Did you know the toboggan was first invented for the Canadian military?
It’s a pretty convenient tool for moving through the snow, and the Canadians knew it. It slides down the snow easier than a hot knife cuts through butter, and it’s capable of holding heavy weights like they’re nothing.
Not only that, but it’s also relatively easy to make at home!
If you want to create a DIY project for the new year, a toboggan is your go-to. You’ll only need a brief list of supplies, and it won’t take more than a week to make. Bonus: your kids will have loads of fun using it in the snow!
For building a toboggan, you’ll need a list of woodworking tools and some extra gadgets for finishing it smoothly. Here’s a roundup of everything you’ll need:
- Table saw
- White ash wood boards
- A band saw (Optional)
- Kerf blade
- Steam box
- Bending form (Water pipe/barrel/etc.)
- C clamps (Optional)
Making a toboggan doesn’t need any special skills, but you have to be familiar with woodworking. If you’re not, you may still be able to make it, but you’ll take more time, and it may not come out as perfect as you want.
If you can, familiarize yourself with some basic woodworking concepts before starting. Then, at the very least, you can attempt to learn how to use a saw.
The first step you need to do is prepare the wood for the toboggan. The most common type of wood for toboggans is white ash for a very simple reason. White ash has exceptional impact resistance, so it won’t break or even crack when you hit something with the sled. It’s pretty durable and perfectly capable of going through the snow like it’s nothing.
Aim for 2-inch thick boards—any thicker than that, and you’ll have to slim it down using a saw, which isn’t an easy process. In the wood industry, 2-inch boards are referred to as 8/4. So, after getting 8/4 white ash lumbers, start cross-cutting them to the length you want using a saw.
You can choose the length according to how many people will ride it or how large you want it to be. That’s entirely up to you.
Step 2: Cut the Boards’ Thickness
The next step is vital if you want to be able to bend the wood later on. You’ll need to slim down the wood lumbers to 5/16-inch thick. If you can’t do it yourself, you can always hire a handyman for that. You’ll have him slim down the lumbers to ⅜-inch thick, and you’ll remove the remaining 1/16 yourself later on.
Alternatively, you can use a bandsaw to cut the wood’s thickness yourself. If you don’t have a bandsaw, you can use a wood planer, but you’ll need to get standard ¾ wood lumbers for that.
You don’t have all these tools? You can always use the old-fashioned method and take the wood board on your table saw. For that, though, you’ll have to replace the blade with a kerf one.
Make sure to cut an extra board or two. You never know; you may break a couple while bending, especially if it’s your first time creating a snow sled. Additionally, calculate the width you want before cutting the boards. You’ll need to cut as many boards as the width needs.
This step is optional, but it’ll make it easier for you to bend the wood later. After cutting the boards to your preferred length and thickness, soak them in water for two or three days. That’ll naturally consume more time, but at least you won’t have the risk of breaking the boards while bending them.
You don’t have to soak the entire board in water; I doubt anyone has a container that size! Instead, only soak the part that you’ll bend later on.
After cutting the boards, adjusting their thickness, and soaking them in water, it’s time to steam them. Steam-bending has been used for a long time because it makes the wood more pliable. The process goes as follows: you expose the wood to steam, and the blend of moisture and heat softens the fibers. As a result, you can stretch and bend the wood boards.
Some people use boiling water, but steam is more efficient.
Try to bend a wood board that hasn’t been steamed, and it won’t budge. That’s why this step is essential.
The water soaking will have already softened the wood fibers, too, so the steaming will get it perfectly pliable.
To steam the wood boards, you need first to create a steam box or provide an enclosed container for the wooden boards to be steamed.
If you have a rectangular wooden box, you can use it for steaming. All you have to do is place the wooden boards inside, at least for the first 24 inches of their length. Then use an electric kettle or anything in your house that can produce steam.
Keep the wooden boards exposed to steam for half an hour before taking them out.
Now, it’s time for the most tricky part of the DIY toboggan. To bend the boards, you need any round item in your house or garage so that you can use it as a bending rig. You can use a plastic barrel, a wide water pipe, or even a tree trunk if none of those are available.
You can work with pretty much anything you got, but make sure it’s wide enough for your own convenience. When it’s wide, you can bend multiple boards at once and be done with it. You don’t want to keep bending boards for the next three days, do you?
Plus, the steaming doesn’t have a long-lasting effect. Chances are, the wood will return to normal an hour or two after being left out in the open, so you’ll need to act fast. You’ll also need someone to help you with this step because you won’t be able to bend the boards on the rig on your own.
After bending the boards, leave them untouched for a couple of days. You can use a couple of C clamps to keep them down or weigh them down with any other tool you have.
Your toboggan won’t only consist of bent wood lumbers. You’ll also need cross members to hold the boards together and to provide stopping power.
You’ll need a couple of deck members and one member on the top, and maybe more if your toboggan is extra long.
The cross members should ideally have a ⅝-inch thickness, and the length should depend on the width of your toboggan. You can also have the one at the top thicker than the deck ones because you’ll need to cut a groove into it to fit the bent wooden slats.
For these members, you can either use white ash wood or any hardwood you have lying around.
Make sure to cut the pieces to the needed dimensions, round them, and sand them for a smooth finish.
Now that you’ve left the boards on the bending form for days and you have the cross members ready, you can start putting everything together. Grab the bent panels, and stick them to each other, creating the sled’s width.
Afterward, place the cross members where they should be and drill holes for them. After you drill, attach them to the wooden slats using screws and nuts. This step shouldn’t take much time if you know your way around woodworking.
Now, it’s time to finish the sled. You can choose any wood finish you prefer in any color; urethane variants are the most common for these applications. However, before applying the finish, don’t forget to sand the wood carefully.
Then, add as many coats of finish as you need—ideally, you shouldn’t need more than two. Leave each coat to dry in a sufficient time to avoid air bubbles and cracks.
You’re now supposed to have the body of the toboggan ready. What’s left is to attach the rope. To do that, you need to drill a lot of holes, so get your drill ready and charge it if it’s battery-powered!
Drill ¼-inch holes on the cross boards and across the width of the bent area. Drill as many holes as the width allows, leaving around four inches between each hole. For the top cross board, use nuts and washers for support.
After drilling all the holes, start by running the rope inside them on the top board, then run it along the length of the sled, inserting it into the holes on the other cross boards before tying the ends. As for the other end of the rope, take it out of the top board and tie its two ends together, leaving enough length for the rider to pull it.
If you had a different thing in mind for your toboggan, here are some additional ideas you can still use.
Not everyone can steam wood boards for bending; the process needs a large room and a steam box. These aren’t readily available for everyone. So, instead of bending wood slats to make a toboggan, you can use regular boards and use already-bent water pipes to create the slant.
You’ll have to attach a wooden board across the slant in the pipes, but the process will still be more straightforward and more time-efficient.
If you only want to make a small toboggan for your kid, you don’t have to go through the hassle of cutting and sawing wooden slats. All you have to do is choose an old wooden stool and see what it needs to be a toboggan.
You may need to use some pipes or small wooden boards, and you’ll drill holes for the rope, but the process will be much easier.
If you still have questions regarding DIY toboggans, you’ll find answers here.
You can use other types of wood, but white ash is the best option for two reasons. For one, it becomes pliable when steamed, which is more than I can say for other types. On top of that, it has unrivaled shock absorbance, so it won’t crack when you hit it hard in the snow.
Yes, you can. It’s okay to use anything as long as it fits your wooden slats. Most plastic types have high melting points, so you don’t have to worry about the steam. Just make sure to take the necessary safety precautions.
Sleds and toboggans are two words often used interchangeably. However, they have different meanings.
They have the same structure, except for the runners. Toboggans come without runners on their underside, and some models have only low ones. Meanwhile, sleds have runners.
For that reason, toboggans are faster because there’s more friction against the snow without stopping power.
You can choose to have runners if you’d like, though. Since you’re making it yourself, you’re free to make any adjustments.
As you see, making a DIY toboggan isn’t too challenging. If you have what it takes—basic woodworking skills and a saw—, you can make it without a hitch. It’s worth noting that the process takes a few days, though.
You’ll need to leave the boards on the bending rig for days. So if you want to have your toboggan ready for the new year, the time to start is about now!