Today, sleighs and sleds conjure up images of children on bright winter afternoons coasting down snow-covered hills, squealing with joy. The origins of the conveyances featured in this chapter, however, are far more practical. In northern regions of the world, the sled evolved centuries ago as a humble yet efficient carrier, transporting food and belongings over ice and snow. From the Inuit dogsled and the Laplander pulka to the Russian troika and the American “one-horse open sleigh,” sleds provided the edge that pre-industrial northerners needed to survive on snowy terrain.
Each of the three pieces described in this chapter can trace its lineage to one or more of these early antecedents. The bent-runner sleigh pictured above and at left is a refined version of the traditional sled. Its raised-deck design is based on the sleds of Switzerland and Austria. Despite its delicate appearance, the sound construction techniques shown beginning on page 46 will produce a very sturdy sled.
The Yankee clipper (page 54) evolved in Colonial America, and has been a popular fixture of winter frolicking since Revolutionary times. Perhaps its most famous incarnation
was “Rosebud”, the sled that played a key symbolic role in Orson Welles’ classic 1941 film Citizen Kane. You can build yourself a version of this sled with a modest investment in wood.
The toboggan shown on page 58 is not very different from its primitive forerunners, which were used by North American natives long before the arrival of Columbus. Although the toboggan may be based on an ancient design, it is an ingenious means of transportation, perfectly adapted to travel in loose snow, whereas raised-deck sleighs require a packed-snow surface to glide efficiently. The heart of any sled lies in its runners, and each of the three models in this chapter uses a different design. The runners for the low-to-the-ground clipper are the simplest to make. As shown on page 54, they can be cut out on the band saw. The bent-runner sleigh with its raised deck requires stronger runners, which are curved by bending and laminating thin strips of wood. The flat runners for the toboggan—constituting both deck and gliding surface—are flexed to such a tight radius that steam bending is the only practical way to make them.
A strip of ultra-high molectdar weight plastic is fastened to the underside of the sleigh runners shown at left. Strong, flexible and easy to install, the strips protect the wood runners and will make the sleigh glide better.