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Eagle Scout Project: Split Log Benches & Guidance Needed

Steve in VA

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My son is working on his Eagle Scout project and decided to take on making and installing six split log benches at the main overlook at Great Falls Park. It's a big project and I'll spare you all the logistical nightmare he (and I) have been through, but suffice to say he's learning a lot about managing a project involving many people.

It's been a great experience for me as well, and I must admit I was more than a bit excited to get the opportunity to see and run a sawmill. We connected with an individual here in Northern Virginia that has been a tremendous help. He has a Woodmizer LT40 Wide mill and we've now split the logs and debarked them all by hand. What a job that was! If anyone in the DC Metro area needs a connection to someone with a mill, let me know.

The benches will be approximately 6' wide with a 2' log on each end set perpendicular to the seat to serve as the base. They will be put together with a simple notch (no mechanical fasteners allowed) similar to the picture below. My thought was to cut the notch in the bench / top log rather than the base so as to allow water to drain off better vs. pooling in the notch if it were cut in the base. Would love any additional thoughts and recommendations!

Here's where I could really use your knowledge and experience . What's the best way to scribe the notches so I can easily cut the logs with a chainsaw and not butcher it or have to go inch by inch in order to get a good fit? I thought about using a cardboard cutout, but assumed there is a preferred and easier method than cutting out cardboard until it fit. I've done a fair amount of research but haven't found much that would in practical terms as these pieces are so heavy that we can't just pick them up and continually test fit them.

Thanks in advance, and if you have other advice for the overall project we'd very much appreciate it!

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Mike Hill

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I've never made a log cabin, so don't use me as an expert, but my hero Dick Proenneke, if I remember, used dividers to scribe and then used a bow saw to cut down to the line and then hack out with axes and chisels. Of course his notches went halfway into the logs and he just laid one log over he other and scribed. Yours doesn't go halfway, so have to adjust the distance with blocks.
 
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DLJeffs

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Congrats to your son (and you) for reaching that milestone. It says a lot about his dedication, perseverance, and commitment to accomplishing a goal, especially in these days of internet and computer games. I can't offer any experience about your bench but your thoughts to cut the notch in the bench log rather than in the supports makes sense to me (avoid creating a place for water and ice to pool). Does "no mechanical connections" also exclude wooden pins or the like? If not you could auger a hole and drive a wooden pin to secure the bench to the supports. That would help alleviate any play in the notch.
 
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2feathers Creative Making

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Why not v-notch the bottom of the bench then cut a peak onto the base logs to within 4 inches or so of each end. After that, use Mike's hero shortcut with a divider or protractor to scribe the front and back slope of the notch.
By notching it first you can drop it into place closer and shave a little time off your final fit
 
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Nature Man

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Congrats to your son! This is a very constructive project, and one that will last for decades! As a former Eagle Scout myself, I know it takes a lot of dedication to get this far! Chuck
 

Steve in VA

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Thanks for the suggestions; definitely food for thought on how to go about it. I may just be over thinking it, but assumed there was a "standard" way it's done that's quick, easy, and repeatable. We'll be diving into cutting the notches mid-week.
 

Mr. Peet

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Use farmers math...block the bench to the sitting height on a flat, relatively lever area. Take the foot log, slide it up against, perpendicular to the seat. Use a strait edge to extend the plane of the foot log to see where it intersects the bench. Mark out the half round. Use the same end of the foot to mark the other side. Repeat for the other foot, with the other foot, then roll the bench over and carve out the half-round with a chainsaw.

You want to minimize notching the feet, to maintain maximum roundness for water run-off. I assume you are using oak. Osage and black locust work well too. Are you pining the bench to the feet? Lots of folks use timber spikes or landscape tie nails and so on. They rust in nice. They have hot dipped galvanized too. You can use hidden pins also. Doweling and glue just don't cut it if you have real winters. What I did at the camp I managed was used the twisted tie nails. Pre-drilled 2 pilot holes into each foot, hammered them it to depth, cut them off to the length I wanted to go into the bench, marked the bench bottom and drilled the pilot holes, used a grinder to point the cut off ends of the spikes, placed the bench, used a sacrificial block to protect bench, hammered together.

Now just nailing down through the bench (using pilot holes) is far easier. This was an outdoor sanctuary, so wanted to limit any rust chances from ending up on kids clothing. Plus the nail ends puddle water and expedite rot.

Some folks notch both the bench and the feet, like a log cabin corner. However, log cabins are built ( the old school real cabins) with roofs extending to protect from direct water. With some of the oaks, locust and osage, even with both notched, you might get 20-40 years.
 

Nubsnstubs

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Probably used to be but log benches are very uncommon now. Btw, have you looked at rustic log cabin building websites? They should be making that type joint somewhere....
I started watching this guy last year. I don't know which video it is, but he does show how to cut the notches. He built this in Slovenia. it was interesting as he was pretty much by himself in the build. ............ Jerry (in Tucson)
 

Steve in VA

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Took the afternoon off as kids were on Spring Break and got it wrapped up!

Ranger's were incredibly pleased and want to have an official ribbon cutting session during National Park Week later this month. Within 30 seconds after taking the caution tape down, the benches were full so I know they will get some good use over the years!

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DLJeffs

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Great project. Those look like they're arranged where the rangers might give presentations and talks and stuff, rather than along a trail somewhere. Nice.
 

Nubsnstubs

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Steve, they look great. Got one question though. When you made the legs, were they the other half of the log that was the seat? ......... Jerry (in Tucson)
 

FranklinWorkshops

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Very inspiring. Congratulations to your son, you and all the people who worked on this project. As a older person, I know how valuable these resting places are and it looks like the park rangers were delighted to have them. Very well done.
 
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