How to Build a Trapper Cabin Made of Logs

Udo Tschimmel and his wife decide to leave Montreal and homestead in the Canadian Yukon Territory, building their own trapper cabin made of logs.

| November/December 1975

  • hand-built trapper cabin
    What we were looking at was a "trapper's cabin" . . . a structure which combines simplicity, low cost, and the conservation of energy.
    Photo by Udo Tschimmel/MediaProjects

  • hand-built trapper cabin

After a couple of years in Montreal, the urge to leave the cramped city had become too powerful . . . so my wife and I decided to head our old delivery van north and work our way up to Canada's Yukon Territory. Once there, we soon found a suitable place for a wilderness home five miles by foot and canoe from the Haines Road. In no time at all we had become good friends with our future neighbors . . . two families, each with small children, who lived in log homes close to the road.

Building Our Own Trapper Cabin

To enter one of these north woods cabins for the first time was — for us — an unforgettable experience. The interior, a single, big, undivided room, reflected the closeness of the people who lived there and the oneness of their lives and activities. An "airtight" heater reigned in the center of the living space, and everything — the large sleeping loft with its wooden access ladder, the homemade chairs and tables — was built of logs.

During those early days up here in the Yukon, we discussed plans for our own cabin. The possibilities were limited — both in design and dimensions — by the fact that we were only two people and couldn't count on any help out in the bush. The conventional gable-roofed structure, for instance, seemed to pose quite a few difficulties (especially with the placement of the heavy ridgepole). As an alternative we considered a dome, which would be quick to build and would give us plenty of light. One look at the cost of the necessary struts and plywood, however, made us forget that plan fast enough.

Then a hiking trip into the mountains gave us the answer. In a sheltered valley we found an old, dilapidated house, built low and small from rather thin logs and topped with a shed roof. What we were looking at was a "trapper's cabin" . . . a structure which combines simplicity, low cost, and the conservation of energy. One man can put up a trapper cabin in two or three weeks, even without a chain saw or other power tool. Clearly, this was the dwelling for us.

Our own cabin, we decided, would be 15 feet square on the inside and would be built from about 80 logs averaging 18 feet long and 6 to 9 inches in diameter. ("Averaging" is right . . . the trees we felled weren't very straight and often tapered from 8 inches at the butt to 3 at the other end.)

The biggest timbers we needed were those for the foundation: two logs 20 feet long and 14 inches in diameter. These we peeled and dried for two weeks before treating them with a gallon of wood preserver. We also peeled the logs for the roof but not those for the walls. In spring, when the sap is rising, a tree trunk can be stripped with an axe in 15 minutes . . . but fall was approaching and at that season the same job takes 45 minutes with a drawknife.


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