Restoring an Old Sled





Introduction: Restoring an Old Sled

About: I enjoy taking a pile of junk and making something unusual out of it. I like wheeled vehicles, and currently own two motorcycles, two electric bikes that I've built, and an electric scooter pushed by a soc...

My wife and I acquired an old sled on our last trip to New Mexico that had been sitting outside for probably 30-40 years.  Because of the dry conditions, it was in reasonably good shape for the shape it was in!  The wood was dry, but intact.  The paint on the metal frame was bleached by the sun, but only had a little surface rust.

Because of the dryness of the wood and the condition of the paint, I decided to disassemble the sled and refinish it.

The tools used were as follows:

- electric drill & 1/4" bit
- wire brush
- small punch
- wrenches
- screwdriver
- rubber gloves

Supplies purchaced included:

- primer for metal
- tung oil finish
- sandpaper
- carriage bolts, nuts, & washers to replace the rivets
- zinc plated wood screws

Step 1:

The first thing I did was photograph the sled (top and bottom), and temporarily label each wooden part.  I have found that a good set of digital prints are very valuable when it comes time to reassemble something you've taken apart.

The sled was riveted together with 3/16ths diameter rivets of various lengths.  Since my rivet gun only works with 1/8th diameter rivets, I knew I would reassemble using carriage bolts.  So, the first thing I did was drill out the end of each rivet and drive it out using a small punch.

As I removed each wooden part, I labeled it with a marker (in an area where it woudn't be noticed) so I would know exactly where it belonged.

The cross-pieces were all riveted in place, and the long boards were nailed to the cross-pieces.

Step 2:

With all the wood pieces removed, I sanded each piece, beginning with 120 grit paper and finishing with 220 grit.

For the finish, I decided to use tung oil.  Tung oil is generally not my first choice in finishes, but it is very thin and is readily absorbed into the wood.  Since this sled had set outside in the desert sun for several decades, I felt it could benefit from a penetrating type of finish.  Anytime I use an oil-based finish like this, I always dispose of my rags inside of several plastic bags filled with water.  Rags soaked in this type of finish have a tendency to catch on fire spontaneously if placed in a waste container.

Another word of caution -- use rubber gloves when applying this finish.  They put  warnings on the can for a reason!

I lost count of the exact number of coats of finish I used, but it was about a half-dozen.  I would put on a coat, then wait 12 hours, then put on another.  When the finish no longer soaked into the wood, I figured I was done.

Step 3:

While waiting for the wood finish to cure, I worked on the metal part of the sled.  It had only slight surface rust in a few places, so I was able to wire brush it off by hand.  I then sanded the metal with 220 grit paper.  Where the old paint was tightly adhered to the metal, I simply sanded it enough to break the surface.  Where the paint had chipped away from the metal, I sanded it aggressively and feathered the edges

After prepping the metal, I sprayed it with a rusty metal primer, and let it cure for 48 hours.

Step 4:

The final step was to spray the frame with red enamel. 

After the paint had cured, I reassembled the sled using carriage bolts to attach the cross-pieces, and wood screws to attach the long boards to the cross-pieces.  Before installing the carriage bolts and screws, I used an metal oxidizer (gun blue) to make them look old. 

Where I live we get very little snow, so this sled probably will never actually go down a hill.  It will, however, make a great centerpiece on a banquet table this Christmas!



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    13 Discussions

    Where did u buy the carriages bolts and what size?

    1 reply

    Great instruction very detail (sandpaper grit etc). Very clean and the photos are fantastic. thanks a lot.

    7 years ago an older lady gave me a radio flyer sled in great condition. Paint still good. Just need to recondition the bottom blades. And recently working in an attic I found another one exactly like mine looking a little run down. But nee to be repainted and sand the blades. Are they worth anything. If so contact me through email. And let me know you how to refurbish it or can they be sold if interested.

    I have the same sled you are using in your Instructable and mine still has all the paint on it. I be alive the name of both of our sleds are called The Western Clipper.

    I have the same sled you are using in your Instructable and mine still has all the paint on it. The name of your sled is a Western Clipper

    That's pretty sweet! A long time ago we found a broken sled at the bottom of our hill, it was a Radio Flyer III or something, really short sled, we replaced two broken boards and it worked great ever since.

    Why aren’t there any “Citizen Kane” based jokes in this? Great article! Perfect simplicity.

    1 reply

    "It was his sled... you're welcome. I just saved you 2 hours you'd never get back otherwise..." - Peter Griffin

    Ever been to NM? There are mountains over 8,000 feet, ski resorts, lots of snow in the winter.

    This shows how (relatively) simple it can be to breathe new life into old stuff. It makes me want to track down an old sled, or perhaps an old pair snow shoes.

    Thank you!