I will never forget the first time I cautiously glided around on my backyard rink. My son had skated early on Christmas morning as I shuffled around in my boots, still unsure of the ice thickness and not wanting to break through. But it had been cold enough the day after Christmas for me to give it a shot. I walked out to the rink and sat in a chair, pulled my warm boots off and laced up my cold skates. I tied the stiff laces, took a look at my wife standing in the doorway, stood up, and pushed off. The ice held. The trees creaked, the moon shone down. I laughed. I had my own rink.
“You’re nuts,” they had said. “You know you have to shovel it, right? And water it down, and build it each fall. And then if you get a hole…”
I knew. But I didn’t care. I really had no idea what I was getting into that first fall and winter, but I knew it would be great. And it was.
What I want to share with you below is a rough approximation of my first backyard rink, the rink that gave life to my son’s love for hockey, my family’s connection to the game, hundreds of memories, and this website. There is absolutely nothing in this world that compares to having your own backyard rink. I want you all to experience what I have experienced.
My goals for your first backyard rink are twofold: I want it to be simple and I want it to be inexpensive. We’ve talked here before about the high startup costs of hockey. The same can be true for outdoor rinks, but it doesn’t have to be. What I’m aiming to do here is to keep the initial costs low to allow you to experience the primal joy of owning your own rink. Once you’re hooked, you’ll find that spending more money expanding or improving it is money well spent.
Disclaimer: As with all things backyard, this is not the only way to do this. It’s just how I did it. I used my setup for two years before I moved to a new house and a new design, but I’m confident that it would have lasted longer.
STOP! Have you read our instructions on how to determine if your yard is flat and level? If not, go read this post RIGHT NOW. Don’t come back until you know that your water level will be under 12″ at all four corners. If it ends up being more, adjust the instructions below accordingly (ie, bracing every 2′ and taller boards).
Though the specific materials can change, most backyard rinks share the same basic material list. You really need four things: a liner, a frame to drop the liner into, supports to keep the frame up, and water. Whether you spend $250 or $2,500, this list does not fundamentally change.
|Boards: For your boards, you’re going to use 7/16″ OSB sheathing. This is the stuff that the big-box hardware stores usually have near the front of the store. It’s cheap, it’s sturdy enough, and best of all, the major box stores will cut it for you. You will need 4 sheets of 4’x8′ OSB, ripped into 1′-wide vertical strips. This provides you with 128 linear feet of board material, perfect for a 24’x40′ rink. (Note: while the Lowes employee was cutting my boards, I checked out the scrap wood pile. I ended up buying several 2′-high pieces of OSB just in case. Not a bad idea if your yard isn’t perfectly level, and always good to have some extras on hand.)|
|Supports: Containing thousands of gallons of water puts a lot of stress on the boards. To keep your rink square (and to keep the water from blowing out the boards), you need strong supports. Some folks use rebar for this, but I’ve had good luck using 2″ x 2″ x 24″ wooden stakes. Home Depot stocks them, but I haven’t had much luck at my local Lowes. They generally come in bundles of six in the lumber or landscaping department. And, as a last resort, even Amazon stocks them.|
|Liner: For your liner, you want something strong and durable. But because we’re trying to keep costs down, you want something at the right price. We’ve teamed up with our sister company, Elite Backyard Rinks, to offer you a deal on a liner perfectly sized for a 24’x40′ rink. The liner is 32’x45′, and made of white 6 mil plastic. To purchase this liner, CLICK HERE.|
|Water: Obviously, it’s best if you can fill using your town’s water supply. You may notice a blip in your water bill if you’re metered, but it’s only a slight increase, and if you were sane and money conscious, you wouldn’t be into hockey and backyard rinks to begin with. If you must bring someone else in to fill (as I have to), look in the Yellow Pages for pool water. I use a pool water company (for anyone in Southern NH, it’s Fortin out of Londonderry), and the driver says he fills a couple dozen rinks every winter. The cost for this runs me an extra $200 or so.|
|Extras: There are a few items you’ll need to finish your install, but the cost is trivial and the pieces can be purchased anywhere. The first is a series of small metal mending plates (see image), which I used to connect the boards to each other. You don’t have to use these, but I found it helps. Second, you’ll need at least four L-shaped corner brackets to connect the boards. I used eight (two at each corner), and where the cost is relatively immaterial, I would recommend it. Lastly, you’ll need screws to hold it all together. I suggest the stainless variety, or the type you use to build a deck. Make sure they’re not so long that they’re going to go through your boards and puncture your liner.|
Boards: 4 pieces of 7/16″ OSB sheathing at $7 each, or $28
Total Cost: $249
Construction is much easier if you have a helper. Plan on some extra time if you provide beer or if your helper is one of your non-adult children.
1. Start out by staking out your four corners, ensuring that the rink area is square. To do this, simply take four stakes, measure out your length and width, and pound them into the ground. Then you need to check to ensure it’s square. To do this, measure diagonally across the rink from one corner to the other. Jot down that length. Then switch corners and measure the other diagonal. Once your two diagonals match, your rink is square. (Tip: for a 24×40 rink, your diagonal should be ~46.6 feet).
Once your rink stakes are square, run some string between each stake. When we build customer rinks, we then take some landscape spray paint and paint a line over the string. We then remove the string and stakes, and the spray paint provides you with a perfectly straight guide when installing your boards.
2. Lay out the 1′ boards you had cut around the inside of your rink. Start in one corner, having a helper hold up two corner boards while you connect the boards using an L-bracket. From there, connect your boards to each other using the connecting plates, making sure to keep the boards in line with the string/paint you ran in Step 1. While you are connecting the boards, your helper can pound the ground stakes into the ground on the outside of the boards you have already connected. Start with 4′ spacing between ground stakes. (Tip: Pound the stake 1′ into the ground, which leaves the top of the stake level with the top of your boards. Then drive a screw through the inside of the board into the stake.)
3. Continue until you have your entire frame built. Walk around and give the boards a little kick; add additional bracing where necessary. There is no such thing as too much frame support. If it moves, support it.
Liner Installation and Fill Day
Once your frame is built, watch the weather. Weather.com’s 10-day forecast will become your new favorite site, as you look for 3-5 days of sub-freezing temperatures.
To install your liner, lug the box out to the center of your rink. Carefully cut it open and begin unrolling the liner. It may take a bit for you to recognize which sides are your long sides, but just keep unrolling until it becomes clear. If you need to rotate it, an assistant makes it easier.
When your liner is completely unrolled, center it between your end boards and your side boards. Walk the perimeter of your rink and make sure the liner goes all the way to the bottom of the boards before you bring it up and over the edges. It’s not a good idea to staple the liner to the boards before filling, as you may need to provide more slack. I’ve used spring clamps to hold the liner to the top of my boards, and Nicerink’s yellow bumper caps serve the same function while improving aesthetics and safety.
If you can help it, wait to lay your liner down until just before you’re going to fill it with water. I have to have my water trucked in, and last year I had to lay my liner the night before. To help keep the liner from ending up in my neighbor’s yard, I ran my garden hose for an hour or two, filling with just enough water to keep the liner on the ground.
As you fill, keep an eye on the boards, bracing, and liner. If your boards are bowing out, pound in a ground stake. If the ground is frozen, use rebar. If the water level is approaching the top of your boards, you can slip in a piece of the extra 2′ OSB between the liner and the 1′ board, then make a note to increase the height at that end the next year. If the liner is pulling away from the boards toward the center of the rink, unclip the spring clamps and provide more slack. You want your liner to press right up against the boards and the ground around the whole perimeter, as this will reduce the likelihood that the liner will tear.
Assuming your fill day went well, all that’s left to do is sit and wait. If you haven’t already, join the Backyard-Hockey.com Forums. Any questions you have will be answered by the brilliant minds that make up the group, and you can find ideas, suggestions, solutions, and a dash of humor in the archives.
It’s also a good time to read up on some of our other backyard rink articles, such as these:
Finally, now that you’re a part of our exclusive family, check out our Backyard Rinkbuilder’s Commandments. We wrote it for fun, but we also wrote it because it helps define the unwritten rules we all live by.
Owning a rink is hard work. I’ve tried to make these instructions as easy as possible, but don’t let that fool you into thinking any of this is simple. But as hard as it can be to get bundled up in the dead of winter to go shovel nearly a thousand square feet of snow by yourself, the return on your investment is unlike anything else.
Stop thinking about building a rink. Build a rink. And let us know how it goes.
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