Eskimo Sleds




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Site Contents

By Dan Beard

But while this proves that January is really a Moon of Difficulties, I do not expect any of my readers to use their bare hands with which to shoe their sled runners with ice, and if they try it, it will take them a week to get their hands warm again. But what I want my readers to do is to make an Eskimo sled for their own use, Figs. 407, 411, 414, 415 and 416, and they may use white man's methods and white man's material, where it is necessary. An iron shod sled will be better for us in our comparatively warm climate than one shod with ice that is liable to melt in a short time.

Also, in place of thongs, which our wet weather will cause to stretch and make the sled wabbly, we may use copper wire, Figs. 407 and 408. We may also use milled lumber of which to make the runners, Fig. 405, and if we do not have access to the woods where we may find "knees", 

Figs. 400, 401, 402, 403 and 404, for the back of our sled, we can get cheap hockey sticks, Fig. 410, to act as substitutes and barrel staves, Fig. 409, for the top of the sled.

A real savage and a real Woodcrafter use the material they have at hand at the time. This is more fun, but, of course, there is more sentiment attached to the making of a sled of primitive material than there is of making it of "boughten" stuff. If some of my boys cam now chip flint arrow heads like the Indians themselves, then they should also build an o-dab-ban as well as our red brothers or the Eskimos. 

Speaking of arrowheads, you will be interested to know that since I published the description in August 1921, telling how to chip flint, the Chief Camp Director of the Boy Scouts of America, Mr. McDonald, has become wonderfully expert, and makes beautiful arrowheads, not only of flint but also of plate glass and broken bottles. Next we want to see our Chief Camp Director McDonald build a real honest-to-goodness o-dab-ban. In the meantime, let the reader get busy and see if he cannot beat him to it.

In December 1917 1 published detailed drawings and descriptions of how to build an Ostabonning o-dab-ban, Figs. 417 and 418, or Indian sled. But this time we are going farther North than Lake Ostabonning, way up where the musk-ox and the walrus dwell, up where the gold mingles with the sands of the river bars and ocean beach, up in the land whitened with the snows of winter, and whitened with the bones of tenderfeet in the summer where they are

"Left for the wind to make music through ribs that are glittering white."

But if these tenderfeet had only known how to build and manage the Eskimo o-dab-ban, Figs. 407 and 408, or the St. Michael o-dab-ban, Figs. 411 and 416, they might have come back with their sledges loaded with gold dust and valuable furs in place of being "Frozen stiff in the ice pack."

The Eskimo sled is a dog-sledge, as is also the Ostabonning and all the other various forms of sleds and toboggans used in the North. But if we have not a pack of huskies, a patrol of boys will do just as well. The back of the Eskimo o-dab-ban, as may be seen by inspecting Figs. 407 and 409, has an arrangement of braces for pushing the sled along, and very frequently also for helping the tired man along as he hangs desperately on to the handle of a dog-pulled sled.

Fig. 399 shows how to select wood with the right curve to it, in order to use the knees to fit on the sledge. Fig. 400 shows how to split the trunk and root in halves by use of wedges. A and B, Fig. 401 and Fig. 402 show how to score the wood so that it may be hewed off at the dotted lines, as it is in Fig. 403. Figs. 404 and 403 show the brace in the rough, Fig. 404, as it is trimmed into shape.

Now if you are an unfortunate city boy, in place of going to the woods and cutting out the natural knee from a tree, you may go to the sporting-goods shop and buy a couple of cheap hockey sticks; Fig. 410 shows the knee on a hockey stick which I have before me. On the original drawing, before it was reduced to fit the pages of a book, the bend or foot of the hockey stick (natural size) measured exactly twelve inches.

The hockey stick is strong, but too thin, for our purpose, so you may reinforce it, C and D, Fig. 410, by sewing two pieces of wood, one on each side, with wire.

In order to fasten the wood together, first use a small gimlet, or awl, make holes through the three pieces of wood, the two outside pieces and the hockey stick sandwiched between. Then run copper wire through the holes and draw it tight as at C and D, Fig. 410, twist the ends tightly together, after which trim the edges of the sticks down as shown by the dotted lines in Fig. 410, so that it will rest evenly on the top of the sledge as in Figs. 407 and 408. Your brace will then have the form shown in Fig. 404.

To make the runners for the sledge, mark them out on a piece of board or plank, as shown by the dotted lines in Fig. 405, saw along the dotted lines and then round off the corners with your plane, or do it with a sharp axe or big knife. All that is now necessary is to put the top on your sled, which in Fig. 407 is made of pieces of wood split from the tree, but in Fig. 409 is made of barrel staves. Fig. 408 shows the under side of the runner and the top piece, and displays the wire with which the cross boards are tied to the runners. The braces are sewed or lashed on in a like manner, and that is all there is to it! Figs. E and F show how to knot the end of your lines to keep the rope from pulling through the holes in the runner.

That Eskimo sled is a simple thing to build. The racing sled or o-dab-ban, is more complicated, Figs. 411, 416, 419, 420, 421, and 426, but it is built the same way as is, Fig. 411, the St. Michael o-dab-ban. Fig. 411 shows the skeleton of this sled which is made of two bows for runners; in place of bow strings the bows have rods lashed to them. 

Figs. 412, 413, 418 and Fig. P shows how the uprights are made to support the rods and the floor of the sleds. Figures just given show the details of the uprights. Figs. 413 and 414 tell you how the square end of the upright is made tight in the holes in the runners, shown in Figs. 413, 414 and 418, by wedges driven in the same as are those on the head of an axe.

Of course we are not in the far north, but these o-dab- bans make bully light sleds for carrying duffle; therefore when we build one for our troop, we will not use thongs as do the Eskimos but content ourselves with poor old civilized copper wire, and even at that we can build the whole sled without using a nail. Now heap it with duffle, and if we have no dogs, put the sleigh bells around your own necks and go jangling over the snow to your winter camp.

You boys down south must not complain because I am making diagrams of sleds. The Ostabonning o-dab- ban, shown in Fig. 417, with its flat runners will slide over dry prairie grass with remarkable ease. When I was in Seattle, Washington, some time ago, I saw the boys coasting down the grass-covered hills with ordinary sleds, and they were apparently having lots of fun. However, if you don't want a sled down in Florida or Texas to go over the ice and snow, build one like the St. Michael o-dab-ban, Figs. 411 and 416, and put wheels on it and call it the St. Augustine prairie schooner, and there you are!

Figs. 419, 420 and 421 show the framework of racing sleds. This framework may be made of green hickory or of any other strong, pliable wood, or it may be made of seasoned wood, and in that case it must be steamed or scalded in order that it may be bent.

The body of the sled is fastened to the runners in the same manner as in the St. Michael o-dab-ban, see Figs. 412, 413, 418, and 415-P. You will note by this that the pegs which support the rail in Fig. 411 are part of the body supports attached to the runner. The body support, Fig. 420, is cut down to leave a peg which runs up through the cross slats and is bound to the top rail by rawhide or copper wire, Fig. 411.

In order that these pegs shall be tight, there is a square piece left at the bottom, Fig. 413, and wedge shape cuts made in this piece. After it is fitted into the square hole made for it, the wedges, Fig. 414, are driven into the cuts and thus hold it securely, the same as an axe handle is held on an axe head. Fig. 415 shows the runner with the square holes cut in it in which the square ends of Figs. 418, 413, and 412 fit. Fig. 419 is modeled after a U.S. Mail o-dab-ban. The bottoms and backs to all these are made of slats with spaces between them, see Figs. 416 and 417.

Fig. 420 is a side view, a profile view, of Fig. 421. Note the handles which the driver holds when mushing behind the dog team sled.

The Southern boys may hitch up a team of those splendid, big Russian wolf hounds, Fig, 422, police dogs, or even hounds, to a four wheeled wagon; but the Northern boys can take an ordinary sled and hitch up a St. Bernard, Fig. 423; or a tandem, Fig. 424; or a single husky, Fig. 425; or make a tandem team of three or more of them, Fig. 426; but whether he drives them single or in tandems of eight or ten, he must have harness for the dogs and such harness is naturally different from harness for an ox, a donkey or a horse.

How to Make the Harness

A few years ago, a storm caught us on a portage between two unnamed lakes in the north wilderness. I suppose the natives had some names for the lakes, but as at that time they appeared on no map and there were no signboards, they were unnamed to us. It was a nasty day. The cold wind was blowing and the slushy, wet snow was falling; but if you think that dulled our spirits or spoiled our fun, you have another guess coming.

We wanted a table from which to eat. There were no boards in the neighborhood, the logs were all soaking wet, but we looked around to see if we could not find something which we could use for a table, and there, hidden in the bushes, we found an Ostabonning o-dab- ban, Fig. 417. 

It had been cached by some trapper who would come for it with his dog when the winter weather closed in. Not only was the o-dab-ban cached there, but also the harness for the dog, and, knowing that I would have to tell you boys how to make the harness for a dog, I sat down on that sled and made the diagrams 428, 429, 430 and 431 in my notebook. You may make the harness of whang leather, rawhide or strips of canvas. It is simply made, as may be seen, and consists of a collar, a pair of traces and a saddle piece.

The manner of fastening it to the sled is also simple and ingenious. The end of the trace is folded over cone shape, Figs. 429 and 430, and through the cone a cord is run. The end of the cord, Fig. 429-C, is knotted so that it will not slip out. The other end of the cord is run through a toggle at Fig. 429-A. 

The toggle is simply a piece of wood whittled out into a rounded and elongated form like the frog on an overcoat; a hole is bored through the center of the toggle through which the cord runs and is knotted on the outside as in Fig. 429-A. To fasten traces to the sleigh, all you have to do to slip the ends of the traces around the runner and is bring the toggle down, as at Fig. 430-B, and slip it through a loop made of a leather thong, whang string or whatnot, as shown in Figs. 430 and 428.

How To Make the Collar

The collar is made of leather, skin with the hair on it, or canvas. It is simply a long tube like the leg of a stocking. This tube is stuffed with dry moss, with upholsterer's horse-hair, or any similar substance; or, in a pinch, pine needles, hay or dry grass will answer the purpose. The two ends are then sewed together.

This makes a circular collar, reminding one of the ordinary life-rings used at the swimming pier. The collar must be soft enough so as not to rub the hair off and make the shoulders sore. To harness the dog, you simply slip the collar over its head, Fig. 431, and fasten the traces to your sled-and there you are!

Up far north they have fancy harness with bells and plumes, Fig. 426, which they put on the dogs just before they enter a settlement, or camp, or the home town, so the team cuts a wide swath and creates a sensation when it comes swinging in. The plume is attached to the center-piece of the saddle and the sleigh-bells may be attached to the side but are usually strung on a separate collar that slips over the dog's head. 

This makes a very jolly rig and if the saddle is gaily colored and ornamented like those brought down from the North by my old friend, the late Andrew J. Stone, the rig will give color and life to the landscape. This harness from the Far North was the first of the kind to be seen in New York. It was given to the Museum of Natural History and should be there now; probably it is still preserved in that splendid institution.

Dog-sled racing has become a recognized sport in Canada and our northern states. The dog-sleds would be a splendid thing for our boys wherever there is sufficient snow, and then the boys could mush out to their winter camps on weekends behind an o-dab-ban, built like Fig. 427, which may be loaded with their camp duffle. 

This would add attractiveness to their hike, would excite the interest of onlookers and would be lots of fun for the boys themselves and the dogs also, for be it known that dogs, after they have been trained to harness, take a commendable pride in doing good team work.

See Also:

More Sled Plans

Make Your Own Winter Gear

Winter Activities

Traditional Outdoor Adventure 






Additional Information:

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.