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Reviews > Snow Gear > Sleds > DIY Sled and Fire Pan > Owner Review by joe schaffer

DIY Sled/Fire Pan

by Joe Schaffer
March 6, 2016

NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(at)yahoo(dot)com
AGE: 68
HEIGHT: 5'9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.4 kg)
HOME:  Bay Area, California USA

    I started winter camping about 10 years ago on a lunch-bet that I'd not like it. Turns out it's so much more fun than the ticks and poison oak I get while winter camping in the coastal mountains that I make several trips a year to the snow. I winter camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,100 m) 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg) of gear; up to a mile (1.5 km) on snowshoes when tugging the sled.

The gear:sled pull
   Snow sled doubling as a campfire base
Made: October, 2012

   Weight: about 15 lb  (7 kg) 
   Length: 44 in (1.1 m)
   Width: 27 in (0.7 m)
   Thickness: about 1/16 in (1.6 mm)
   Material: Sheet steel        

   Unknown--stuff I had lying around.

Product Description:
   This sled is a single piece of sheet steel. The sides are bent up 1 1/2  in (4 cm) at 90 degree angle. This gives a bit of structure and also purchase to six lash points made of two chain links inserted at the tail, middle and start of the nose curl. The center of the nose curl and tail each have similar lash points. The six-inch (15 cm) nose curls up to a finish of about 90 degrees and is not bent up on the side edges. It has a 20 in (50 cm) keel 3/4 in (2 cm) deep made from bending a 1 1/2 in (4 cm) wide piece of sheet steel into a right-angle and affixed with two bolts.

Tools required:
    I used a hammer, drill, Vise-Grips, hack saw and Skil saw. A metal break and arc welder would have been nice.

How It's Made:
    In simple terms, bend the side edges; bend the nose; stick on some lash points and a keel.

    Draw a center-line front-to-rear on what will be the bottom of the sled (easiest to do while the sheet is still flat and presumably perfectly rectangular). If you have no other piece of suitable material that will yield a 20 in (50 cm) length, cut off 1 1/2 in (4 cm) of either end of the sheet for use as a keel. (Might be easier to bend it to a right angle before cutting it off.) Mark and cut a slit 1 1/2  in (4 cm) on each side, 7 in (18 cm) from what will be the front. Draw a line from the tail to the slit, 1 1/2 in (4 cm) from the edge. Drill a 3/16 in (5 mm) hole about 3/8 in (9 mm) from the edge, 1/2 in (13 mm) from the tail side of the slits; at the cross-wise center of the front and tail; at the center of each side; 1 in (2.5 cm) from the tail on the sides; and 5 in (13 sled emptycm) forward of the slit on each side. Face what will be the top of the sled to the ground, supported by heavy lumber, or as I did it, with 1 1/2 in (4 cm) of the side sticking over the edge of a concrete slab. Start bending the edge down taking 1 1/2 in (4 cm) bites with the Vice-Grips to force a straight line in the bend and to get a bend of about 45 degrees or so. Then stand on the steel and/or otherwise get weight on it to hammer the edge to 90 degrees, using the lumber or concrete as a stop. (Hammering from the start allows too much curl in the bend.) Flip the sheet over and use the Vise-Grips to put a 1 1/2  in (4 cm) bite on the front edge and bend it up about 20 degrees or so. Flip the sheet back over and support it at least 5 in (13 cm) off the ground from the slits back. If you have a cylinder about 6 in (15 cm) in diameter with length a couple inches (5 cm) less than the width of the sheet, place it to support the nose bend. If you don't have that, start hammering a little bit at a time as you nudge the sheet forward of support in order to get a progressive bend from the slits until the nose edge faces the ground at about the perpendicular.

    After bending the keel stock to a right angle, cut the ends at 45 degrees or so. Drill a bolt hole at the very front and perhaps an inch (2.5 cm) or so from the back. Position the keel on the straight line, with the trailing end about 2 in (5 cm) or so from the tail edge. Drill matching holes in the sheet steel. Cut bolts flush with the nut to minimize drag.

    Starting with about 3 ft (1 m) of chain with links of 1 1/4 in (32  mm) length outside, cut one side of every other link for seven links. Bend the link open enough to get it loose; insert it through a lash point hole; hammer it down to close the gap from cutting it open and then bend it back in place. Do this at each hole except at the slits. For the slits, cut the remaining chain in half. Cut one side of the 3rd link for the lash point hole, leaving two links free for the actual lash anchor. Cut one side of the 7th link (or so, test before cutting) to put into the nose hole. This prevents the nose from getting pushed or pulled out of shape. Hammer or squeeze all cut links back together as much as possible or they will rattle out.

    I used a 1/2 in (13 mm) nylon rope, doubled by feeding an end through the end link of each nose chain, then tying the two rope ends in a knot before pulling the big loop until both loops are the same. I find that by next making a loop to step through that then encircles the waist, the rope will not fall down and I can lean into it with all my might and it still doesn't pinch. Experiment to find the right tow line length. Too long impairs control and also allows the sled to plow snow to a halt. Short puts too much binding stress where the rope passes the legs; causes the sled to wobble side-to-side with each stride; and the sled may sneak up on a snowshoe.

    For the lash rope I use a length of paracord tied to the nose center lash point at half the length of the rope. That cuts in half the consecutive length of cord to pull through the lash points, which when snowy and frozen can become tedious.sled fire

Some tips:
    Maybe check trunk dimension before sizing the sled.
    Front-load the sled to minimize plowing.
    Gather up the tow line and lash cord in a plastic grocery bag to keep them dry.
    Tuck the bundle under the nose to keep cinders from damaging the rope.
    Burn on the bottom side of the sled so it will largely self-clean; gear side stays clean.
    The ride can be bouncy enough to shake things out of an uncovered box.
    If the sled hangs up going over a log, the keel angle probably isn't steep enough.

Some cautions:
    Sharp edges, wickedly so if not dressed with a file or stone.
    No brakes--make sure the nose edge is at least 90 degrees.
    The margin between cold steel away from the fire and hot is only a few inches.
    Prolonged heat melts a big hole underneath, and rots the edge.

Field Conditions: 
    I've used the sled about eight times, towing it anywhere from a couple hundred yards to a mile. It's easiest to pull on hard snow, of course; and hardest in virgin wet snow. It pulls through new powder fairly easily.


    I find snow camping a lot more fun with a campfire. The fire sled makes hauling wood easier; keeps the fire on top of the snow; and makes tidy dispersal (cleanup) of char where that matters. Pots don't tip over on the steel. It's too wide to fit in a snowshoe track, sometimes straddling the track (super easy pulling!) and more often dropping one side into it. Great care is required to finesse it in and out of the trunk without snagging car parts or three-layer hard shells. It will warp, but that resolves itself as stuff is lashed on.  Depending on snow, I find I can yard in about 35 lb (16 kg) of firewood and gear on the sled, lightening the backpack to about 35 lb (16 kg) or so. That's all my gear and enough wood for at least the first night, in one trip.

Quick shots:

    a) functional
    b) easy to make
    c) sharp edges

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Reviews > Snow Gear > Sleds > DIY Sled and Fire Pan > Owner Review by joe schaffer

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