How to build your own backyard skating rink
From basic to an epic, handyman Chris Palmer has your step-by-step guide
We asked handyman Chris Palmer how to build the ultimate home entertainment system for winter: a backyard ice rink. In essence, making a rink is just a matter of trapping some water and waiting for it to freeze. In practice, however, the process can be a little trickier. Palmer broke down how to make a basic backyard rink, and then offered modifications for anyone who might want to level up for more serious games of hockey, for example, or even to take it out of the backyard and create "skate anywhere" surfaces.
The basic skating rink
Palmer describes this project as "a simple basic fundamental rink for kids who just want to skate, do a little stick and puck, work on their stick handling, not really shoot too hard".
2x10 pressure-treated lumber to create a perimeter. Palmer recommends waterproofing the ends of the boards where they're cut to protect them from weather damage. You can use cut-n-seal for this.
2x2 ground stakes: Palmer recommends using 2x2 deck balusters, cut into appropriate lengths.
A rink liner (a big plastic tarp).
These are the basic building blocks of your rink. You'll need to decide how big your rink is going to be before you know how much of each you'll need.
Phase 1: Picking a spot
It's tempting just to pick up some gear and figure it out as you go along. Don't. Palmer told us to "always plan it out. Don't just jump into the lumber store." Knowing ahead of time where your rink is going to be, how big it is, and exactly what you'll need is going to save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
The first and most important part of planning a rink is to pick a good site. You want a large flat space. Most yards have a minor slope in order to guide rainwater away from the home. A large slope, said Palmer, "is going to create a lot of havoc when you try to make the rink. If the ice is only 3-4" thick on one side but has to be 8-12" thick on the other, you're fighting yourself." Even small grades can create big headaches if you are trying to make a large rink, so Palmer advises finding the most level spot you can.
Once you've found a good spot, decide how large you are going to make your rink which will determine how much lumber you will need and how large of a rink liner you'll have to buy.
If you can't find a flat enough spot, there are ways to work around a grade. Palmer told us that if you wait for the first snowfall, you can pack some snow into the more depressed areas to even out the surface before laying down the rink.
Phase 2: Building the boards
This is the most labour-intensive phase of rink building. Basically, you want to build a low barrier around the skating surface in order to hold in the water and to keep sliding pucks on the ice. Here's how Palmer broke down the process:
- Map out your skating rectangle.
- Mark the four corners and put in some corner stakes.
- Put up a string line marking the outline of the rink.
- Attach a 2x10 board to your corner stake along the string outline. Put another stake into the ground at the end of that board, leaving a slight gap. Then attach the first board to the next board using offcuts from the 2x10s.
- Work your way around the string outline till you've created low boards around the rink area.
*Depending on the slope in your yard, you may need to make one end of the board higher than the others. This means you may need some 2x12s to 2x6s on one side and may even have to use 2x4s for ground stakes, rather than 2x2s, because they'll have to hold more weight.
Phase 3: Placing the rink liner and filling it with water
Once you've built the boards, you should lay down a rink liner (AKA a big plastic tarp) to prevent the water from seeping into the ground. Palmer recommended choosing a liner that's at least 2 feet bigger than your perimeter so you have enough extra plastic to pull about 1 foot of slack over the edge of the boards once it's all laid flat on the ground. Once that's done, staple it in place.
When the perimeter is built and the liner laid, all you need to do is to fill it up with water and wait for it to freeze. Most people just use the yard hose but Palmer warned us that, "if you live in the city this can cost a pretty penny and takes a long time." It can take up to four days to fill up a big rink with a garden hose and if it's cold out, this also poses a risk of frozen hoses and burst pipes. Palmer recommends hiring a water truck, which he calls the "time-saver god-send for backyard rinks." Water trucks are just trucks with giant tanks of water on them that are usually used to clean streets or to spray down dusty work sites. They'll come fill up your rink area in an hour or so, and cost $100-200 depending on how much water you need.
Palmer likes to fill the skating area when it's still 1 or 2 degrees above freezing rather than waiting till it's already -10. If you're using the hose method, this can help avoid freezing.
Phase 4: Maintenance
Even if you pour a perfect sheet of ice, it's not going to stay perfect. Rain, snow, and everyday use can all put bumps and imperfections on your ice. This means that you'll periodically have to do a little maintenance on the ice to ensure a smooth skate.
If you're very ambitious, you can build a homemade Zamboni-style ice resurfacer. But for basic maintenance, Palmer uses a flat scraper which can be found in any garden tools department. If you want to give the ice a more thorough resurfacing, get out your hose or a few buckets of hot water. The idea is that when the ice gets rough, you can just pour on another layer of water which will freeze and provide a fresh smooth surface.
Palmer also reminded us to watch out for rain and snow. You should watch out especially for rain or freezing rain. "If you get a blanket of snow, let a dusting lay on it, but when it gets wet, make sure you shovel it off because that stuff is the worst thing for your ice. Wet snow always ruins the surface."
Modification: The "epic hockey rink"
The rink described above is perfect for pleasure skating and a little stick and puck. But you want to start playing hockey and taking serious shots, Palmer says it'll be a "lose-the-puck rink." He's made a video showing how to use 2x4s and plywood to build end boards, creating what he calls an "epic backyard hockey rink". "With this style, you're inviting a more aggressive game of hockey, so I could put a net there, I could take slap shots, I could take wrist shots…. and the puck will bounce off the boards and come back onto the rink and you can keep skating. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time out in the snow looking for pucks."
Clifton Mark writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and other life-related topics. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.