Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

High school construction majors take on a log building

Canadian Contractor

Brett Carron’s class gets more hands-on, real-life experience

It may be raining outside, but inside the shop at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, Ontario, the sound of saws, mallets and rock music reverberate. The saws, mallets and chisels are in the hands of Brett Carron’s students, notching log ends for a 12 x16 heavy timber building, the first day hand shaping what will ultimately be over 90 dove-tails in more than 50 pine logs.

A well-planned, assembly line process
The 18 students enrolled in Carron’s heavy construction class are putting in three hours each day on this project, working in teams at each end, four logs at a time.  “The jobs are doled out every day,” explains Carron.  “Students take different jobs, but some students will show more initiative than others, some just aren’t as confident on the tools yet, while others quickly establish themselves as team leaders.”

From left: The dovetail template is used to trace out the shape. (The top and bottom grooved mill-work is provided by the log supplier.) Saw depth is adjusted for cutting away the bulk of the excess. Using a mallet and chisel, the dove tail takes shape. The finished dovetail.

Another year connecting with the local business community
Over the past four or five years, the program has built several heavy timber frame buildings under the guidance of an area contractor who in turn works with a client.  This semester’s project, however, is custom-designed for Fern Resort, a popular lakeside resort just outside Orillia, and the first time Carron’s program has worked directly with the client. This relationship with Fern has given the students the added experience of being involved right from conception. “They [Fern] came up with the windows and doors, and we came up with the 12 x 16 design together with Fern, so the students were involved with the elevation drawings and floor plan layout drawings,” explains Carron. “This is phase one, a children’s play area. It’s a 12 x 16 which will be in conjunction with another 12 x 16, with a roofed breeze walkway between the two.”

The buildings will be assembled on school property prior to delivery. “Last week, the students spent some time outside, levelling ground and learning foundation skills,” explains Carron. Fern has their own team that will re-assemble the building on the resort’s site, but have asked for some students to be involved, another great learning opportunity.


Although there are financial matters—Fern pays for the materials, for example — Carron’s objective is to provide a real-life learning experience for his students. “I’ve got to tell you, it’s really important for us to have a project and a connection,” he says. “We’re interested in learning.”

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I’ve posted 4 videos showing the students working on various stages of the dove-tailing process.
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