How to make Lincoln Logs

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Lincoln Logs were invented by John Lloyd Wright in 1916.  Imagine- creating a product that becomes a sensation, and is widely recognizable nearly a century later, and is still overshadowed by your father being one of the most prominent figures of architecture in world history!

Being that I am the type to appreciate design on a scale large or small, I am going to pay homage to the son of Frank Lloyd Wright with this tutorial.  I have been to Falling Water, and while impressive, I prefer playing with Lincoln logs.

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Let's start with the equipment you will need.

*Miter Saw

*Table Saw

*Router Table  

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Obviously, there are tons of different ways you can go about this, but I will be using a method that uses a Router Table for as much as possible.  You will need two router bits for this: 

*3/4" Straight bit

*3/8" Round-Over bit (with bearing)

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The materials you will need are very simple, and can be acquired for around $12 for one batch:

 -One white pine 1x6x 8 footer  (3/4" x 5 1/2" x 8')

Home Depot carries #2 in a big pile, you can get one for under $6.  That is what I used for this tutorial. One batch of logs from an 8'       board will yield 224 singles, ideally. That is either 112 doubles, or 74  triples, or 56 quadruples.  I will discuss appropriate combinations later, but this amount is probably three times larger than any set you could purchase, and would retail for $$$. 

 -One quart of Minwax Red Mahogany #225 

The big one isn't needed, but it is cost effective, and nice to dip logs into.  You may choose another stain type, but I recommend this for not only its nice color, but after two weeks the logs have such a pleasant and mild odor.  Be careful, another stain may give whoever plays with these a headache, so it is worth another $6 to get this type since I have already tried it. One quart will stain more logs than you will ever make, I promise.

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This is what we are making.

lincoln log blueprint

Let's start by rough cutting 8 blocks 11".  After rough cutting, square each piece by cutting off 1/8". This is important, because later we will be cross-routing, and it is very important to be square. 

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You will notice that the logs have an additional 3/8" sticking over for overlap on each end. I make mine slightly heavier than 3/8", for appearance. This complicates the measurements, and should you decide to do it also, you can figure the math out for yourself. For this tutorial, we will treat all overlap measurements as 3/8". If you have decided to stay with the simple measurements, now you should measure from your squared end and cut each block to 10 1/2",  making sure both ends are square. 

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Now we rout. 

The 3/4" straight router bit should stick out of the table 3/16",  assuming  you have 3/4" material.   The rout should begin at 3/8" from the fence.   You can rout both sides of each end, only one pass.   Don't worry about the fuzz or the splintering, but go slow through the end to limit them.  After you have the first one complete, check to make sure that the measurements are in order.

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The routs are all on 3" centers, so you should have 8 1/4" in between at this point.  I was accurate, honest- the pic is misleading.  After you have done all 8 blocks 4 times each, sand off the fuzz with some 100 grit (a block works best).  After sanding,  make one more pass with the router on each one.  This will ensure consistency, and make a nice smooth seat rout.  Luckily, that is pretty much all of the sanding that this project requires. 

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Before we continue, I would like to note that the rout depth is a slight modification that I made to the logs.  The logs that you would buy have a deeper rout, so they sit on the row directly underneath them, not placing the load on the logs they interlock with.  I have found that this makes the structures made from homemade logs more sturdy.  A perfect log would have about a 1/32" gap between it and the log underneath or above it, ensuring that the perpendicular interlocking log carries the load down the corners, instead of down the walls.  That's enough physics... back to routing.   

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Now we are going to make the two center seat routs.  The fence has been moved to 3 3/8" to where the rout begins.  On the first one, I went in about an inch on each one to make sure they were all centered correctly.  Remember-  each rout is on a 3" center, so you should have 2 1/4" in between.  Same as before- we make one pass on all 4, sand the fuzz, make final pass. Easy! 

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Now to the table saw.

Sand fuzz off of the nicer side to run against the fence.  Set to 11/16", better to be slightly heavy if anything,  but try to be exact.  This allows 1/16" of play when log is locked into the 3/4" seat.  This is easy until the last two.  Don't be afraid to go in halfway, stop the table saw, flip the piece around and continue.  The kerf marks will be barely visible, and carpenters like their fingers.  If the material is 5 1/2"- you will be able to get 7 logs from each with a thin-kerf blade.

*I use a 24-tooth, 7 1/4" Freud Diablo in my 10-inch table saw.  It is laser-thin, razor-sharp and dirt-cheap ($10 at Home Depot). 

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 Back to the router-

If everything went alright, you have 56 big logs without blood on them.  Now we use a 3/8" round-over bit with a bearing and a fence, all set in line with a straight-edge.  The height adjustment is best left to common sense, trying to make the radius begin at the bottom of the seat notch.  This should give you two distinct lines down the log, giving it a nice appearance and slightly discouraging the log from rolling. Feed each log through with the seat notches facing up and down, as running them through sideways will have a different effect on the rout.  4 times on each of 56 logs is 224 routs!  Get to work.  

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This is what you should have.

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Now we will go back to the table saw for the most dangerous and difficult part.   This is rather advanced table-sawing, so if you aren't comfortable with this, you can use a band saw or just skip this step.  I personally don't think it is that bad, but you need to take a table saw seriously.  I cut through over halfway, turn off the saw, flip the piece, and finish it.  Kill the power at the last inch so the blade stops just as it finishes, so it doesn't pull the cutoff into the blade cavity.  If you go slow and think, you will be just fine.  A thin-kerf blade like I mentioned earlier is also very important here.  These pieces are very handy for bases and also double as roofing/flooring.  I make lots of them.  For one batch,  you should cut 7 logs in half.

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Finally, we come to the last part of the construction, the length cutting.  Find a 3/4" scrap to lock the logs together,  this enables you to miter-saw 6 logs simultaneously .  Press a 3/8" brass bar against your locking edge to trace a cut line.  Don't try to cut 4 singles out of one of your blanks, it's not worth it.  Instead, get 2 singles and a double out of a blank.  Use some head-scratching, so you get what you want. 

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Leave some as quadruples, even though I don't think they sell those, they open up a lot of building options.  Also, never underestimate how many singles or doubles you use.  The most useful ratio is really dependent upon what you build, so it is really hard to suggest.  You will probably just end up making more, like me. 

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This is the ratio of sizes I recommend:

-58 Singles

-25 Doubles

-16 Triples

-12 Quadruples 

-6 Double-halves

-4 Triple-halves (leaves 4 single-halves)

-4 Quadruple-halves

*This ratio will vary on what you decide, knots in wood, damaged pieces, etc. It's just a quick reference.

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That's it! All you have to do is stain. Sorry, but that's the worst part. It takes quite awhile. Wipe off the excess and drop them in a bucket... and resist the urge to play with them for a few days. Now find a Guinea pig, if you can't locate one, children also enjoy these.    

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