When I first started building sleds in 1979 the concept of the bar brake was just coming into use on the new toboggan sleds hitting the market.Up until then the most accepted method of braking a sled was the pedal brake. (Photo #1) These came in a variety of shapes and attachment points but ultimately came down to a long piece of wood with a chunk of metal on the end. Old skis worked great as pedal brake boards and pieces of angle iron were an easy claw. The wonderful thing about pedal brakes (other than never having to worry about getting your foot caught between a brake bar and sled) was the ability to press on the brake and move it side to side which helped with the steering. It is amazing that with all the developments in brakes and drags since then, that simple feature of the old bar brakes has never really been replicated. NorthStar Sleds may have been the first to start selling basket sleds in Alaska with a bar brake attached. In the early 1980’s Kim Sorenson and Gary Brown had been crafting basket sleds and were sharing shop space with Pete Buist and Jon Gleason of 1049 Sleds, who were building an early Tim White style toboggan. This grouping put a lot of creative talent and new materials like plastics and aluminum under the same roof and a lot of innovations in sled building resulted. The beauty of the bar brake is the ability to engage the brake in a wider area between the runners rather than the small and often glancing target that could be a pedal brake. (Photo #2) Installation is easy; just get a pair of aluminum angle brackets (usually 1/8” or 3/16” thick and around 5” to 6” long) and a brake bar bent to the proper width for your sled. Remember to mount the brackets with the vertical side flush with the inside edge of the runners. The bushings between the brake bar and brackets will give you the extra space needed to allow the brake to be depressed without interference. If you can try to attach a brake bracket to your runner using existing eyebolts so much the better. There is a lot of pressure on the brake, especially if it catches on a stump or other trail obstruction and you do not want it to tear off. Add your bungee, brake claws and for any contact area, especially on wood, a short piece of rubber hose works well as a cushion.In the last few years more and more race sleds are using a brake system that has a narrower brake bar to allow a floating drag to wrap around it. (Photo #4) The drag, usually held off the snow with a bungee, flips up and locks onto the rear of the sled when the musher wants to kick or run behind the sled. This style allows the musher to feather both the brake and drag at the same time to help stabilize the sled and keep the tension constant on the dog team. Because of the tighter angles involved in bending the extruded aluminum for this type of brake bar you might want to have one made for you.It’s hard to say who the first musher to attach an old chunk of snowmachine tread to a dogsled was, but drags have become common on most sleds. Most work as a softer brake and can help stabilize the sled. But all too often I see sleds come in that have a drag that is out of proportion to the sled size and use. When attaching a drag assembly to your sled keep in mind the usage and the number of dogs that will be pulling it. Drags can be attached in a variety of ways but it is important not to attach it in a way that will break a sled piece if caught. Avoid attaching a drag to a crosspiece or stanchions. Try to attach them to bridles, brake brackets or toboggan beds. For extra help on ice you can use snow machine track studs. They come in varying lengths and are available at most snow machine dealers. A good and cheaper alternative is to use Grade 8 bolts (1/4 “ is fine) with large washers and nylon lock nuts.Drags come in two basic styles, flip-up or positioned. Positioned drags are always there between the footboards and can interfere with your kicking and braking. You often see positioned drags on training toboggans where speed and weight is not a real issue. (Photo #5) Flip-ups usually are attached to pivot points by either aluminum or UHMW arms. Sometimes with a larger chunk of drag material on a flip-up you can get a bulge that can interfere with the access to your brake. Always try to use the proper size drag for your sled and mushing situation. Brake claws have also undergone a myriad of changes in the last 25 years. From the days of the angle-iron pedal brake we now see double-carbide stainless steel brakes. Though the modern claws come in a variety of styles for the most part they consist of a piece of metal (with a welded paddle and tip) that runs perpendicular to the brake bar. These brake claws are made from both regular and stainless steel and can have either threaded stock or replaceable tips, usually carbide.An option for a cheap brake claw has always been steel angle iron. I have used this type of claw on children’s and beginner sleds for years and they work very well. Try to cut a point at the bottom of the angle to help in icy situations. The best size of angle is 1” or 1 1/4” wide and 1/8” or 3/16” thick. Without a doubt one of the reasons that devices that slow and stop sleds have come so far in the past ten years is the fact that sleds have become significantly lighter and therefore moving much faster in situations where added control is needed. It should be interesting to see where the sled weight to drag ratio will balance out. Hope you are all taking care of your sleds this summer and I look forward to writing more about sled building in the next issue. Until then, play with your puppies.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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