finished displays true craftsmanship.

You may therefore think that this notch is difficult to create, whilst it’s true that it used to be very complex and left to only the most experienced carpenters, you can now achieve this style using a jig which makes it possible for anyone to create this notch.

This notch is versatile as it can be made in full round logs, square logs or D shaped logs, giving you lots of options depending on what style of log home you want.

Different log types

Why Use a Dovetail Notch?

A Dovetail notch is a great option if you’re looking to replicate an Appalachian style log cabin.

In addition to its superb aesthetical appeal, the notch will get stronger with time as its renowned by craftsmen around the world for having great tensile strength (i.e. resistance to being separated).

Similarly to the Scandinavian Saddle Notch, once built, this log cabin notch requires very limited maintenance for the joints, but, will still be required to be chinked along the logs. In addition, this notch type is less likely to have water settle in between the notches.

So if you’re looking for a strong and durable Appalachian style log home then this notch is for you.

Construction Technique (How to Scribe Fit a Dovetail notch)

The construction method for a dovetail notch can vary depending upon two elements:

  1. Dovetail Notch Type (Full-Dovetail or Half-Dovetail)
  2. Traditional or Jig Finish

The notch can be full dovetail (the notch has two slopes in it) or half dovetail (the notch only slopes in one direction). Additionally, the notches can be cut using a traditional method or using a pre-made jig.

Traditional Method

The traditional method to create a dovetail notch involves measuring and marking each individual notch, and ensuring each notch fits the other. This requires significant carpentry and joinery expertise.

Jig Finish

Alternatively, you can build your own jig to create dovetail notches. The jig acts as a template to ensure each notch is the same and therefore eliminating the risk of inconsistency.

Pro-Tip

A jig will take 2 to 3 hours to make but will make the overall process much quicker as you don’t need to measure out each individual log.

When using a jig, dovetail notches aren’t as time consuming as the full scribed saddle notch. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the construction process:

Construction Steps (using a jig):

  1. Create a Dovetail Jig
    • There are many ways to make your own jig, this is a calculator in which you can enter your measurements and it will create a template you can print off and use as a jig.
  2. Attach the Jig to the log
    • Take your Jig and attach it to the end of the next log.
  3. Scribe the Log (I.e. Saw the dovetail notches)
    • Once the jig is securely attached, take a chainsaw or chisel and scribe the exposed elements of the log.
  4. Secure the Log
    • Stack the log onto the previous log in your log cabin’s wall and slide it into the previous Dovetail notch.

Log Cabin Dovetail Notch

If you really do want to use the Dovetail log cabin notch then make sure to familiarize yourself with the method using this article and this video.

Equipment you will need for a log cabin dovetail notch:

  • A chalk to create a center line
  • Tape measure
  • A flexible ruler & pencil
  • A set square
  • A level line
  • A hand saw/chainsaw
  • A chisel & an axe
  • A jig (Optional – but highly recommended!)
  • Safety Equipment

Benefits and Shortcomings

  • This notch technique is very quick and precise, when being used with a Jig, it should take around 5 minutes per notch.
  • This notch is versatile as it can be made in full round logs, square logs or D shaped logs, giving you lots of options depending on what style of log home you want.
  • Cabins built with dovetail notches are less likely to have water settle in between the notches (because of the angles the notches are cut at)
  • The walls can be flat inside (if using D or square logs) so it’s easy to add insulation or just use straight away to hang pictures etc…
  • The notch is self-tightening – it cannot be pulled apart due to the shape.
  • Requires significant experience in carpentry and joinery to avoid inconsistencies with joints making the finish look messy and not weatherproofed if not done correctly.

Butt and Pass Notch

Butt and Pass Log Cabin Notch

Welcome to the Butt and Pass notch, since it’s creation by Skip Ellsworth it has been the most popular log cabin notch, and one you’ve most definitely seen before!

This is a very popular choice for beginners… because it doesn’t require a notch.

This notch technique was invented with the purpose of being a quick and easy way to build a log home.

A Butt and Pass notch is actually not a notch, it’s more of a construction technique to join two logs together without creating a notch. This prevents any need for scribing and thus removes a lot of build time.

It simply requires the logs to be laid one on top of another, with rebar (a metal rod which is driven through the logs) connecting them together.

The logs alternate between long and short. The long log (A) rests on top of the perpendicular long log (B) below, and the short log (C) meets the perpendicular long log (B).

Butt and Pass Log Cabin Notch

This method can be done with both round, hand hewn and D shaped logs.

Different log types

MYTH

You may have heard that the ‘Butt and Pass’ method has lots of advantages including ‘they are the strongest log home’, ‘they don’t settle’, ‘they don’t require maintenance’, etc…

  • It’s important to take these statements with a pinch of salt. There is no evidence to suggest that they are the strongest, however do create a strong structure as do the other notches.
  • Given the nature of logs, all logs settle and shrink as they adjust to the surrounding climate, and all log homes require some amount of maintenance.

Why Use a Butt and Pass Notch

The first reason to look for is it’s a fast and easy construction method making it very cheap to build with and great for beginners.

Whilst aesthetically the butt and pass notch will look like a traditional Scandinavian Saddle Notch, unfortunately it won’t perform as well from a weatherproofing or insulation perspective.

If you are looking to build a quick and easy log home then the butt and pass notch is ideal for your log home. However, if you have enough time and effort we would recommend you consider the traditional Scandinavian Saddle Notch.

Construction Technique (How to Fit a Butt and Pass notch)

As the butt and pass notch requires no previous experience you won’t require any specialized skills or tooling to build your log cabin wall.

The logs are held together using rebar, which they are hammered through, and then nailed from one log to the next.

Butt and Pass Side Elevation

This technique is very fast…

Construction Steps:

  1. Lay your foundation with rebar in each corner
    • The rebar is used as a center point for all of the logs to be stacked into.
  2. Fix the log
    • Take a log and place each end through its corresponding rebar. Use a sledge hammer to drive the log through the fixed rebar pieces.
  3. Secure the log
    • Nail through the newly fixed log into the log beneath it at each corner and every three feet. As each log on the wall butts against another one, the result for your log cabin is like overlapped bricks in each corner.

Equipment you will need for a log cabin butt and pass notch:

  • A drill & drill bits
  • A hammer
  • Rebar
  • Rebar cutter

Benefits and Shortcomings

  • As not many people possess the required craftsmanship and skill for the earlier notch types, the butt and pass is easy for beginners making it an ideal solution.
  • Low cost of construction cost due to the lack of tooling required and speed of assembly.
  • No craftsmanship involved so it’s very difficult to create a traditional looking log cabin.
  • Doesn’t adopt elegant historical notch corner designs so may be vulnerable to the test of time.

Corner Post Notch

Log Cabin Corner Post

This is possibly the least common log home notching method and involves having vertical corner posts to connect each of the logs’ corners together. This technique is also known as the upright groove and tenon corner.

This design has a very different look and feel to all other log homes and is immediately recognizable.

Instead of the logs intersecting one another, they instead connect to a vertical corner post.

The join is usually a mortise and tenon or keyway slot. A mortise is a hole in the log (usually the corner log), a tenon is piece that will fit into it. Mortise and Tenon joints have been used by woodworkers for thousands of years.

This process is very time consuming for someone building a log home by hand, but, it is a much easier and quicker process for large kit companies to make.

Why Use a Corner Post Instead of a Notch?

This technique is the most time consuming log cabin notch as it requires precision, accuracy and great craftsmanship.

For this reason, we would only recommend the corner post if aesthetically you prefer it far and beyond any of the other three notches you’ve read about today. The final design will be a neat and box shaped home.

If you are looking to build a quick and easy log home then this certainly isn’t the construction technique for you!

Construction Technique (How to Cut a Corner Post notch)

A mortise and tenon joint, coupled with a corner post, is certainly the most challenging log cabin notch. It shouldn’t be attempted by beginners and should only be selected when you have significant experience in carpentry and joinery.

This video shows a log cabin being built with corner posts and other vertical posts too – it will give you a good idea of the process involved.

Equipment you will need for a corner post log cabin notch:

  • A chalk to create a center line
  • Tape measure
  • A flexible ruler & pencil
  • A set square
  • A level line
  • A hand saw/chainsaw
  • A chisel & an axe
  • Safety Equipment
  • Plank of wood to use as reference
  • A template
  • Scribers

Benefits and Shortcomings

  • The joints are all concealed so it prevents weathering of the notches and eventual rotting of the notches.
  • Produces tight joints if done properly and allows wood to expand and contract naturally
  • Very time consuming (as it requires lots of measuring and cutting) and it’s difficult to mark out.
  • It requires a huge amount of accuracy with no space for mistakes and can result in loose joints if not accurate enough.
  • Shrinkage issues as horizontal logs settle if not laid correctly.
  • Difficult technique for beginners to undertake and should be avoided unless you prefer the style far and beyond any of the other three notches in this article.

Let Summarize…

Four different log cabin notches

Whilst it is true that some notches are easier to scribe than others and some don’t require scribing at all; all four of the log cabin notches discussed will provide an airtight fit are more than adequate for your log cabin.

This may leave the decision down to personal preference in terms of aesthetics and previous carpentry and joinery experience.

Final note – It is important that whatever method you opt for, if you use hand peeled logs, you need to alternate the tips and butts of the logs. This ensures that your log cabin keeps a consistent height and is level all the way up.

There are four main log cabin construction methods you can opt for, in order of difficulty (from easiest for hardest) they are; the butt and pass method, the saddle notch, the dovetail notch and the corner post.

If you would prefer to use very few tools, and construct a quick and easy log home, I would suggest opting for the butt and pass method.

If you have slightly more time on your hands, and want to create a more traditional looking, quality crafted home – opt for the saddle notch.

The dovetail notch, although slightly more difficult to create, can be made easier by using a jig so is also a very viable option for beginners.

The corner post method creates a very different look and should only be attempted if you feel confident in your carpentry and joinery ability.

Log Cabin Notch Why
Scandinavian Saddle Notch If you’re looking for a traditional finish for your log home, which requires minimal maintenance, then this notch is the right choice for your log home.
Full Dovetail Notch If you’re looking for a strong and durable Appalachian style log home then this notch is for you.
Butt and Pass Notch If you are looking to build a quick and easy log home then the butt and pass notch is ideal for your log home.
Corner Post Notch We would only recommend the corner post if aesthetically you prefer it far and beyond any of the other three notches you’ve read about today.

I’m sure this article has given you many things to think about, did you have a certain notching method in mind before you read this? Will you stick with that method or choose a new one? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

  • If you want a more traditional notch like the Scandinavian Saddle Notch but don’t want to spend the time scribing can you use a square notch instead of the round notch. My idea is to use a ‘D’ style log with only one side round, but cut the section of the notch totally square, which I understand would require almost a much work as the dovetail notch but you would not have to make a jig. The log would be square on three sides, where you would have less chinking and the logs would fit tighter together. Let me know what you think of this method, please. I could send a drawing if that would help to describe it better.

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