DIY Backyard ice rink
Follow this winter’s rink design and construction on my Backyard Ice Rink page.
Update 12/19/2007 – I make it sound easy so it’s only fair to tell the story of my first rink
Update 12/9/2007 – Find out how to build your own rink rake for under $20
Update 12/6/2007 – Here’s a tip for keeping your garden hose from freezing
Update 11/25/2007 – Click here to see photos of how I built this year’s rink.
When I was a kid, every winter my dad would pull out some old boards and plastic tarp and assemble a backyard ice rink. We had a collection of old skates we would go through to find a pair that fit and have a blast skating on the ice.
Three years ago for Ethan’s 2nd birthday we got him his first pair of skates and I decided it was time to put up our own backyard hockey rink. I’ve been putting the rink up for each year since then and have gotten it down to a very simple process. I typically assemble our rink during Thanksgiving weekend, but I decided to post this early for anyone planning on putting up a rink for the first time. I’ll post detailed pictures when I put our rink up, but here is the basics.
How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink
1) Location. You’re yard might seem flat, but you would be surpised. Put 4 stakes in the ground for where you envision your rink will be and rink string across diagonally making sure to keep it level. Now measure how high the string is off the ground from one end to the other. If its 5″ on one end and 8″ on the other you have a 3″ drop. Considering you will need at least a 2 inch ice base that means your water level will be 5″ at the deepest end. This is important for determine what size lumber to buy. If you have a very large drop from one end to the other you can either build a super structure or start getting fill. I’ve done both and getting the fill is the easiest in the long run.
2) Lumber. The construction is actually very simple. I settled on a 16 x 24 sized rink which is two 8 foot boards on one side and 3 on the other. No cutting involved. I had been using 2×8 boards, but am considering going with 2x10s to allow me a deeper ice base and let me cover more ground for a larger rink. 16×24 for fine for little kids, but as they get bigger they will want a larger rink. Make sure you get pressure treated wood and buy a couple extra boards.
3) Hardware. Buy a box of 2 1/2″ prime guard decking screws. The new pressure treated wood will eat threw the old galvanized screws very quickly. The prime guarded ones have a coating to protect the metal. They cost more, but you can use them for several years.
4) Liner. There are 2 ways to do a cheap liner. The first is to buy a large sheet of vapor barrier. Lowes sells a 20′ x 100′ roll which I used for my rink. This stuff works great, but is hard to use for more than 1 season. The roll is long though so I used half one year and the other half the second year. Last season I bought a large tarp which is much thinker material. It seems to have held up fine and will try using it again this year.
5) Assemble. I cut the extra boards into 12″ pieces. These are used on the outside of the rink to attach the boards together and to reinforce the corners. For my 2×3 setup I needed 1 piece on each end and 2 on each side for a total of 6. Add in 4 for each corner and thats 10 pieces. Lay your boards out on flat surface, put a 12″ inch piece over a seam and start drilling in screws. Make sure they bite into the boards, but don’t go all the way through. I used 8 screws on each seam. Once the sides are together, stand them up in place and overlap at the corners. Put a couple screws in to hold it up where they overlap and than add your corner piece on the side to give it some reinforcement. I’ll get better pictures of this when I put mine together.
If you have any gaps under your boards because of dips in the yard, rake up some leaves to stuff under them. If you leave these gaps as-is your liner might bulge through them as it freezes and tear. I used hay for this as well. Anything that the mower can simply eat up in the fall is easiest.
Once the boards are all up, lay your liner down. I’ve attached the liner to the boards 2 ways. With the ‘disposable’ liner I stapled it onto the outside of the boards. This works, but as the weight of the water pulls on the liner it will tear. You also have a mess of staples to pull out in the spring. With my tarp I simply wrapped it over the boards and tucked it back underneath. This worked great, but you need to make sure your tarp is big enough to handle it.
6) Fill It. You are now ready to fill it up. It is best to wait until you are getting some consistently cold temperatures, but this is often hard to predict. Last year we had a very mild winter so I had over 6 weeks with a pond instead of a rink. I fill it from my garden hose to a depth of 2 inches at the shallowest. When it freezes it will expand making it a little deeper.
7) Wait. It will take awhile to freeze all the way through so be patient. If you get on the ice too soon with will just break and freeze uneven. Try and fish out any leaves, branches, or critters that find their way into the water.
8) Prep it. Zamboni time! I purchased a Rink Rake to smooth my ice, but you could easily build one. This is a simple device made of PVC pipe that distributes a thin layer of water onto your ice just like a zamboni. Do this a couple times to build up your ice a little more and make it really smooth.
That’s it! It does take a bit of work and practice, but the materials are really very cheap and most can be re-used for a long time. I’ll post more tips and pictures when we get closer to winter. Feel free to send me any questions you have. Here are some pictures of our hockey rink from last year.
Ethan rescues salamanders from the rink during a warm spell.
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