Sunday, August 21, 2022


For a few years of my life, I worked as a log builder. That is to say, I learned the art (that is really what it is) of constructing buildings using whole, round logs.

Building with logs is a world of building not only for form and function, but also for beauty and posterity. It is a world of learning to choose a certain log for a specific purpose, of discussions about how to cut the notches and the grooves in the logs. It is about how the building will settle after it is constructed. These are discussions that only come up in log building construction, since these issues have no relevance in other types of buildings.

The log builder comes to learn the grain and knots of every log of the building he is working on, and to take pleasure in how he is able to shape one log to fit snugly as it is placed on top of the log beneath. The worker must be familiar with the specialized tools and techniques that are a part of building with logs.

The windows and the doors, for instance, must be installed by connecting them to “sliders” instead of nailing them directly unto the logs themselves.

The log walls in a house will settle in the first few of years after construction. A wall may decrease in height as much as eight or nine inches. If any window or door were connected directly to the logs, the glass would surely break, and the doors would not open. To prevent this, each window and each door must be specially installed in a manner that only log builders must use.

The Process of Scribing and Fitting

Building with logs is an incredibly slow process if one is to do it correctly. The form of the top of a log lying horizontally must be carefully drawn with a pencil onto the bottom of the log that is to fit over it. This work of drawing on the top log is done by placing this log over the log beneath and bracing it so that it will not move. Not even a hair.

Then, using a scribing tool, the shape from the bottom log is transferred to the log braced above it. This scribing tool looks like a large drawing compass, the kind we use for drawing circles in geometry class. Like our geometry compass, the scribing tool also has two points, one of them holding a pencil. However, the scribing tool is different than a geometry compass in that the scribing tool is fitted with two glass bubble vials like one would see on a carpenter’s level. Two vials are necessary, because, unlike a carpenter using his level, the log worker is not only concerned if his tool is level horizontally, but also vertically.

 As the bottom point of the scribing tools is guided along the bottom log, the pencil that is attached to the other point of the tool draws the shape of the bottom log onto the log that is braced on top of it.

It is all a bit complicated to describe, but difficulty does not end with the description. It is also incredibly difficult for the log builder as he slides the lower point of the scribing tool along the length of the bottom log. While doing this, he must carefully maintain his eye on both vials to keep the bubble in the middle of both of them. As the bottom point of the tool is guided along, the other point of the tool moving along the top log (the point fitted with a pencil), must be kept in a very accurate position.

The line is drawn all the way up one side of the top log and all the way down the other side. Then the top log is removed from its place over the bottom log, taken down to the ground, and turned over so that the groove can be cut. Since these logs each weigh several hundred pounds and perhaps a ton or more; this is not an easy task.

The wood that is between the lines marked by the scribing tool is removed by using a chainsaw, wood chisel, ax, or with whatever tool the builder feels most comfortable. The important matter is to cut out the wood from the center of the log, up to and all along the line, but not across it. The groove in the log must be deep enough so that it will fit tightly onto the log below.

After the wood between the two lines is removed, the log is then again placed where it belongs in the building. If the work of drawing the lines and cutting out the wood was done with care, the log settles down snugly and tightly on top of the log onto which it is set.

However, it is not uncommon to be dissatisfied with the fit the first time. In this case, the log worker must ascertain what is causing the log to not fit properly, remove the log once again, and remedy the problem. Perhaps there is a knot of wood that has not been shaved off adequately.

So, step-by-step and log-by-log, the building is put together. Like the description of building in this way, the actual construction is also a slow, laborious process. But at the same time, it is gratifying work. There is a satisfaction every time two logs come together and the fit is tight, so tight that there is not even any air leakage. There will be no paint or paneling to cover mistakes, so all must be done with care.

This is building by shaping and fitting. That is why I consider it an art.

Building with Stone

Building with logs has given me a special appreciation for the description of the work in the building of the Temple of the Lord in the days of Solomon. Here is what is written about that process: 

The house that King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house.

And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house. 

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. (1 Kings 6:2-7 ESV)

I am glad that the author of the book of First Kings decided to include a somewhat detailed description complete with the measurements for the temple. The description may seem superfluous to some, but it is of great interest to me.

Of special interest to me is verse seven, which tells us that the blocks of stones were prepared first in the quarry, and then brought to the construction site to be put in their place. I would be very interested to see how this work was done.

Log buildings also are often first constructed on one site, disassembled, then moved and reassembled onto their permanent foundation. This in itself is quite an achievement. Each log must be carefully marked so that it is placed in exactly the same position when the building is reassembled. The logs are not interchangeable. Each has its specific place in the wall.

However, in building the temple, I am almost certain that the workers did not first build the entire temple first in the quarry, and then take it apart and move it to its permanent place. The account in the building of it tells us that they worked in the quarry while the temple itself was being built. I think they must have prepared an area with the exact measurements of the temple and shaped and fitted the stones one course at a time—one row at a time.

The area where the stonemasons worked had to be perfectly level so that the building, as it went up, would be straight. As the builders fit the stones together, they also needed to take note of the tops of the stones and chisel the tops perfectly level so that the next course would fit tight and straight over them. I suppose they would also mark the joints so that they could be sure to stagger them in the next course.

I can imagine that the conversations that took place among the stonemasons when they were fitting the great blocks of stone together were not too dissimilar to the conversations my friends and I would have as we placed the logs. First, the stonemasons had to position the piece so that it would come up facing the right direction. Then the workers, guiding one another as the stones came closer together, lined up the marks of each stone so that they would fit it exactly in their places.

Today we speak of this temple as Solomon’s Temple. It is King Solomon who receives the credit for its construction. Indeed, it was Solomon who received the commission from God to build the temple, and who in obedience, saw to it that everything came together so that the temple would be completed. It is normal and right to speak in this way.

The Perspective of the Laborer

Nevertheless, because I have been a laborer, I sometimes see things from the perspective of the laborer. There is a camaraderie that we share. It is knowing that design on paper is one thing, but building it and making it into reality is quite another. It is knowing the practical steps that it takes to make the joints tight, whether it be joints between logs, or in stone.

This is a perspective that applies also to the church and one  which we dare not lose. Peter speaks of Christians being “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) and being built into a temple of God. We are taught that there is a sense in which God has today chosen to live within us. Christians are even referred to in the Bible as being the “Temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

It is by knowing the patience of fitting stone to stone, or log to log, that we also see the patience that is required in forming tight joints between the living stones of the church to make a beautiful building worthy of its Designer.

Building with Living Stones

We can see this in a building, but we sometimes have difficulty seeing it in the people of the church. We sometimes think that we can take a wide variety of people with a wide array of temperaments and personalities, throw them together in any indiscriminate manner, and expect to end up with a harmonious and loving church community. We are shocked and surprised when it does not happen so easily. We expect that since we worship the same Lord and have the same Holy Spirit living inside each one of us, this should happen naturally. To our dismay, it does not.

I do not mean to disavow the importance of unity of the Spirit. Our unity must always be in Christ. In the end, it is he, as the Designer and the Builder, who brings about the unity, and it is he who will receive the glory (Hebrews 3:3). Neither should we expect that we are able to accomplish this harmony on our own, simply by our own organizational efforts. The focus of our work must always be the grace of God.

Nevertheless, what we are often missing in the church is the perspective of the laborer. It is the perspective of knowing and appreciating the patient forming that it takes to bring us as people together. The Apostle Paul speaks with understanding of a laborer when he says, 

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 NAS)

We must never forget that, just in putting together a building of logs, there is a fitting that needs to take place, and that this forming and shaping is oftentimes a slow and laborious process.

The act of forming and shaping does not mean that we are all to become the same as one another and lose our identity or individual characteristics. Nor is that to be our goal. Rather, it is the very distinctions in our characteristics and personalities that we celebrate.

Notice that Paul speaks of the importance “of that which every joint supplies” and the “proper working of every individual.” It is specifically in our fitting together that we complement the distinctive characteristics that God has placed within each one of us as diverse individuals.

Difficulties with Stones and with Logs

These differences, however, do present us with certain difficulties. In building with logs, the most challenging logs to fit together are those that have knots and irregularities. Every step in fitting them requires more patience and more labor.

These challenges come in finding a position in the wall where they will fit, to scribing the line around all the knots and grains to cutting them accurately, and lastly, in placing them together with the other logs. However, it is these very logs, the ones that had the most irregularities, when they are finally laid together in a tight fit, that give the builder the most satisfaction.

And I have noticed something else. When visitors would come to see a building that I was working on, they invariably would go to inspect two of the logs that had been some of the most problematic in placing them in the wall. The logs were difficult because they had the most knots and irregularities. The visitors would bend down to see where the logs were joined together, one on the top of the other.

These self-appointed visiting building inspectors would look closely at the joint, then run their hand along the line and knots and admire the fit and the beauty of the two logs. It was the very knots that had proved themselves to be so problematic, which, once they were properly formed to fit together, in the end gave them their special beauty.

Difficulties with People

Some of us are knotty people. The Lord, as the master builder, is forming and shaping us. It is not that he means to rid us of all our individual characteristics and peculiarities. Rather, he means to take those peculiarities that otherwise would tend to hold us apart from one another, form them and shape them so that we might be allowed to come together in a close joint.

In the end, it will be these differences in characteristics, as they are fitted together in a way that complements one another, which will bring glory to the Master Builder.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NAS)

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