I absolutely cannot take credit for this design, as a member of the Yahoo! Backyard Rink group described it in an e-mail back in December of 2009. When I e-mailed him and asked for his permission to include it here, the e-mail bounced. So Rob (rbrand1124), if you’re out there, the backyard rink community thanks you!
The necessity of an ice thickness ruler may not be obvious at first. In fact, I’ve spent the last two years building a backyard rink without the ability to see how thick my ice was. For the most part, that inability was a non-issue. But one day in the middle of last season changed my mind.
It was January 3rd, and we were digging out from a three-day storm that saw nearly a foot of light, fluffy snow cover our rink. We had filled two weeks prior, so I assumed my rink was frozen to the ground, and that my liner was holding a solid brick of backyard ice. I was wrong — instead of a solid slab, my rink was merely a floating block of ice on top of a layer of water. The weight of the snow had pushed the slab down within my rink frame, displacing the water underneath and forcing it to seep up around the sides. This mixture of water and snow created a miserably-heavy 2″ layer of slush, the existence of which wasn’t known until I planted a dozen size-12 footprints in it across the length of the ice surface. You can guess what my dad and I did for the next two hours. Our backs won’t soon forget.
Without clear boards, it’s difficult to see how thick your slab is. And when you don’t know if your rink is frozen all the way to the ground, it can affect your approach when you’re trying to decide between removing snow during a storm or waiting until the last flake has fallen. It also helps with the “Can we skate dad? Can we, can we?” questions. Thus, the reason for this post.
Lucky for us (and thanks to Rob), the creation of an ice thickness ruler is really simple. The only things you really need are a thin piece of metal, the ability to cut and bend it, and a Sharpie. The general idea is in the image to the right, using my 2″ x 12″ boards as an example.
Your first step is to figure out how big your rulers need to be. This is primarily a function of your board height, but you may also want to take into account the depth of your water and the type of boards you’ll be using. The most important dimension of the ruler is the long middle part, which should closely match your board height.
I found a bunch of metal strips in the hardware section of my local big box hardware store and purchased two pieces of 1/16″ x 1″ x 3′ aluminum, which is flexible and won’t rust. These particular pieces are made by SteelWorks, and they cost about $5 each. Cutting each piece in half will yield four rulers, one for each corner.
To bend the flat metal, I just used a block of hardwood and shaped the aluminum into a series of 90-degree angles. Once you have the basic shape down, use a ruler or tape measure and mark off 1″ (or 1cm) lines with a permanent marker. To protect the lines and numbers, cover with a strip of clear hockey or packing tape. To protect the liner once the ruler is in place, take a dremel or piece of sandpaper and round off any jagged edges. (Update – good call by fellow rinkbuilder Dave McKenna in the comments: to further limit the risk of a liner puncture, wrap the bottom of the ruler in some sort of protective tape. Electrical would probably work. If you wrap it a lot, just offset the inch markers to compensate.)
And you’re done! When it comes time for fill day, lay your liner as you normally would, and then place your ice thickness rulers at each corner on top of your liner. Do this either before you fill or while your rink is filling, and the bottom of your ruler will be in place when the ice starts to form. The State of Minnesota says you’re safe to skate when you have four inches of solid ice.
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