How to Build a Backyard Hockey Rink

by Jeremy Rupke on November 27, 2013

The Quick Explanation of building a rink

The best way to build a backyard rink that will give you the most skating time, and require the least amount of maintenance is to basically build a temporary above ground pool. The basic components you need are brackets, boards, and a liner.

Brackets and boards can be purchased from a backyard rink company, or improvised from your local hardware store. The liner should be purchased from a backyard rink company as quality does matter here. Of course you can forgo the liner, however this will cause a lot of headaches in climates that don’t see consistent below 0 temperatures until January.

Where to buy Backyard Rink Supplies

Some of the most common supplies for a rink are brackets, boards, a liner and a handheld “Zamboni” to flood the ice. I have included two good resources below

  • Nicerink.com – You can buy everything you need
  • HockeyShot.com Backyard rink kit – You get the brackets and liner for a 20ft x 40ft rink, you will need to purchase boards (plywood can be used). The rink can be expanded later with more brackets and boards and a bigger liner. Use our coupon code  HOWHCKY001   for $10 off
  • The article below – Joe provides very good instructions on how to build your own rink, and has a lot of good knowledge to pass on. He also has links to his store where you can purchase supplies

Thanks to Joe from backyard-hockey.com for writing this guest post

Building your own backyard hockey rink

For a quick explanation we have shot two videos below. You can also read the article below for more details

As any hockey player knows, having an open sheet of clean ice is a rare and beautiful thing. I can remember back in high school, our team practiced right after school ended each day. As seniors, we’d set up our class schedule to have the last period free, meaning we could get to the rink with a full hour to go before practice officially started. To be the first one on that perfect afternoon ice was to have heaven all to yourself — to breathe in that beautiful rink smell, to feel the cold air sweep by your face, to be the first to carve ice with steel. In those solitary minutes, everything was right in the world. Before long, the ice was crowded with teammates and coaches, the structure of another practice in full swing, the perfect open ice gone for another day.

I didn’t build my first rink until I was 28. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, and I was a bit nervous, but when the boards were up and the liner was in and the water truck was parked in front of my house, I knew it would be incredible. And it was. A few days after we filled, the ice hard and my two-year-old son asleep, I turned on the floodlights and snuck out back, Bauers slung over Sher-Wood. I tied the cold laces and stood up. For the first time in a decade I felt the rush of clean, smooth, untarnished ice, the same feeling that had me sprinting for my car each afternoon as a teenager. The ice was mine and mine alone, just as it was then.

Building and maintaining a backyard rink is hard work, and nobody who has done it will tell you otherwise. But I’ll stop short of saying it’s difficult — and there is a difference. Chopping firewood and shoveling snow is hard work. Calculus and brain surgery are difficult. That’s to say that with proper planning and good instruction, everyone reading this can build a rink in their backyard. You just need to do a bit of homework first.

For all intents and purposes, a backyard rink is nothing more than an above-ground swimming pool, albeit one with only a few inches of water. When it comes to how to build it and what to use, there are literally thousands of variations, each rink as different as the person who builds it. But each one shares three common (and mandatory) components: boards, bracing, and a liner. Some folks in very cold climates will pack down snow and flood it, using snowbanks as boards. I don’t live in a climate that supports that, so I won’t be talking about that here. But what I will give you below is a rough idea of how most people I know build their rinks – me and my customers included.

Before we get into the materials, you’ll need to determine if your yard is suitable for a rink. I wrote a post on this process recently, but I’ll summarize it for you. The way to do this is by using wooden stakes, string, a line level, and a tape measure to determine your yard’s slope. Start by staking out the four corners of your would-be rink, visually determining which of these four corners is the high point. This will be the corner of your rink with the least ice thickness — we shoot for 4″ at a minimum. With your string tied to this stake 4″ off the ground, run the string to a different corner, attaching your line level to the middle of the string. When the string is level, measure how far off the ground the string is at the second stake. If your high corner is 4″ and the string is at 10″, then you know you have a 6″ slope and that your ice will be 10″ thick at this corner. Repeat these steps for the other two corners, making sure to write your numbers down. Once you know your water depth around the entire rink, you can move on to the rest of your build. (Note: many new rinkbuilders opt to skip this step, often saying “my yard looks level”. I hear this every year, and many of these people are surprised when the water is running over their deep end boards while the shallow end has exposed liner. Don’t be one of those people — they tend to have angry and disappointed kids.) Need more detail? Here’s a blog post on the process.

The Boards

For the most part, you’re looking at using one of three options: plywood, two-by lumber, or backyard rink specific boards like the thermoplastic pieces made by Nicerink. Which option you choose depends on things like budget, availability, and the aforementioned water height. For example, if your water height is 25″ in your deep end, then you won’t be able to use the Nicerink boards (which are 18″ tall) or 2x lumber. But if you’re lucky, and your yard cooperates, you have a choice to make. The Nicerink boards, part of a collection of Nicerink products made specifically for backyard rinks, are the best money can buy, and will last decades. But they’re not cheap, and so many rookie rinkbuilders opt for plywood or 2×12 lumber. The 2×12 (or 2×8, or 2×15, or…) lumber is thick and sturdy, but is heavy and not easily stored in the offseason. The plywood is inexpensive and easy to cut into strips, but tends to flex more and won’t last as long. So while all three kinds are viable and used throughout the backyard rink community, one may suit your yard, budget, and needs more than the others.

The Bracing

A rink is only as good as the bracing used to support it. In general, water HATES being confined inside a backyard rink, and so when you fill your rink, that water works hard to push your boards outwards. It’s the bracing you use on the perimeter of your rink that keeps the water in and allows it to freeze. What you use to brace your boards is a function of the board material you chose, your slope, and your budget. Nicerink makes a triangular bracket with 6″ spikes along the bottom which are great because they accept Nicerink boards and 3/4″ plywood. Others have used wooden stakes, rebar, homemade triangular brackets, 2×4’s pressed up against the boards at a 45-degree angle, or even fence poles. A search online will yield dozens of designs, and it’s impossible to rank one over the other. For the most part, we advise that you put your bracing every four feet around the perimeter of the rink unless your water is more than a foot deep. If it’s deeper, make it every two feet. But there’s a rule I subscribe to, and that’s that there is no such thing as too much bracing. There IS such thing as too little. So err on the side of caution, particularly in your first year, and brace the ever-living crap out of your rink. It beats the alternative.

The Liner

The third component of your rink is the liner. I sell Nicerink liners (and use them on my own rink), but I’ve found that most communities will have a handful of places that sell tarps or sheeting suitable for rinks. The important things to note are thickness (thicker is better) and color. Ideally you want white or clear, because anything dark (like those blue tarps) will attract the sun and impact your ice quality.

Everything Else

As I said earlier, the boards, bracing, and liner are the three most important things you’ll need to build your own rink. But there are dozens of accessories available to enhance your experience. Most of my customers opt for yellow foam bumper caps, which help keep the liner in place while you fill and provide a soft, safe surface atop your boards. Lighting is another thing to think about, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. I have three work lights (the same kind you get at a home improvement store) attached to 2×4’s. You may not think you’ll skate at night, but the lights certainly help when it comes time for resurfacing. And that’s another thing you’ll want to think about getting: a resurfacer. Nicerink sells one (of course), and it’s a beauty, but there are instructions for building your own on my blog for a fraction of the cost. Regardless of which one you choose, using a resurfacer is the best way to get indoor-quality ice.

The Build

When I build rinks for my customers, I break my services into three visits, and they mimic the work you’ll need to do each season. The first is the frame build, which you’ll want to do before the ground freezes. This is because you’ll want to make sure you can pound your bracket of choice into the ground. Many people do this step between late November and early December.

The next step is the liner placement. You can’t really schedule this step, as it’s entirely weather dependent. You’ll need to look at the long-range forecast for your area, and target a cold snap that is 20 degrees(F) or colder at night and 32 degrees (F) during the day. Then, and only then, will you unroll your liner, carefully position it within your rink, and start to fill. Some tricks for this step:

-When you unroll your liner, make sure it’s flush against both your boards and the ground all around the perimeter. If it’s not, the water pressure could tear the liner as you fill. Order a liner large enough to drape over the outside of your boards, allowing for plenty of slack as you fill.
-Don’t EVER staple your liner to your boards before you’re completely full. Uuse the bumper caps, or inexpensive spring clamps, to hold the liner in place on fill day.
-Have some extra board material and bracing on hand the first time you fill. In subsequent years you’ll know what to expect, but whenever I build a new rink, I keep extra brackets or wooden stakes on hand in case I notice any board flexion as the water level rises.

The last step is rink teardown, which you’ll want to do as soon as the last bit of ice thaws. This is a sad but necessary job, particularly if you have grass underneath that you want to grow. Some people will roll up their liner and reuse it the next year. I’m partial to buying a brand new one so I don’t have to worry about holes when I go to fill the second season. It gives me peace of mind.

So while it would take me 10,000 words to tell you all I know about backyard rinks, this is a good summary that will work for just about every yard and budget. I have also summarized the tips below

Ten Tips for Having the Perfect Backyard Hockey Rink

  1. MEASURE YOUR SLOPE FIRST! People who say “my yard is pretty flat, I don’t need to measure” are the same ones who end up with water gushing over the boards in their deep end while their liner flaps in the wind at the other end. Check your slope and know for sure where your water line will be when you fill. This is the single most important step to building a rink
  2. When planning the location of my customer’s rinks, these are the four things I look for: a flat spot near the house, near an outdoor water source, not over the septic or leach field, and a place with adequate outdoor lighting (or the ability to add it).
  3. Don’t skimp on your bracing. I’ve seen pictures of thousands of rinks. I’ve never once said “wow, they really could have saved $50 by using less bracing”. Brace your rink to withstand nuclear fallout and never worry about a catastrophic failure.
  4. Don’t put your liner down until you’re about to fill, and don’t fill until you’re staring at below-freezing daytime temps (colder at night) for the next week. If you put your liner down and fill too early, you risk punctures from tree limbs and adventurous animals bathing themselves in your pond.
  5.  Fill all at once, and use a water delivery service if you can spare the couple hundred bucks. Don’t try to fill in layers because you could jeopardize your liner. If you put down one inch of ice first, then try to fill again, the new water will bore a hole in your ice and fill from the bottom up. This will push up that first layer of ice, which could damage your liner. Avoid this by filling all at once.
  6. If you notice a hole while filling, hurry up and patch it. Acoustic sealant, roofing tar, and Nicerink patch tape work best. If you’ve planned it right and it’s cold as hell out, the top layer will freeze quickly. Get your patching material in there before it does, or else you’ll have to punch through the ice to get down to the liner.
  7. To get the best ice surface, think like a Zamboni. The Zamboni sweeps and collects the snow first — you’ll do this with a shovel, snowblower, broom, or squeegee. Then the Zamboni lays down a layer of hot water. For your rink, use a homemade homeboni (like this one) or the NiceIce resurfacer from Nicerink. Hot water is best, but cold water works great too. Unlike your initial fill, your goal when resurfacing is several thin layers. And don’t forget to bring your hose and resurfacer inside after you’re done.
  8. Make sure you have adequate lighting around the rink. You may not think you’re going to skate much at night (particularly if your kids are young), but you’ll need the light to do your rink maintenance. It’s colder at night, making it the best time to resurface.
  9. Snowstorms are inevitable. Do your best to keep the rink clear. Waiting until the storm is over is ok, but get to the rink quickly. The snow acts as an insulator and actually bonds to the ice. This can ruin your surface if left along long enough. You can get it back with several floods, but it’s a pain. Best to shovel early and often.
  10. You won’t damage your grass if you get your liner up early. As soon as the ice melts in the spring, drain it using either a submersible pump or a simple siphon. Once it’s empty, cut the liner up into strips and dispose of it. Then get a new one the following year and start all over again!

Backyard Ice Rink Instructional Videos

I have found a few good videos (and a lot of BAD ones) on youtube about how to build a backyard ice rink, I have included a few of the best ones below.

Time Lapse video of building a backyard rink

Another method and some good instruction
I think using the “above ground pool” method might work better than the one in this video, but this is always and option and one that I have used

About Joe

Joe runs Baackyard-Hockey you can visit the blog here Backyard-Hockey.com, it has a bunch of how-to articles that go into each step in depth. Please bookmark that site if you’re thinking about building yourself. His other company, Elite Backyard Rinks, was created to help people who aren’t really interested in the DIY thing but still want a rink. They are an authorized distributor of Nicerink products, and even if you’re not in their service area (NH, MA, ME), they can help order your parts and get you connected to an installer in their network. And by all means, if you have any questions or need clarifications, leave a comment here, hitthem up on either of our Facebook pages (B-H.comEBR), or reach out via Twitter.

I wish you the best of luck. Building rinks is not the easiest thing you ever do, but it may well be the most rewarding.

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Jeremy Rupke

Coach
Hi my name is Jeremy. I LOVE hockey and I am passionate about improving and helping others improve. My goal is to break every hockey skill down into easy to understand articles and videos. I explain everything step-by-step to help others improve. If you want to learn more about me you can read my about page. Thanks for reading and sharing!

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan August 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Has anyone ever tried excavating their yard so the rink is sunken, or building a platform to use a rink?

Reply

Jim Stoller August 24, 2014 at 7:17 am

Good Morning Evan! This is an interesting question, in wondering he reason that you’d want to do either of those. We have seen clients excavate their yards to make them more level/flat in order to make it easier to create rink in their backyard with less water and less effort. My two thoughts on your question: 1) If you sink the rink, and then add a liner, there’s not an “easy” way to then empty the liner in the spring besides getting a pump and pumping it out. 2) Building a deck: a) if it’s to possibly create a colder area under the rink to freeze it faster….water freezes from the top down. It may help cool the water quicker with less thermal heat from the ground, however it would be a lot of effort, with what I would think minimal gain. b) if it’s to help save the grass underneath, their have been minimal problems in our 23 years of backyard ice rink installs and consults. As long as you have a quality white liner that isn’t going to seep water through and is more puncture resistant than just regular clear plastic, I would say there’s a 99.9% chance of nice healthy turf underneath in the spring, or shortly thereafter :) If you have any further questions, please feel free to Contact NiceRink Support at: http://www.NiceRink.com/Contact Thanks!

germenio February 11, 2014 at 11:10 am

Is it a problem if I add a thin layer of water in the daytime? I’ve been told not to add water during the day, only at night, out of the sunshine, but I’m not sure if this is accurate.

Reply

Jeremy Rupke February 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

It’s fine, you can flood the ice whenever. Usually thin layers are the best

Lydia November 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Can I build a rink with a deep and of 12″ and a shallow end of 4″?

Reply

Schyler December 2, 2013 at 6:58 am

Mine is 16″ and 2″, so the answer to that would be definitely!

Schyler December 2, 2013 at 7:03 am

I should add that the key is to use sturdy bracing, especially against the “deeper” sections and in all corners. With that much water on a slope there is a tremendous amount of force being applied by the water/gravity against your boards.

Lydia December 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Thanks! That is what we are worried about. We are afraid that if we get a few warm days and the ice melts the water pressure will be too much on the boards. Any more suggestions?

RPS October 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I have heavy boards constructed of 5/8″ plywood on 2 by 4 bracing that I use for my outdoor rink. The boards range in height from 18″ to 12″ to account for the slope in my yard. I have two questions…

1) I was thinking of laying down my liner first this winter and then putting the boards on top of the liner and bringing the liner up around the outside of the boards. What would be your thoughts on doing the liner this way?

2) Any suggestions (aside from excavating by backyard) of what I could put under the liner in the lower end of the rink to minimize the extra water that has to be used in order to level of the surface and get water up to the high end?

Reply

Jim Stoller October 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm

RPS, be very careful if you do lay boards on the liner as that may cause holes in theliner. The boards on top of the liner “could” from being bumped or freeze thaw cycles and create movement on top of the liner and create tiny holes. One tiny hole, not so bad….lots of little holes bad! I would suggest the liner inside the boards and then adding some sort of kick plate or kick board on the inside to cover the liner to at least the ice level or a little further.

As far as the deep end, you’ll still need to build your boards high enough to accomodate the slope in the yard, but you can get bags of mulch or dirt, or even use leaves…..stack them up or pile the leaves in the deep corner. If doing the bag method stair step the bags down from the deep side so its not just one big drop off. Then for all methods get a tarp or sone other cheap piece of plastic, lay it over the bags or leaves even doubling the layers. This will help to give the liner some cushionand protection from any sharp mulch pieces or sticks/twigs in the piled up leaves so they don’t puncture your liner.

Mike October 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Hi RPS,

My name is Mike with Iron Sleek Backyard Rinks. The liner behind the boards is a practice that is mainly used for refrigerated rinks. Those rinks are level better than an inch and are artificially kept frozen. With natural rinks, you are basically skating on a manmade pond which would mean that your board bottoms will be submerged in water. That will destroy you boards. I actually advise my customers to use extra liner so that they can drape it over even the outside of the board to protect it from rain and melting snow. Extra liner will help keep your boards healthy for the long haul. Iron Sleek liners come a bit wider than the standard 32 and 40 foot wide cuts. We carry 35 and 45 wide. In conclusion, I do not recommend you put your liner behind the boards because it will destroy your plywood.

Be careful what you put underneath your liner. If you put something biodegradable beneath, it will stink real bad come spring. Sand bags are heavy, but they do the trick. Be sure to build your walls sturdy on the deep end. Iron Sleek has Corner Brackets and Out Rigger brackets that can be used to help support your boards on the deep end.

LB September 22, 2013 at 11:01 am

Jeremy,
I worked as a private security guard at a small private school (not a wealthy one). we have had to practice hockey inside our improvised gym (no ice). This will be a new sport for our school and the coach and I would like to build our first outside ring (we hope with school permission). The cost will be mine alone as the school will not and can not afford to aid. Ive read your instructions and need to know is there a min. size we can build. We will probably only to field 5 to 7 players this year. Thanks for any suggestions you may be able to offer.

Reply

Jim September 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

LB, The most important item when building a rink and one on a budget for that matter is making sure to get a good liner that will not only hold the water for you, but will also save your ice when it gets sunny and/or warm out. For the sides of your rink, if you don’t mind a little hard work, and the players as well, the sides can be “constructed” out just about anything that will A) be tall enough to be higher than your deep side B) be able to support any deeper water weight you may encounter because of land slope. You can email me directly: info@nicerink.com and we’ll give you a hand with our 22 years of rink building knowledge. Look forward to hearing from you! Jim

Jim July 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm

As Joe mentions, simply visit NiceRink.com for 21 years of product development along 150+ combined years of skating, playing, coaching, hockey directing and dadding.

Reply

Mike May 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Iron Sleek has a compact steel bracket and other hardware that makes DIY rink building a breeze. Iron Sleek will be adding many new products to help get the job done for 2013. Keep checking in.

Reply

patrick February 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Thank you for this article–I have a relatively level area upon which to build a rink, but it’s over the leaching field. (away from the septic tank) Why is this a bad spot to place a rink?

Thank you

Reply

Jim July 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Patrick, shoot me an email at info@nicerink.com and I’ll be able to fill you on what we know.

Keith December 18, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Nice post. I just finished framing in my 3rd rink. Each year it gets bigger, maybe because my boys are getting faster… not sure. Anyhow I’m hoping Santa or Jack Frost delivers a steady shot of ARCTIC air throughout the winter. So far, we’re off to another poor start. I found out last year that my deeper corner froze thicker & longer than the shallow side. I suppose this is due to thermal compression & ground temp. This year I’m planning to make it at least 8″ deep…and 20-22″ on the high side. I’m guessing it will take 3-4 days to fill-up.

Cheers
Keith

Reply

JL December 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm

I live in Mass and i made a rink last year that worked ok. but this year i need to use 2 pieces of liner this year. I read that if you seal the pieces together with acoustic sealant and then tape it, that it is leak-proof. Is this a good idea?

Reply

Jim July 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Not really a good idea. You really can’t get the same water holding seal that you can from a good factory seam. I would try to get one piece.

deborah aaron November 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Can you join 2 tarps together to make outdoor rink w/o it leaking

Reply

Jeremy November 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I doubt you would be able to join two tarps and flood them, then wait for it to freeze, but you might get away with it if you get a bit of snow first, pack it down and then add the water. The tarp would help keep some of the water in until it froze and eventually the ice would form a seal

Adam November 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I had good results a couple of years ago taping two tarps together using red tuck tape ( the stuff used for insulating the outside of houses ), the important thing to remember is that it has to be applied in a warm area ( inside or well above freezing ). Like I said it worked great but the tarp will only last you a year. Last year we upgraded to the nice rink kit and had a great winter of skating.

Josh November 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I can’t build one of these I live in southern CA !!! :)

Reply

Schyler December 2, 2013 at 7:07 am

yeah, but you can swim in your pool year round! lol

Gabe Ruffolo October 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm

These are great tips. Iron Sleek has a steel, space saving bracket, that works great for most backyard rinks.

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Mike J October 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Great tips here! As mentioned make sure you but your rink in a level spot. This will be my 3rd yr building a rink. I use the nice rink products and they are the best. After your initial investment you will only need to buy a new liner each year(mine just arrived today) and then you are set. We are creating so many great memories and my 3 sons love it! My oldest son is the best skater in his league and I’m sure it’s because we have our own rink.

Reply

Gary October 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

We tried last year to build a rink, the weather was so mild here that it never froze completely. So we bit the bullet and bought synthetic ice. Best investment to date. Now we can skate whenever!

Reply

Gabby August 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm

The last two winters we have made our own ice rink in our yard here in Iowa. Last year the ground wasn’t even, and the parts that had water never froze because it was so mild out. The year before my sister and I were just trying to figure out how to skate on our own, but the rink turned out great, and we just made it out of 2×4 and supported it with some lose bricks that we found in our yard. Now we moved to a golf coarse, so we can’t have a rink, but I really enjoy roller skating on the driveway and the cul-de-sac. Good luck with the rinks!

Reply

Chris December 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Great post. I am14 and i have been using a nice rink for the past 4 years and i look forward to the winter time every year. I live in NJ so it isn’t too cold but it works. Also, @BC i know that there are refrigerated rinks out there but they are very expensive.

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DF December 14, 2011 at 11:21 am

great article guys… do you have any suggestions, or links, on building some type of backstop for behind the net other than building it up with plywood? I’d be looking for something to use on a pond, but figured whether it was a backyard rink, or a pond, you’d be able to use something similar. Thanks for your help!!

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Annabelle November 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Nice post guys! I was planning to build my own rink this winter so theses tips are just in time.

Thanks:-)

Reply

BC November 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

To bad I live in a warm weather country. Wish I could have a backyard rink during the winter as well.

Reply

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