Building your own rink

The weather’s getting colder, and there’s a second round of lockdowns on the horizon. With the pandemic raging and the rinks shutting down again, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. This winter, skating goes back to the days before indoor rinks with artifically frozen ice were readily available.

Today, backyard ice rinks seem to be mainly the province of hockey players. Jack Falla’s Home Ice is all about hockey (though he does note that he had to allocate separate sessions for hockey players and figure skaters on his backyard rink. And the main online resources, most notably (and the associated book written by Joe Proulx), are aimed at hockey.

Like all skating, figure skating was originally done outside, on natural ice. Nineteenth-century skaters arranged for the ice to be groomed carefully to make it perfect for figure skating. Back then, rinks were built by hired men rather than the skaters themselves. They did all the maintenance, including resurfacing the ice, by hand. Although some of their expertise has been lost, there’s no reason you can’t build a satisfactory outdoor rink and skate on it. It doesn’t even need to be very large. Alan F. Arnold called 16′ x 28′

about as small as anyone could want, and yet…big enough for its purpose, which was to allow a small boy to learn to skate and his father to practice elementary figure skating.

Arnold 1927, 672

The technique I use is quite simple. It consists of four steps:

  1. Build a rink frame. I use 3/4″ plywood and NiceRink brackets. This can be done any time.
  2. Put down a plastic liner. It’s tempting to use black plastic to get black ice for figures, but don’t do it. The dark color absorbs the sun and melts your ice. Use white or clear plastic sheeting that’s preferably at least 6 mil thick. The timing of this step is tricky; it needs to be done just before step 3.
  3. Fill the liner up with water. I use my hose. It takes some hours to reach the necessary 4″ depth in the shallowest spot. This should be done right before the temperature drops below freezing for 3–4 days.
  4. Wait for it to freeze. When the ice supports your weight, you can skate.

If one is sufficiently philanthropic, a rink like this can be a great boon to the neighborhood; if not, he may have his hands full keeping the neighborhood off.

Arnold 1927, 673
Alan Arnold’s backyard rink. From Arnold (1927, 673).


Alan F. Arnold. 1927. “Back Yard Ice Rink.” The Playground 20 (12): 672–673.

Jack Falla. 2000. Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Joe Proulx. 2016. Backyard Ice Rink: A Step-by-Step Guide for Building Your Own Hockey Rink at Home. New York: Countryman.

1 thought on “Building your own rink”

  1. […] I was hoping to travel to the World Figure & Fancy Skating Championships held in Plattsburgh, NY, on 12/31/2020 and 1/1/2021, but with all the public health officials advising against travel due to the pandemic, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Instead, I skated the championship at home, mostly on my backyard rink. […]

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