From Tree to Table: How to Make Your Own Rustic Log Furniture

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If you have ever marveled over the log furniture you have seen at Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s, writer, photographer and woodworker Alan Garbers has a new book that might be right up your alley. From Tree to Table offers the aspiring craftsperson practical advice on building eco-chic rustic furniture—literally starting with the timber.

Why Not Buy Log Furniture?

The easy button answer might be to just buy rustic log furniture from a retailer. But woodworkers like to think maybe they can do it better. And certainly for less. Most of us would likely agree with the author: “I’m not made of money.”

The satisfaction of gathering your family around a dining room table that you built surely outweighs using the table you brought home from Billy Bob’s Emporium down the road. Being able to pass on the works of your hands is a priceless gift that carries into the next generation.

Learning new skills is always a bonus, not to mention you can teach those skills to the young ’uns in your life.

Introduction & Inspiration

Throughout the 152 full-color pages of From Tree to Table, Alan covers everything from getting started and finding inspiration to portable sawmills and joining wood. After an intro on safety—in the woods, in the shop and in your products—and an overview on different styles of log furniture, the book takes you directly to the forest.

There is more to finding logs than picking up fallen limbs or cutting down trees. Alan provides tips on where, when and how to find the best specimens for building your wood furniture and what trees to avoid. For instance, “beware a yard tree” as it may have once been home to a tree house or swing. Therefore, you’ll want to watch out for buried nails and other bits of metal.

The book spends a fair amount of time discussing why wood shrinks, warps and cracks, and why a moisture meter is a good investment. If you plan on using any reclaimed wood like fence posts, crates or pallets for your furniture building, a metal detector like Little Wizard is also a good tool to have in your arsenal.

There is some discussion about bark on vs. bark off. Sassafras, hickory and hornbeam birch are a few species that look great with the bark on, while cedar, ash, maple and pine are generally preferred without the bark.  For the barkless look, you’ll appreciate Alan’s time-saving tip that will make peeling bark off logs “almost as easy as pulling off a sock.” Hint: it’s not how, it’s when.

The book continues with sections on Working with Logs and Drying Wood. Finding Nature’s Gifts is an interesting review of the special things nature provides if you keep your eyes open: antler rubs, vine damage, healed wounds, tree crotches, flame box elder and downed logs. The Japanese honeysuckle vine climbing a sapling, pictured below, caused the tree to form a twist pattern, making it an appealing choice for spindles.

Vine damage was created on this sapling as Japanese honeysuckle wrapped itself around. 
The unique twist pattern created by the growing vine make for interesting spindle choices. 

Joining, Finishing and Portable Saw Mills

Before you can get to the business of creating rustic log furniture, you must first learn to fasten the logs and planks together in a manner that looks good, yet holds the piece together against the rigors of use. Alan discusses tenons, dowel pins, nails (and why he avoids using them), nail guns, lag bolts, screws, and biscuit joiners as ways to join wood together, depending upon the application. He offers some tricks for each method, in addition to handy helpers for hiding mistakes.

A radius tenon looks good on exposed trim work. 

Chapter 15 talks about different methods of finishing your projects: HVLP sprayer, aerosol or brush. Alan said, “Ideally a separate finishing booth is a great thing to have. Something with great lighting and an air filtration system and exhaust.” But, in lieu of that, there are other options to protect your work.

Investing in a portable saw mill like a Wood-Mizer would certainly make life easier for cutting boards out of logs. But if you don’t have the room or the funds for that size of equipment, Alan provides some ways around that.

Tools You May Need

As Alan says, “Tools are expensive but make the impossible possible.” He recommends saving money by buying the big ticket items used, searching out auctions, moving sales and estate sales. Some other tools you’ll want to have on hand for rustic furniture building:

Drill Bits – Almost all joints will require a hole. Alan prefers Forstner drill bits for making a clean hole with a shallow pilot.
• Clamps – Indispensable and you’ll need various sizes.
• Putty Knife – Alan uses a “lowly putty knife” for peeling logs. “A good putty knife will be your best friend when working with logs. Trust me on this.”
• Japanese Saw – Use for cutting dowels and tenons flush with the wood face.
• Hand Plane – Just the ticket for breaking a long edge or taking off a high spot.
• Electric Planer – These really help flatten table slabs.
• Surface Planer –Takes a rough-cut board and transforms it into beautiful lumber. “I would be lost without my surface planer,” Alan said.
• Jointer – Using a 6" jointer he got at an auction for 25 bucks, Alan can flatten the sides of logs for attaching boards and slabs.
 Surface Grinder – For quickly sanding down knots and branch stubs.
• Battery Drill – Alan drills almost all his holes and small tenons with a battery drill.
• Right-Angle Drill – “The right-angle drill is an investment in your health,” Alan said, referring to possible twisted wrists when using a drill. The right-angle version gives you a long handle that tames all that torque when drilling big holes or cutting tenons.
• Miter Saw – A good 12" model can cut fairly good-sized logs in one clean cut. Great for cutting logs to length, squaring up the ends or just shaving another 1/4" off a tenon.
• Radial-Arm Saw – Alan created a “wood milling machine” out of his 1983 radial-arm saw and a surface planer.
 Bandsaw – Use to trim up any branch nubs left on the log after rough-cleaning it.
 Chain Saw – For cutting down trees and cutting logs to length, a lightweight 12" to 15" model is great. If you’re going to be making lumber or cutting trees for a portable bandsaw, you’ll want a little bigger model.
• Angle Gauge – When making legs for benches and chairs, it helps to have them at a slight angle. The angle gauge will be a big timesaver when it comes to repeating that same angle from leg to leg.

Larger clamps can gently persuade pieces to move when tenons are tight. They can also be used to disassemble pieces after a mock-up.

Next up, Alan discusses glues, sanding and workstations, before going into a brief study of furnituremaking basics. He includes a list of common sizes—or “accepted industry norms”—for dining room tables, end tables, coffee tables and hall tables.

Part II – Building the Furniture

The latter part of the book is devoted to actual furniture projects and instructions. The prior material gives you a comprehensive foundation to build upon; now it’s time to make stuff! Alan starts off with a simple slab bench (“as basic a piece of furniture as you can get”), giving two options for construction. Other projects include: rustic framed mirror, coat rack (a standing version and a wall-mounted style), tables, chairs, log lamps, quilt or rug ladder and beds.

Alan starts his tables by matching planks or slabs together that will be wide enough and long enough for the project. 
Birch bark frames are a Northwoods classic. The edges and bark seams are covered in black cherry suckers. The effect is rustic elegance. 

A queen or king headboard and footboard, like the one shown here, require many small- to medium-diameter spindles.

The following chapter is chock full of “a few last things”: Swiss work (placing sections of twigs, with bark on, side by side to form a pattern or trim), twig work (“a rich visual tapestry” used to produce a lattice or screen of small branches), use of antlers, shotshell drawer pulls, drawer pulls from wood and log accents. Alan provides tips for leveling a four-legged piece and cutting corner logs (logs that act as trim to cover the corner edge), as well as a few words on quality and workmanship: rustic doesn’t mean poor quality. “Do the work required for a good job, and you’ll be making family heirlooms that will be handed down for generations. And that’s a legacy anyone would love to have,” he said.

Alan rounds out the book with a chapter on “Making Money From Scraps” by showing you how to create sellable coasters, candleholders, napkin rings and more with your cutoffs.

About the Author

Alan Garbers is an award-winning outdoor writer, author and photographer who covers topics ranging from turkey and deer hunting to crappie and bass fishing, from snorkeling in the tropics to making maple syrup in Indiana.

Alan started woodworking when he was just a small lad growing up in Minnesota. He also enjoys the great outdoors: exploring the BWCAW (Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness) in northern Minnesota, roaming the Arizona deserts and Jeeping the Colorado mountains.

His writing credits include hundreds of articles in Indiana Outdoor News, Indiana Game & Fish, Muzzle Blasts, Outdoor Guide Magazine, Woodcarving Illustrated and many more publications. Fiction credits include Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies IV, V and VIII.

Have you ever considered building rustic log furniture? Stop by your local Woodcraft store or shop online at to pick up your copy of From Tree to Table. You’ll also find all the clamps, drills, saws, glue and more to help make your project successful. We’re here to help you make wood work!

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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