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Smitty Sled Plans: A Simple DIY Project to Improve Your Ice Fishing Sled

Written by: Pete D
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A Smitty sled is a clever modification of a standard plastic snow sled, adding skis to the bottom to reduce friction and make it easier to pull.

Avid icemen already know that a heavily-loaded sled tends to sink into the snow, making it a real chore to pull by hand. If that sounds familiar, you may want to consider a Smitty modification, as this relatively easy DIY project can really pay off over a season’s fishing.

But Smitty sleds aren’t a perfect solution for tiring pulls, as we’ll discuss below.

If you’re considering a Smitty sled modification, keep reading. We’ll cover the pros and cons, give you a complete materials list, and offer step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process.

Related:

What is a Smitty Sled?

smitty sled plans

No one’s quite sure who invented or named the Smitty sled, but smitty0312 over on iceshanty.com seems to be the first to have popularized the idea.

original smitty sled

The “original” Smitty sled dating back to 2009.

The basic idea of adding skis to a sled has been around for ages. By adding those skis, you can reduce friction with the snow, reducing the effort you need to pull it, essentially turning a sled into a sleigh.

ice anglers being pulled in sleigh

For some folks, that may seem unnecessary, and Smitty sleds aren’t as common as you’d think.

Many hard-water anglers will tell you that lighter is better. “Bring only what you need,” they’ll say. But for the rest of us, what we “need” includes a cooler, a heater, a power auger, several buckets, poles, tackle of all kinds, a battery, a flasher, and pounds of other extras.

That weight adds up, and what looks doable in your garage in October quickly turns into a hard slog in December.

A Smitty modification can help reduce the work of pulling a heavy sled, but not in every situation.

Pros and Cons of a Smitty Sled

Ask anyone who’s used a Smitty sled, and they’ll tell you that it greatly reduced the felt weight of the load, especially on clean ice.

Let’s take a close look at the pros and cons of a Smitty sled:

Pros

Easier pulling - As you’d expect, this tops our list. And despite what you might think, this isn’t important only for anglers who pull their sleds by hand. 

Driving a snowmachine through deep snow with a heavy sled in tow can really slow things down, and in deep slush, even a big snowmachine can get bogged down trying to get a heavy sled going from a standstill.

A Smitty sled is easier to start and easier to pull, whether the power involved originates in your back and legs, a snowmachine, or an ATV.

Cons

Lower stability - Raising the center of gravity on your sled is going to make it tippier. And getting one runner off the track or pulling a load over uneven ground is going to test your design and build.

We’ll discuss how to improve stability in our instructions, so this is definitely a con that can be overcome.

Deep snow - When the snow is deep, the Smitty can sink. And if that happens, it's going to be harder to pull than it was before. Wider skis can help, and we’ll discuss that below.

Wind and sliding - Smitty sleds move so easily on glare ice that they can actually blow away in heavy wind! You’ll want to secure your sled carefully to present this.

They can also keep moving when you stop, hitting you from behind. For that reason, some icemen like to push their Smitty sleds rather than pull them.

How to Build a Smitty Sled

For DIYers, a Smitty sled modification is a very doable project, provided you have the tools and materials.

Tools

Pretty much every DIYer will agree that the right tool gets the job done best. 

There are several ways to build a Smitty sled, depending on your access to tools. At the very least, you’ll need the following:

  • A drill/driver
  • A hand saw
  • A crescent wrench or socket set
  • A measuring tape

Optional tools that can make the build easier and give you more options include:

  • A circular saw/chop saw/radial arm saw
  • A jigsaw

Materials

Smaller sleds can use lighter structural supports; heavier sleds will need more durable materials.

  • A pair of skis - An old pair sourced from a dusty closet, a friend, or Goodwill are a necessity for this build to work well. And the wider the ski, the better. Downhill and jumping skis are wider than cross-country skis, so be on the lookout.
    Select skis that have the widest tips you can find. You definitely want a good, curved leading edge on them.

For light sleds:

For heavy sleds:

Instructions

Step 1

Measure your sled.

You need to keep the struts that will attach the skis on the flat portion of your sled, while still keeping them as far apart as possible. More distance between the struts means greater stability, front to back and side to side.

You want the skis to be centered at the edge of your sled to maximize stability, and advanced woodworkers may even consider rails that extend beyond the sides of the sled to position the skis for maximum stability.

Step 2

Using (1) 2 x 4, cut four struts.

These struts can be simple rectangles on which the rails will rest, or more complex designs, depending on your familiarity with woodworking and the tools at your disposal.

They should be 4 to 6 inches long at their contact points with the skis. 

You can choose to angle them upward to the 3 ½-inch width of the rails, angle the leading edge of the front rails, or leave them square.

smitty sled rail

diy smitty sled

More advanced woodworkers with access to a jigsaw may prefer to create a notch for the rails, setting them down into the struts.

custom smitty sled

Step 3

Using (1) 2 x 4 for larger sleds or (1) 1 x 4 for smaller sleds, cut (2) rails to connect the struts.

Pre-drill pilot holes in the rails, but not the struts. These should be slightly smaller in diameter than the screws.

Measure the connections carefully to ensure 90-degree angles where the rails meet the struts. Getting this wrong can result in wonky ski action and a weakened sled.

Attach the rails with wood screws to the top of the struts.

Step 4

Decide where the skis will be attached to the struts.

skis on smitty sled

You want the weight of the sled to rest slightly rearward on the skis, meaning that you want more ski extending from the front than from the back. You also want the skis to be perfectly parallel and even at the tips.

Getting this wrong will affect tracking as you pull your sled, so measure carefully and mark each ski where it connects to the bottom of the strut.

Step 5

Drill two pilot holes for each strut in each ski.

Attach the skis to the bottom of the struts with wood screws.

Step 6

Drill two pilot holes for each strut in both the bottom of your sled and the struts themselves. Remember, you’ll be attaching the sled to the struts with a 38-inch bolt, so use the right bit for the job!

Step 7

Screw the sled down to the tops of the struts using the bolts, washers, and nuts.

Step 8 (optional)

Some icemen prefer to pull their Smitty sleds by attaching eye bolts to the front struts and passing the tow rope through them. This tends to lift the tips of the skis a bit, encouraging them to glide rather than sink in snow.

Final Thoughts

A Smitty sled modification can greatly reduce the work of towing your gear out onto the ice, and it’s a pretty basic DIY project that you can complete in one afternoon, no sweat.

We hope this article has helped you think through - and build - your Smitty sled, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.

Please leave us a comment, and we’ll be in touch!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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