As you read this, fall will be in the air and all the forgotten sled work will become important again. One of the things I often see in the shop on sleds that come in for repair are worn towlines (also called bridles) that should be replaced. This is usually a pretty simple process, though it can get complicated on some sprint and high-tech sleds because of built-in bungees and the need for very accurate lines. Remember that your towline is the main connection between the dogs and sled and if it breaks you will have that hollow feeling watching your dogs head down the trail minus the sled. Yet with a few dollars of rope and a little bit of time you can replace or even improve your towline.A lot of older basket sleds, especially those with pedal brakes, often have the towline wrapped around the stanchions. This kind of system works fine but is prone to severe abrasion. Even “iron rope” will abrade (Photo 1) when used in this way and should be changed. I like to keep my towlines simple and run them off of the bracket that holds the bar brake to the sled. (Photo 2) Loops on the ends of the line are attached to the brackets with repair links (3/16” or ¼”). Generally I use 12 or 16 strand braided nylon rope in either 3/8” or ½”. For large freight sleds you can go heavier but I would recommend going to a ½” iron rope. However, I am seeing more racers, especially sprinters, using ¼” or 5/16” iron rope for their sleds. Remember that iron rope is harder to fid because it has less play with the braiding than nylon rope does. Iron rope can give you that extra sense of security as it will not break or cut easy from trail hardships. So far dogs and other animals haven’t seemed too enthusiastic about chewing it apart either. To make your own towline you will need some rope and a set of fids, which are hollow, pointed tubes of metal or plastic that help feed your rope through itself. Start by figuring out how much rope you need by either matching your new rope with the old or fit it from scratch. Remember to add extra line for your loops and braids. While I write about this please refer to Diagram 1. I usually fold and crease one end of the rope back 6” to 8” to start my first loop. Insert this short end of rope into your fid and insert through the rope at the point where your loop ends, usually 2.” Remove your fid from the short end of the rope and put it on the long end. Take this end and insert through the short end of rope just below the first insert point and pull it tight. Take the fid and insert it inside the long length of rope just below your weaving. You may have to scrunch the rope together a bit to make the fid fit. Take the short end of the rope and insert it into the fid. Flatten your weave and pull the fid out forward, leaving the short end of rope buried inside. Repeat this on the other end of your rope. You will have to use a larger fid when you weave using the first loop but you should not find this too difficult.I like to put a center loop in my towlines to help the sled track better down the trail. Refer to Diagram 2. Take your line with the end loops already done and fold it tightly in half. I usually start my loop about 4” from the creased end and take one end of the rope (A) and fid it through the other side. Now take rope end (B) and fid it through side (A) right under the first pass. Then take end (A) again and fid it through side (B). Stretch the line as it would be used making sure that it is the same length on both sides. Attach it and you’re ready to go.I have had several inquiries this summer about using steel on the bottom of runners. I like to use 3/16” or ¼” steel because you can countersink your flathead screws easier. If you have to heat the steel to get it to bend flat on the runner, let it cool before you screw it in. Because of the pressure on the wooden runner I would recommend using flat-head machine screws and bolt through the runner. Remember to trim any excess bolt off above the runner.Another topic that has come up this summer has been the effect that different atmospheric conditions have on gluing up laminate runners. Most adhesives have a range of working temperatures that should be followed closely, not only for the air temperature but also that of the material. When I bring boards into the shop during the winter they are often below zero and need to be warmed up before gluing. Conversely, boards that are warmer than the recommended glue temperatures should be cooled down first. When the air or material temperatures are too high the glue will start to cure at an accelerated pace and not form the needed bond in a multi-layered runner. Cold temperatures do not allow enough adhesive to enter the wood cells which will also result in runner delamination. I also recommend paying close attention to the humidity as well. Low humidity, often found here in Alaska when the temperatures are well below zero, is similar to having warm wood and will cause the adhesive to be quickly absorbed. Even when the outside humidity isn’t an issue, some shops are heated with wood and can have very low humidity inside. In that situation use a kettle of water on the wood stove to help with keeping the situation ideal for gluing. On the other side of humidity, when the moisture content is high, you may want to leave your laminates clamped on the form longer because the curing process can take longer than normal. Remember to do all your thinking about the laminating process before you start spreading glue because once you start there is no time change your mind.With the first frost nipping and some snow in higher elevations it won’t be long before we are heading down the trail again. See you there!


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