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How To Make A Backyard Rink

Without a Liner
With a Liner
On A Lake


Without A Liner - ( Not the best way, in my opinion

    I only recommend making a rink this way if you live in a climate that doesn't get mild temperatures for extended periods of time. If not, all you need is snow, water, patience (lots of it) and a cold day - and the colder the better.

The location of the rink should be the flattest part of your lawn if possible. This piece of advice should not be underestimated. You can save yourself a lot of frustration if you "level off" the area you are putting your rink. Also, I have heard you should move the rink from season to season to prevent weedy areas that sometimes result after years in the same spot. I have never found this to be true, but if you have the room, why not. 

    To start, you need no more than 25 centimeters of snow in the area you are making the rink. If you have more than that, you will have to remove some. Pack the snow solid to about 10cm thick with a shovel, a rented roller or, have some children run around on it for a while. I used to put my two children in one of those snow scoops and push them around. They loved it and it got the job done. 

    Make the base as level as possible. Keep in mind you will have to compensate for sloping areas. Make the base thicker in the lower end of the rink. Enclose the base with snow banks at least 30 centimeters high. Higher banks (60 cm) will make the ice last longer. The white snow will reflect the sun so the heat doesn't stay on the surface. The ice will last longer even when the temperature goes above freezing for short periods. So make the banks as high as possible. 

    Once the rink base and enclosure is made, it's time to spray some water. As I said earlier, the colder it is the better. Personally, I wouldn't start making a base without at least -15 degrees celsius. Water the base, swinging the hose back and forth, with a fine spray until it gets "slushly". Depending on water flow and rink size, the initial flooding should take no more than a half-hour. Depending on the temperature, you should wait 1 - 2 hours for that to freeze. In the end you should have 6 to 10 cm of base ice. 

    When that freezes, you're ready to start adding layers of ice every half-hour for about 4 hours ... each time increasing the thickness by one cm (if the temp is below -18 C). The perfect temperature range is between -10 and -15 degrees celsius (14 and 5 deg Fahrenheit) for ice to solidify smoothly (add a layer every 1.5 hours at these temps). If the temperature is not cold enough, or if you overwater at a warm temp, a condition called shell ice could result. This is where the top layer of ice crumbles very easily. A rule of thumb: The warmer the temperature, the lighter the application of water. I have only found shell ice to be a problem when the temp is up around -1 C to -5 C. Any colder than -5 C and you would have to apply more than 0.5 cm of water to get shell ice. 

    By the time you're finished, there should be about 8 cm of ice. It will take you longer than 4 hours if the temp is not -18 C or below. You may have to add more water than that to level off the entire rink. It depends on how level your base is in the beginning. If you have this  problem, try flooding only the lower areas for a while until you build them up, and then go back to flooding the entire rink. For maintenance you should shovel regularly and at least after every second skate, flood just enough to repair skate marks and cracks. Whatever you do, don't leave wet snow on your rink for very long. If the temp drops, that snow will be next to impossible to get off your ice. For boards set small pieces of two by fours around the perimeter on top of the base ice, they will freeze in place as you flood. 

    If a warm spell damages the rink, patch the holes with snow, then watering as usual. If you have a thick base you shouldn't have to worry about mid-season thaws, unless they are extreme. If it gets that warm, you probably won't mind anyway. 

With A Liner - ( In my opinion, this is the best way ) 

    Another method is to remove all of the snow base, make a border out of wood and then lay down a heavy tarp or plastic liner. (Note: If you haven't already, please read the first paragraph from the instructions above.) I make my plastic liner out of 6 mil ( super 6 mil is best) vapour barrier (I buy a roll of 6 mil that is 10'x100' for $35 Canadian), duct tape and acoustic sealant (see below for details). The liner will save your grass from any ice damage, plus I have found I get a better, flatter rink in a shorter period of time. 

The reason you should not use snow to make a level base is that is will probably melt on you. What has happen to me in the past is that after we get a certain amount of rain, the snow that I used to level out the base had melted and the plastic dropped in one corner. As a result, a lot of the water ran off...and because the plastic had dropped, I couldn't fill the water to the level I originally had. That year I had to settle for 4 inches in the deep end and 1 inch in the shallow end, for the rest of the winter. The moral of the story was: DON'T USE SNOW TO MAKE A LEVEL BASE!!

    For a border, you can use 1" x 6" boards but 2" x 6" boards are better, because there can be a lot of pressure put upon the frame if you put more than 3" of water in the liner. 2" x 10" is better again, as it provides better boards for keeping pucks in and may actually be necessary in the lower ends/sides of your rink where you will need more water. When constructing the border, fasten the boards together at their ends using either door hinges or small flat metal strips with holes (mending plates) or small pieces of scrap board. In the low areas with over 5" of water, you may want to join the boards with 18" lengths of wood with heavy screws. Use some type of stake for support every 4' if using 1" x 6", and every 8' if using 2" x 6", on the outside. Keep the stakes the same height as the boards, don't have them sticking up as that is dangerous. The reason I remove the snow base is because where I live, there is normally a lot of mild weather in the winter and the base will melt anyway, causing the frame and liner to drop, allowing water to run off. 

    To make my plastic liner I cut the vapour barrier in half at the 50' mark and join it along the sides using the acoustic sealant and duct tape, to form a sheet of plastic that is 19.5' wide by 50' long. The procedure for joining the plastic along the sides is to first lay a bead of acoustic sealant along one side of the plastic, then lay the other piece of plastic on top of the acoustic sealant. The seal is complete when you duct tape the plastic together on both sides. You should have an overlap of about 6" that is "leakproof" when you are finished. I should note that this is probably a bit of overkill on my part. I have actually only duct taped one side of the plastic without using any sealant, and not had any leaks. I always feel I am living dangerously when I do this, so consider yourself warned, you may get a leak if you leave out the sealant. If you decide to leave out the sealant, you can reduce the overlap to about an inch. This will make your liner wider (19 feet 11 inches). It is also important to note that I always do this indoors and then leave my liner indoors for at least a couple of days. I have never had any leaks and this may or may not be a big reason why.

If you can find a one-piece plastic liner that is the right size for your rink, then you are one step ahead of me. I have a real problem getting one here, for a reasonable price. The companies that sell the one piece custom liners are one option (probably the best option if you can afford it), and places that sell greenhouse plastic (usually big sizes) are another option. I would have to get 2 years out of one of these liners for it to be feasible for me. I am not sure that would happen. In the spring during the thawing of the rink, I would think the liner may be damaged beyond repair. 

Another option as I mentioned earlier is a heavy tarp. I have tried this twice. The first time didn't go so was blue liner. The second time I used a white tarp and things worked out very well. I probably will try the white liner again. However I won't ever re-use a tarp. The last time I tried that the tarp leaked from the beginning and I had my worst rink yet. One thing I would be concerned with using a dark colored tarp, is the sun's rays being drawn to it when it starts to warm up in late winter. This is something to keep in mind. Please pass along any comments anyone may have about this. 

Anyway, when you get a day that the temperature is below zero, put the liner in place, making sure to let the excess liner run up over the wooden frame, and staple it to the top or outside of the wood. I also like to lay pieces of wood on the liner (in the middle of the rink) so it isn't affected by the wind while it is filling up with water. Then you can turn on the water. When you have at least 3" to 4" of water all over the rink you can turn off the water and wait until it freezes. Remember to remove the pieces of wood as soon as they start to float. You don't want them frozen in the middle of your rink. 

With any luck and a low temperature, in a couple of days, or maybe even the next day depending on the temp, you will have a sheet of glass to skate on. In the past, I have flooded on one day and with a -18 C overnight, my children have skated on the rink the next afternoon. But, it's quite possible some fine tuning (light flooding) of the surface may be necessary if a rippling effect occurs during freezing, but at least you have a really good base to work with that was created in a day or two, even if the temperature was not all that cold. This is very important in a climate like mine. (Newfoundland, Canada). 

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

On A Lake

Click here for info on building a rink on a lake.

NOTE: This document will be pdated with new information on an ongoing basis. The process of building backyard rinks is a constant learning process. I cannot be held responsible if these instructions do not work for you and I am not liable for any damage caused as a result of following these instructions. 

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Since Sept 5, 2000

Last Modified: January 03, 2011