Make Your Own Wooden Pack Snowshoes!

Materials needed:

Wood:

Piece # Dimensions
Side rails 4 13 3/8 x 1 3/4 x 5/8 in
Slats 6 6 3/4 x 2 x 5/16 in
Heel slats 2 8 x 3/4 x 4/8 in

Rope:

Heel rope 2 1/4 x 15-20 in
Side ropes 4 3/16 x 8 in
Toe rope 2 1/4 x 8 ft

Introduction:

This pattern used to be called “Swiss Army Snowshoes” but I’ve since changed it to be “Pack Snowshoes”. I originally got the idea for these from a magazine, but have seen them in antique stores.

Minus the time for the glue and finish to dry, these only took about 4 hours to make. Much more quickly than other snowshoe kits.

You can probably get scrap wood from a lumberyard (what I did) or you might even have enough lying around your wood shop to make a set. If you don’t have a table saw to cut the pieces with, many lumber yards will cut the wood for you for a small fee.

The best wood to use is hardwood, though I used pine on the side rails in my pair. The rope is anything pliable that holds a knot well. Usually there is rope around the house or in your gear to make a set. I just went to the hardware store and bought what I needed. I used solid braid nylon for the side ropes and twisted nylon for the rest. The next pair I make will be all hardwood and all the bindings will be solid braid nylon.

Wood pieces:

Once you have the side rails cut, you will need to cut mortises centered in the thickness of the side rails for the slat to fit through. Each mortise needs to be 2 inches wide, 3/4 inches deep and 5/16 inches thick. The two end mortises will start 1 3/8 inches from the ends and the the center mortise will be 5 11/16 inches from BOTH ends. If done perfectly it will be in the center. But, just in case you’re a little off, it’s best to measure and mark from one end only.

Even if you’ve never done mortises before, done worry, they’re not that hard. It’s easiest to use a mortise chisel and a mallet or a drill press with a mortising bit, (I used a mortising table with a mortising bit, worked well). If none of these are an option for you, drill a series of holes where the mortise will be and pare out the rest with a chisel. This way takes a little longer, and isn’t as precise, but works well nonetheless. No matter what method you use, make sure the slots are staight, so the final assembly is easier.

If the slats are made with a mortising chisel or mortising bit the slats should slide in with no problems. If you used the drill and pare method it’ll be a bit harder and you may have to fit each slat individually.

Once you have everything fitted properly, put the pieces together. Put some glue in the mortises and it the slats and assemble them. The article that inspired this page reccomends drilling a 1/8 inch hole through the slat and siderail and gluing in a 1/8 inch dowel in the hole. Cut and sand the dowel flush with the surface to help pin the shoes toghether.

I sanded the edges of the siderails so they weren’t sharp. I also beveled the ends so they slope up, almost like a ski. This was to reduce weight (minutely), make them safer and easier to slide across the snow.

The last bit of assembly to do is put on the heel slat. This goes on the top of the snowshoe, and when worn, fits just in front of the heel on your boots. It goes 4 1/2 from the back of the shoe and is screwed on. If you use mukluks to snowshoe in, or have boots with no really pronounced heel, leave it off. My hikers have a pretty flat bottom, so I left it off. A note: if you screw this together, use a coated or stainless screw so it doesn’t rust.

Drill 1/4 in holes for the bindings. They are centered in the width of the slats, and are 13/16 inches from the inside edge of the rail. To take a bit of the sharpness out of the edge of the hole, run a countersink bit on either side of the hole, or use a knife if no countersink bit is available.

Bindings:

The bindings are simple to put on and to use. They also are great because they adjust to any shoe size. Follow the instructions for each shoe.

For the back of the shoe cut a 1/4 in thick 15-20 inch long piece of rope. Tie an overhand knot in one end, thread the rope through the holes so the knot is on the bottom and a loop is on the top. Tie another knot on the other end so the loop won’t fall out.

For the middle slat cut two pieces of 3/16 inch thick rope, 8 inches long. Tie the ends together to form a loop. Thread the loop throught the hole so the knot is on the bottom of the shoe.

For the toe rope you’ll need to cut a 1/4 inch piece of rope about 8 feet long. Thread one end of the rope through one hole on the front slat and one end through the other. Tie the ends together, on the top of the shoe, with an overhand knot. There should be 3 1/2 to 4 inches on each side of the knot. However, check to see if it needs to be larger with your boots. Run the left end through the left side rope, and out the left side of the heel rope. Repeat with the ride side of the toe rope. Tie an overhand knot in each end of the rope.

To finish the shoes, coat them with some form of exterior grade water proofer. I used Thompson’s Water Seal left over from finishing my dog sled.

These shoes aren’t perfect for every snow condition and WILL NOT replace regular, commercial sets. They are good for crusty snow, in my experience. For flotation- a little tough. You have to be careful to not move too quickly. You’ll only sink in 2-6″, but that’s still a lot better than waist deep. They are nice because they are small, fit in a sled, and the heel ropes allow them to hang from the outside of a pack. They do well in densly wooded areas as they are more maneuverable than larger snowshoes. Depending on where you live, they may be just the thing to carry in your car for winter emergencies.

The bindings are easily replaced or repared with rope, twine, or whatever else is handy.

I would like to try these with a laminate wood and several other materials. I’m also trying to lighten them up some. I don’t have the total weights of the shoes yet, but they are comparable to many other snow shoes on the market, especially the wooden ones.

If you do make them, I would like to hear about it.

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