At Stonehouse Woodworks we layout and cut each one of our dovetail log notches individually by hand. There are commercially available jigs as well as plans that you can buy showing how to build a jig to cut dovetail notches and we often get asked “why don’t you just use a jig?”.
The short answer is, that we can do a better job of fitting the notches together cutting them by hand which results in a nicer, tighter building. Our goal at Stonehouse Woodworks is to build the best dovetail log houses that we can.
The dovetail notch is a very traditional approach to building a log house. It has been around for centuries and has stood the test of time because of its simplicity, beauty and perfect function. When first examining a completed dovetail notch it can appear somewhat mystifying but at its root it is quite a simple notch to create and requires very few tools to lay out and cut.
A jig clamps on the log and provides a guide for a chainsaw bar to follow, creating the shape of the dovetail notch. I agree this is a good concept but it has several downfalls.
Each jig is set for a certain timber size. This means you either need a lot of jigs to build with different size timbers or that you are limited to only using one size of timber for all your wall logs based on the jig you have. Timbers are cut from logs that were once living things and therefore seldom remain perfectly straight and true as they dry and shrink. The jig doesn’t take into account any imperfections in the timber that it is clamped too. If a timber is twisted, the dovetails will be cut in the orientation of the twist at each end of the timber resulting in one end of the log always having an open dovetail. If the timber is rough sawn or hand hewn and is a little over or under sized either in height or width the jig does not account for this. However when laying out and cutting the dovetails by hand we can account for this and “split the differences” resulting in a nicer finished product. Jigs can be expensive and require maintenance; we prefer to keep it simple and traditional. (As traditional as you can be and still use a power saw….)
The main reason however that we don’t use a jig is because we feel that the best way to truly learn how to do something well is to understand how it works. The way the notches are created as well as the math behind it. At Stonehouse Woodworks we want to honour the craft of log building, continue the tradition of hand built homes and pass on the knowledge of these traditional skills.
If you are interested in learning how to lay out and cut dovetails to build your own dovetail log house or cabin, then think about joining us for one of our 5 day dovetail log building courses in Beautiful Golden BC.
Check our courses page for upcoming course dates.