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Here’s how to build your own backyard ice rink this winter

Lumber and plastic unite!

Cartoon drawing of people playing hockey and skating on outdoor skating rink behind home in backyard. Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

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Cold, snowy winters can be long—but ready access to a skating rink can turn a dreary day into a winter wonderland. Even if there’s not a rink in your town, building one in your backyard isn’t terribly difficult, provided that you have the space and time to do so. Most people can probably build one in a weekend, and spend another weekend filling it.

Here’s how to install a 12-by-24-foot ice skating rink on flat ground in your backyard.

What you’ll need

Materials

On left, wooden two by being held together metal bracket. In middle, tan twine ball. On right, silver screw.
Credit: Simpson Strong-Tie / Everbilt

Creating a checklist for the necessary materials will ensure a smooth process.

Tools

On left, neon green hose being held on someone's arm. On right, leveling tools.
Credit: Flexilla / Johnson

Luckily, this project is beginner-friendly and contains some household tools you might already have.

Start building your backyard skating rink

Step 1: Determine your size and space

Before building anything, make a plan that fits your available yard space. Unless you want to pay for an excavator to level the landscape, you’re limited to the size of the largest, flattest area of your yard.

It shouldn’t have more than a few inches of slope, and it should be large enough to meet your skating needs for the season. If you just want to teach your young kids how to skate, then a 10-foot by 10-foot area is probably fine. If you want to actually get small hockey games going, then you’re going to need something much bigger.

If you’re going through the effort of making a rink, I would make it as big as your space and budget can handle.

Step 2: Stake out your rink and create level lines

Once you know where and how big you want your rink, drive wooden garden stakes into the ground at each of your corners.

Starting with the corner that you think is highest, tie a piece of twine to the stake about four inches off of the ground. Then tie the other end of the twine to the next stake. Use a line level to ensure that the string is level.

Check that the string is at least four inches off the ground the entire length of the side. If you don’t have four inches of clearance everywhere, then raise the string until you do. This string represents the top of the ice, and for safety, you need the ice to be at least four inches thick.

Repeat this process with all four sides and the diagonals to ensure that you have at least four inches of clearance everywhere.

Some areas of your lawn will have the minimum clearance of four inches, while other areas will have much more.

Step 3: Lay out and frame your box

Lay out all of your two-by-10s boards to make sure everything fits as needed.

Once everything is in place, start building from the corners. Butt two two-by-10s together and secure them with L brackets and #9 SD connector screws, checking that the corners are square with your carpenter's square.

When all four corners are built and laid out, position them so that they follow the twine layout that you have set up. Check the box is square by measuring corner to corner along the diagonals. Each diagonal should be the same length. If they are not, push the longer diagonal corners closer together until both diagonal lengths match.

Once the box is square, or close enough, then secure the remaining boards along the long edges together with the tie-plates and #9 screws.

Step 4: Create a second layer if needed

The top of your lumber should be several inches above the twine, all the way around. If you have any corners or sides that are close to or below the ice line, then you’ll need to build a second layer to contain the water. To keep costs down, only build the second layer where the water depth actually requires.

Build corners the same way as in Step 3, and secure the second level to the base using additional tie-plates.

Step 5: Build bracing and support

Drive wooden garden stakes into the ground at periodic intervals, pressed tight against the box. I recommend three per board. These stakes will help hold the lumber in place as it takes the weight of the water. Try to drive the stakes at least a foot into the ground, more if you can.

Use a circular saw or reciprocating saw to cut off the tops of the stakes above the box.

Pro tip: If your ice rink has a second layer to hold the water, consider using two-by-fours to create additional bracing.

Step 6: Install the liner

Once the box is built, squared, and braced, install the plastic liner. Always use white or clear plastic for the liner. Darker colors will absorb heat and make the ice melt faster on warmer winter days.

First, clean out the area inside the box. Remove anything that might rip the liner: sticks, rocks, metal, tools you forgot to pick up.

Measure out enough plastic so that the liner completely covers and wraps around the wooden frame on all sides. Cut it to length, and then spread it out inside the box.

Pull the plastic tight. You don’t want large folds and creases, especially not ones that stick up. These interfere with solid ice formation, and if they’re large enough could stick out the top of the ice and trip a skater.

Once the plastic is pulled tight, secure it to the wooden frame with spring clamps. Use clamps instead of staples or nails to both avoid tearing the liner and to let you adjust the plastic as needed while you’re filling.

Step 7: Fill the rink with water

Fill the rink when you’re projected to get several very cold days in a row. Bring your hose down, put the end inside the rink, and turn it on. You may want to clamp the hose in place just so it doesn’t push itself out of the rink.

The size and depth of your rink determines how long filling takes. Expect it to take hours. Check on it periodically, and adjust any plastic that is moving around by loosening the clamps.

Once the water has reached the height of the twine, stop filling. Let the water freeze for several days until it is solid all the way through.

Step 8: Maintain the ice

The work doesn’t end when the ice is frozen. Skating is going to chip and scratch the ice, and snowfall will leave a crusty, slushy surface behind that’s hard to skate on. If you want to skate all winter long, you need to maintain the ice.

You can invest in an ice resurfacer. These devices smooth out the ice and reapply a thin layer of water to make a glassy, skateable finish.

However, they can be out of budget, and aren’t strictly necessary, particularly for smaller rinks.

Instead, you can refinish the ice yourself by shoveling out all of the loose snow and ice, and then flooding the rink again with a thin layer of water. When this refreezes, you’ll have a smooth, clean surface.

Step 9: Dismantle your rink at the end of the season

All good things come to an end, and ice skating season is no different. If you want your yard back for spring and summer, you’ll need to take your ice rink down.

Actually taking it down is easy. Unclamp the liner, roll it up or throw it away depending on its condition, and unscrew the frames. There should be no reason that you can’t save the lumber to reuse next winter.

The problem comes from the hundreds or thousands of gallons of water in the rink. It has to go somewhere, and you don’t want that somewhere to be your neighbor’s yard, or worse, their basement. You also don’t want it to completely ruin your yard.

If you’re confident about the direction the water will flow, then you can just cut some holes in the liner and let it drain itself. Smaller holes will drain slower and with less damage than larger holes. However, if you aren’t confident about the direction the deluge will run, consider using a pond pump to direct the water.

Of course, if you’re far enough away from houses and have a slope in the correct direction, there’s nothing more fun than just knocking down one of the boards and watching several thousand gallons rush away to celebrate the end of winter.

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