The evolution of a deck

Paul Smith
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Hunting season is creeping very close. The blueberries are ripe and there’s a crisp chill in the morning air. Folks are fixing up their hunting cabins, replacing cracked glass, restoring weathered wood and mending leaking roofs.

As most followers of this column likely know, I have a hunting cabin. My buddy Robert and I built it and maintain it in a totally non-legal, hunting-buddy, spoken-word arrangement. There was no perceived need from either party to involve the services of a lawyer. Actually, we didn’t even feel any need to shake hands on the conditions and obligations of co-ownership.

Robert and I have been hunting and roaming the woods together for 25 years, and such is the trust between woods buddies and good friends. We don’t shake hands much.

We call our abode in the woods a hunting cabin, but it’s far more than that. Our moose usually gets shot and rendered to roasts, steaks and sausage quite early in the season. So what do we do for the remainder of autumn? I’m in the woods, most often at the cabin, every weekend, rain or shine, sleet or hail, from the close of angling in September, until it opens again in springtime. There’s always something to do in the backcountry.

The cabin is about an hour’s walk from the road and is the perfect base camp for walkabouts, gear testing, rabbit hunting, bird hunting, snowshoeing, winter tent camping, tracking and God knows what else. I have plans made with a friend of mine for a mushroom-picking adventure. He knows the game and has kindly offered to teach me. Stay tuned for that — mushrooms and moose from the same stomping ground.

I think that Robert and I have the great-granddaddy of all decks on our cabin. It began as just a place to stand and kick your boots off, but has evolved and grown, season after season, into the grandest of places to sit with a pipe and watch the sun set over a wonderful kaleidoscope of water, rock, spruce, birch and fir.

The original deck was just that, a flat, 10 by 4 foot place outside the cabin door. We constructed it from salvaged lumber; stuff left over from the cabin itself and some old moving pallets. Robert is exceptionally good at scrounging old materials and making practical use of them.  There’s an art to making good stuff out of stuff others have discarded as waste. We need more of that in the modern world. It’s called recycling.

We decided one spring that we needed a bigger deck, a place to sit outside and sip a tumbler of dark rum or enjoy a morning coffee and sunrise. Outside space to socialize with our friends and guests would add significantly to the overall backwoods ambiance and experience. So Robert, the salvaged raw material artisan extraordinaire, tore apart more pallets and extended our deck to 10 by 10. He completed the project one afternoon while I was chasing sea trout. He doesn’t get fish-distracted as easily as I do.  

All was well with the new deck until one day we were rained out during a target practice session. With the bigger space, we had gotten into the habit of doing a bit of shooting from our cabin landing. Be assured, we had established a shooting lane with clear visibility and a high bank that ensured no danger to fellow forest walkers. What we needed was a covered deck, so we concluded by consensus, established through discussion barely audible above high decibel rain beating on the roof, combined in logarithmic fashion with the crackling and popping of a roaring fire. We had shot bullets through the water too long and intense heat was essential for drying out. Cork-dry wood is noisy but is held in reserve for fast powerful heat.

A covered deck in the middle of nowhere is not a project to embark upon lightly. Building materials have to be hauled in by ATV or snowmobile, and we had toiled through more than our share of that in building the cabin itself.

The trail is very rough. There were broken trailers and repairs made necessary to our machines. It was agreed before the pounding rain subsided that logs from the surrounding forest would be utilized. I’d always wanted to build a log cabin and this would be the next best thing.

It might have been easier to haul in two-by-fours and boards. Working with round timber is both labour intensive and demanding of skill. First, logs have to be cut, transported and peeled. The rinding or peeling is far from a trivial matter, and logs will rot quickly if left to the elements with bark intact.

I recall my father telling me that fence posts and rails must be cut and peeled early in spring. It’s absolutely true. The difference in difficulty is orders of magnitude. If you decide to peel some logs, get yourself a good quality drawknife. It’s by far the best tool for the job.

With a bunch of logs stripped bare of bark and cut to appropriate length, we began the assembly of our log deck. Have you ever tried to level and plumb round and naturally curved timber? One’s traditional and habitual reliance on the carpenter’s trusty bubble level is rendered essentially useless.

Try it and you will see for yourself. One must go back in time make use of line and water level. Melchisedech Thevenot, Royal Librarian to King Louis XIV of France, invented the bubble, or spirit level, in the 17th century. Folks were building stuff plumb and level long before that. And it doesn’t work on logs or long-range grades anyway.

You could use a survey transit or laser level, but neither Robert nor I, or the builders of pyramids possessed either. I won’t bore you with the details of how the water level works; do a Google search if you’re keen on such things. All you need is a garden hose. My father taught me when I was a boy building a backyard fort.

We ended up with a wonderful covered deck of round and pleasingly twisted logs. I convinced Robert to cut crooked sticks in my attempt to mimic somewhat the Santa Fe sort of architectural style. It worked I think. The logs aged and discoloured pleasantly with time, gaining character and remaining structurally solid.

The original salvaged deck floor was quite another matter. It’s getting pretty rickety and is not so pleasing to the eye. Robert and I decided to replace it. We opted for pressure-treated, store-bought lumber. We didn’t have much spare time to fuss with logs, and the sun doesn’t dry wood well under that roof. We went modern to avoid rotting and to ensure longevity.

Packing a bag for carpentry in the woods is bound to find you lacking something. I forgot about the cutting boards to fit around those round posts. I should have packed a keyhole or coping saw, or even better, a battery powered jigsaw.

Anyway, we ended up having to improvise with the use of cross-cut, axe and knife. We

didn’t have a chisel, either. I need to pack a better woods bag. Robert and I are still arguing about who figured out how to cut curves without a proper saw.

 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

Organizations: Google

Geographic location: France, Santa Fe

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page