I have a wooden toboggan that I bought years ago when I moved to the snow country. It was made in Canada and appears to be birch.
I spent about $65.00 USD for it in 1985. I checked the other day and the same company in town now charges $145.00 USD for a similar toboggan.
The last few years my toboggan began to lose its finish. In addition, the ropes were a little frayed. So after a long, hard winter, when spring came, I began cleaning it and sanding it in preparation to apply a new finish. I was thinking that I wanted this toboggan to be in good shape if another hard winter arrived.
Toboggans originated with the native peoples of what is now northern Canada. With it, they carried supplies and game behind them on narrow snowshoe trails. They monitored trap lines, moved households, and carried furs to trading posts to trade for goods unavailable locally.
These long, narrow, flexible sleds are pulled by hand and float on top of the snow that is packed down by snowshoes (or, in my case, usually a snowmobile).
Today’s toboggans are built much the same way as early ones. Narrow slats of wood, usually birch, are bent and lashed to form a curved front for easy towing. Cross pieces attached at right angles provide a rigid structure. Some early toboggans were quite narrow and were made from one or two wide slats.
Toboggans are treated with beeswax or ski wax or pine tar or linseed oil or marine varnish rather than the animal fat of yesteryear. There may have been other treatments than animal fat as one source states that “old timers used to treat their toboggans and snowshoes with an alder bark soup so that snow would not stick.”
I chose a linseed oil finish to apply to my sled. If I wanted less resistance I might apply a coat of wax. A cake of beeswax applied directly to the linseed oiled finish works well. The toboggan should be dry before application of wax. The wax can be polished with a piece of cork to help work the wax into the grain of the wood.
To store the toboggan, keep it in a cool, dry area, supported well in several places to avoid sagging and warping. Keep it away from heat or damp and do not store directly on concrete. For best results, clean and dry it after each use. Proper storage will keep the sled in good shape for a lifetime of use.
Below are some of the pictures that I took as I sanded and applied the linseed oil. The last two photos are the finished sled without wax, which I might add at a later time.
I should mention that I cut the linseed oil with mineral spirits. The first coat I used 1/3 linseed oil to 2/3 mineral spirits. The second coat was ½ linseed oil and ½ mineral spirits. This mix allows the oil to be carried into the wood fibers.
Photo 2 showing slats sanded and ready for finish.
Photo 4 showing sled with second coat of linseed oil and new ropes installed.