How To Build A Sledge

Sometimes Mother Nature likes to throw us a challenge. When it snows, don’t be like the other dads, frantically driving to Wilko’s to grab a cheap sledge, make one instead!

Watch the video for the main points, read below to get more...

This post kicks off a new topic – DIY projects that are just for fun! If you’re looking for more serious stuff, pop back to my How To page and find what you’re looking for.

Even if you haven’t got the same materials as me, it’s still worth reading this page, if only to get the principles of sledge building right. However, if you're in a hurry, you can jump straight to...

INTRODUCTION

This How-to looks good, tell me more

The title pretty much sums up this post, we’re going to build a sledge. The reason for writing it is because last Saturday, it started snowing, a lot! So, me, my daughter and her best mate, Caitlin and Ari, decided it would be fun if I build a sledge for them to try out in the morning. So I set up the cameras, got my tools out and started building a sledge at 1030pm on a Saturday night, it was fun!

What materials do I need?

Pretty much anything. As long as it’s made from wood and the right shape, I’ve got it covered.

The sledge is divided into two main parts:

  • You’ll need a base; I went for 1.2m long by 0.4m wide in the end, made from two planks of laminate flooring glued together. The length could be shortened to 0.8m long for one passenger.
  • The sides, left and right; I used 100mm high by 12mm thick hardwood. However, softwood will do well enough, even some old deck boards.

Other than that, a few bits of batten timber, I’ll cover this in detail later on.

How long did it take?

From 1030pm to about 330am, so 5 hours. Bear in mind though that I spent a bit of time doing the video, so that could be shaved down to 4 hours I reckon.

Did it work?

Of course it did. We even tested it before the glue had fully dried, although I put so much of the stuff on I’m wondering if it’ll ever dry completely! So yes, it worked a treat. We accomplished speed, stability, safety and the kids loved it, an all-round success.

Should I do this myself?

Can’t see any reason not to. Sure, you can get a fairly good plastic sledge for about a tenner. But with DIY projects like this, I would highly recommend giving it a go because they don’t come around too often. If you do, please send me a picture.

TOOLS FOR THE JOB

What tools will I need?

If you want to do it properly, you’ll need a few tools. If you don’t have them, you’ll be able to hire them from you’re local Hire Station, such as a router or a Mitre Saw. Here’s the list:

  • Mitre Saw – for getting good cuts, don’t forget the blade. I use a Bosch GCM 12 SD, but these are pretty expensive. If you haven’t got a mitre saw, use a:
    • Hand saw – 1st fix will do (rough teeth)
  • Router – To cut out grooves
    • Router Bits – wide enough to cut a groove to match the thickness of the base boards
    • Router Guide – To help you get a straight groove with the router
  • Circular Saw – To cut long lengths of the wood. Failing that, a table saw will do
  • Goggles, Ear Defenders and a Dust Mask – Good ones, don’t go cheap on these
  • Pencil and sharpener
  • Accurate Tape measure
  • Set square
  • P60 & P120 Grit Sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • 2m long spirit level – A 1.8m long level will do too
  • Four wood clamps
  • Kettle, mug, spoon
  • Drill – with 3.5 and 2.5mm drill bits
    • Optional – Impact Drill – Makes it easier to screw into wood, but not absolutely necessary
    • Cross head bit
    • Countersink Triangle Bit – For some reason, I kept calling this a Deburrer in the video

Materials

  • Side Planks – To be the length of the sledge (mine was 1.2m long) by the height of the sides (mine were 0.1m high). Aim for 12mm thickness and preferable hardwood, a softwood would be fine though, it would just wear down quicker.
  • Old cloth – to wipe the excess glue away
  • Base Boards – To form the part that you sit and rest your legs on. Mine measured 1.2m by 0.4m. I formed it out of two planks of laminate flooring, that joined together by a tongue and groove joint and lots of wood glue.
  • Wood Glue – Lots of it!
  • Tea bags, milk
  • Screws – 4.0 x 30mm, 5.0 x 40mm
  • 1” x 2” softwood timber batten – To form the back board, middle board and the end board. I used three lengths of 0.4m long pieces for mine
  • Rope – I used one at 2m in length
  • Kids – To be the crash test dummies (this is a joke by the way, don’t use kids to test your sledge!)

Helpful Tip

If you use laminate flooring for the base of your sledge, like I did, make sure you build the shiny, laminate face on the underside, because this’ll be slippier on the snow = more speed.

DESIGN OF THE SLEDGE

Like any good DIY project, a sledge does require a bit of design and thought upfront. For the purposes of my sledge how-to video, I set up a white board:

sam in front of whiteboard sketching out a sledge specification, with dimensions and labels

First off, we need to determine the length of the sledge. Measure your child’s leg length, from the heel to the back when sat down. In my daughter’s case, this was 0.8m. I was going for a two person sledge, so I needed more length. I assumed that the two children would sit with the rear child’s legs overlapping the from child’s. Therefore, I went for an overall length of 1.2m, 1.5 times the 0.8m leg length I’d measured.

sam designing the side of the sledge

That’s the length sorted, now onto the width. So, unless your child is particularly large, 0.4m should do it. This suited me because it meant I could use two full laminate flooring boards put together, each at 0.2m wide. I’d say go no thinner than 350mm, and there’s really no reason to go beyond 400mm, I was able to sit in this sledge easily enough.

Fir the skids, I was originally going to go for three (one either side and one in the middle). However, I found that one either side did the trick, plus I ran out of time! I built the skids so that they protruded from the bottom by 20mm, I’d say you don’t want to go anything less than that. Here’s a sketched section through the sledge, showing the skids:

another section sketch showing the section through the sledge

Helpful Tip

If you know you’re going to get a lot of snow, it may be best to go for skids that protrude out the base by more than 20mm.

You’ll need to put sides on the sledge too. Here’s the trick – combine the skids with the sides, effectively keeping that one piece. I used 100mm high hardwood that formed 70mm high sides above the base boards, and 20mm skids out the bottom. Having this as one piece helps with the overall strength of the sledge.

One last thing to consider at the sledge design phase is the front, which needs to ramp upwards. This ensures the front end stays above the snow when it’s rocketing down the slope. Like this:

Ari dragging the sledge through the snow. Showing the front end tilted upwards so that the sledge stays above the snow

With my sled front end, I had it slope up to a near point over 300mm, you can see this on the picture above.

That’s the basic sled design sorted, the rest can be considered as you work through building the thing.

SIDE BOARD AND SKID CONSTRUCTION

So the first thing to do is construct the side boards. Start by cutting the pieces to the right length, using the chop saw (a handheld saw will do if you haven’t got one).

Then, mark on the angled bit at the front of the sled, the bit that I angled over 300mm, as described above. You can use a hand saw for this but if you do have a circular saw, use this instead. Unless you’re really good with a handsaw, it’ll end up squiffy when cutting such a length. Here’s what you need to end up with:

sam holding up one of the side boards. Rectangular in shape with a slant at the end for the front ramp

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to cut the grooves out the same board, for the bottom boards to slot into. Here’s a close up of one of my side boards, with a groove cut out:

shot on the length of the side board, showing a long groove that's been routered out

And here’s one at the front end of the sledge, you can see how the groove follows the kink in the side board as it slopes upwards.

same but showing the front end. The groove continues up the ramp of the sled

To make a groove in a piece of wood you’ll need a router, with a router bit who’s diameter is the same, if not slightly bigger, than the thickness of the base board. This is because the base board is going to slot into this groove, which is essential for strength.

My router also came with a guide, which I used to keep a 20mm distance between the groove and the bottom of the skids. Here’s my setup:

showing the underside of the router. With the circular router bit in place and a router guide

Now that’s the side boards and skids sorted out, it’s time to shape the bottom board.

BOTTOM BOARD CONSTRUCTION

As mentioned previously, I formed the bottom board from two, 1.2m lengths of Pergo laminate flooring. This stuff is light, very strong and is shiny smooth on one side, a perfect material for the task ahead.

Initially, I had to cut the tongue or groove from the edges. Not the edges where the two boards join together, that would be silly, but the edges around the perimeter of the base board, these ones:

side picture showing sledges base board with its tongue and groove edges

I used my circular saw to do this, easily going along and cutting off the nibs.  If you haven’t got one, not to worry, it’s pretty easy to do with a hand held saw.

Make sure that the bottom board/s form the right dimensions of your sledge. My sledge dimensions were 1.2m long x 0.4m wide. Each of my laminate boards were 1.2m long, but 0.2m wide, so I knew I’d have to join them together at some point. What you’ll need to do now is to mark out the position of the “kink”, this is the part where that bottom board will kink up, about 300mm from the front of the sledge, and it’s where you’ll need to make a cut. Fast forwarding a little on the next picture but it shows the kink in the bottom board, see how the front end ramps up (the sledge is lying on its side):

looking at the bottom of the sledge

When marking out the position of the kink, simply measure the grooves that you have already cut from your side boards. You’ll be able to get a long length (for most of the bottom board) and another length (for the front ramp), now you have the length of the two pieces.

Make the cut using either a chop saw or hand saw, remove splinters.

At this point, I would advise that you dry-assemble the pieces together, to make sure it all fits, before getting the glue involved. This is both the side boards and bottom boards. If all is good with your sledge, or any adjustments and tweaks are sorted, you’re good to go onto the next phase.

ASSEMBLING THE SLEDGE

Now, I know at this point you’re wondering why we’re assembling the sledge without yet making some of the other bits, such as the back board or front board. No worries! We’ll get onto that shortly, but for now I found that it’s the right time to attach the side boards to the base board. Once these are assembled, it’s easier to make an accurate measurement across the sledge to get the lengths of the back and front boards.

First off, let’s assemble one side to the bottom board. This is where glue and screws come into their own. You’ll need to glue the bottom board into the groove, and to keep it in place screw from the outside of the side board, into the side of the bottom board, like so:

Sam trying to slot the sleighs bottom board into the grooves of the side board

You’ll need wood glue and I used 4.0 x 30mm screws along the side, about 7 each side in total. Pre-drill both through the side board and into the side of the bottom board using a 2.5mm diameter drill bit. Then, before screwing in the screw, I suggest you create a countersink hole in the side of the side board, large enough for the screw head to tuck into. You can do this using a 10mm diameter drill bit, and only letting the triangular head make a mark in the wood. Alternatively, you may want to pick yourself up one of these:

a countersink drill bit, for creating wide conical shaped holes in wood

You can see by the shape that it’s designed to make a triangular shaped hole so that the screw head sits flush with the wood surface, once screwed in, like this (I went a bit deep with this one but it shows what I mean):

screw head showing, haven been driven through some wood. Screw head is flush with the laminate underside of the sledge

One final thing to do before you screw both the pieces of wood together – you need to slap on the wood glue! Really fill the groove that the bottom board is to slot into. The, attach them together and screw for a tight fit. You’ll see how the two boards tighten together nicely as you screw it, squeezing the excess glue out.

Wipe away any excess glue and that’s done. Before doing the other side, don’t forget the ramp at the front, you’ll need to repeat this glue and screw process for the ramp too.

Now, as I used two floor boards joined along the length, I was able to stick both sides to the main bottom board prior to attaching the front ramp board. You’ll have to see the video on this but if you’re using a single piece of board (cut in half along the kink) then you’ll need to attach the front ramp board AND the bottom board to one side board, before attaching the other side board.

Once done, it’s time to attach the rear board, this really ties the lot together and prevents the bottom board from bowing downwards. I used an old 40mm x 25mm timber batten for this. Glued and screwed again to make sure it’s a strong fix.

screwing the back board onto the sledge body using a drill

I had to screw into it from the underside of the bottom board, through the laminate floor board and into the batten. This wasn’t a problem though, because I countersunk the screws into the laminate, making sure the screw heads weren’t poking out. Don’t forget though, you’ll also need to screw into the batten from the sides, through the side boards first. Again, countersink all these screws.

Do the same as you did for the back board, but also for the front and where the kink is located, like so:

picture showing the front end of the sledge and it now has a front board and a middle board, to keep the sleigh together

Here’s another picture to make sure it’s clear for you/ It’s taken on the underside of the sledge, showing the screws that go into the battens on the other side:

and the underside of the sled with it's screw heads showing

Nearly there, just a couple of important steps to go. Next up, give it all a really good sand, for two reasons:

  • To make the sledge safe, removing any sharp corners
  • To make the bottom of the skids slippier, to make it go faster

Start off with pretty rough sand paper, P60 grit should do it. Then finish off with P100 or P120.

And finally, you’ll need a rope. I found about 2m did the trick, allowing for a return and extra for tying off. Attach this to your sledge by drilling out holes either side. I wouldn’t attach it to the bottom board, the sides are more sturdy.

attaching rope to the sledge through two holes, one either side of the sledge from each other, at the front of the sleigh

That’s it, you have a (hopefully) solid sledge that you can use for years. I’d test it first before letting the kids on it, just in case. Good luck with your sledging, send me a picture if you get a chance.

sam holding his finished sledge up

This sledging how to was just for fun. It snowed, so I made one, that’s it. Hopefully you can get some benefit from this but I’m no expert at making sledges. For all I know, I could’ve got the aerodynamics completely wrong, but it seemed to work well all the same.

If you’re looking for a more serious how-to, click here to go back to my how-to page.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this page, I appreciate it. If you have a comment or would like to get in touch, fill out the email form below and hit subscribe, I look forward to hearing from you.

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