Having a sled shop in the interior of Alaska allows me the opportunity to see and often repair a vast array of commercial and home-built sleds. This unique situation enables me to not only examine, but often disassemble and rebuild unfamiliar sleds. Over the years I have seen what works, what does not, and some instances of “What were they thinking?” So, to help avoid some of the pitfalls that have been made over the years, I will be covering some of the “do’s and don’ts” of sled building.As a point of reference for those of you who are getting ready to build your own sled based on my recommendations for design and materials: I build for trail conditions in Interior Alaska, which have been pretty grim the last few years. Low snow has left us with fast, icy trails that are often narrow and winding through the woods. These are conditions that are particularly tough on sleds as the constant hard pounding can loosen bolts or a slide into a tree can break a stanchion or headboard. Drags and brake claws were particularly affected as we were often trying to slow down on exposed roots, rocks, and stumps with occasional jarring results. Marginal materials and techniques do not last long in conditions like that.I always stress planning ahead for any sled project, think about how the final design will come together. As I worked on this article a fine example of incomplete planning stood up and stared at me in the mirror. Working on a custom sled order I took too much for granted in the manufacturing of some pieces. When I started assembling the sled it became quickly apparent that the handle would be too far back for where the footboards were located. Since I build runners all the time I had figured that the placement of the foot boards in relation to the rear stanchion would be the same as always, but I had failed to consider the handle angle and extra height ordered. Several pairs of stanchions were also too short. Luckily I was able to use the same runners, but I had to remake all the stanchions. Now for me and all the tools and materials available it was not the worst situation as I will be able to utilize these parts for another sled. However, if you just spent several days working on mortise and tenon joints on your stanchions by hand, a mistake like this could burn up a lot of energy and materials.Before cutting your first board take the time to lay out the design of your sled in full size using scrap pieces of wood or even paper. This will allow you to make any adjustments or changes before you process any materials. Another planning device is to make a pattern piece from scrap for your stanchions to help fit them before you commit to drilling any holes. A large part of sled planning is deciding what you want to use your sled for, what general conditions you will be mushing in and the amount of weight carried. It is very important to remember that there is a vast difference in how much weight a sled can hold and how much weight it can hold bouncing over a rough trail. If you are hauling heavy loads, such as fuel or water drums, look to build a low center of gravity toboggan rather than a tall basket sled. Conversely, if all you will be doing with your sled is running empty with a few dogs on wide trails, a light little basket sled is just the key.The question of weight often comes up when people are building or buying a sled. Some commercially built sled weights are listed deceptively low, often not including runner plastic, drags, bags, and lines. For sleds that are trail ready, which includes brakes, drags, and runner plastic, rule of thumb weights are about 20lbs for sprint sleds, 35lbs for a 4′ basket sled and around 50lbs for a 5′ toboggan. It is very important to build for conditions and need rather than strictly focusing on weight. Lighter means not as much material, so if the sled is involved in an accident it will break whether it has extruded aluminum or laminated wood. At the same time it is important not to overbuild the sled for your needs. A heavy sled with few dogs is not much either. Another factor is stepping on a scale and seeing how your weight will affect the sled. Simply put, heavier people need heavier runners. I would like to throw out a few “don’ts” here. Often things are done out of expediency or improper planning by people not really familiar with sled building, therefore they do not realize the ramifications of what they have done. A common example is people drilling holes in runners or handles, weakening them and causing breaks to occur. In one instance a musher had drilled a series of holes in his laminated handle to weave rope through for bag support. He went out, pulled hook, let off the brake and watched his dogs and sled go down the trail while he stood there with the top of the handle in his hand. Obviously the best way to get ideas about sleds is to look at sleds themselves, or pictures, and talk to other mushers about what works and what does not.David Klumb has been making dog sleds in Fairbanks, Alaska since 1980. David and his wife Joanne ran the 2006 Serum Run. For more information on Laughing Husky dog sleds visit


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