Making Your Own Snowshoes from Scratch

Those who love the outdoors and enjoy tramping through the snow should consider using snowshoes. Snowshoes help spread the body weight across a larger surface area, ensuring that you do not sink as deeply into the soft snow making it much easier for you to walk. While you can purchase a pair of snowshoes, it is also a marvelous idea to make your own wooden, traditional snowshoes. You can save money and test your organizational and attention to detail abilities simultaneously.

So, without further ado, here are the steps to creating your pair of snowshoes from scratch.

many wooden snowshoes laying against a fence

Beautiful traditional wooden snowshoes. Photo: Benjamin Roussey

Collect The Materials

To make your snowshoes, you first need to collect all the materials that are required to turn this idea into reality. The materials listed here are based on using the traditional materials that Native Americans used many centuries ago.

  • First, you’ll need ash lumber, which you will split to make the bows. When looking for your Ash lumber, ensure that it is smooth and knot-free. The wood should be at least seven feet long and three-fourths of an inch thick.
  • Scrap wood that you will use to make the jig form for shaping the bows of the snowshoes. Live wood is recommended here as it can be bent easily without breaking and dried so that it holds its shape.
  • Rawhide or neoprene for the snowshoe laces
  • Newspaper or another large sheet of paper for cutting the pattern

Once you have all the materials collected, you are all set to make the snowshoe. During the process, Gil Gilpatrick’s book, Building Wooden Snowshoes & Snowshoe Furniture may also be helpful. If you prefer, you can also purchase a traditional snowshoe kit from Country Ways, which includes an already-made frame and lacing instructions.

Snowshoes 1

Mark the Pattern

  1. First, you need to fold the newspaper diagonally across. The diagonal fold will mark the center of the snowshoe base.
  2. Then, mark the pattern when the paper is folded so that you obtain a symmetrical snowshoe.
  3. Decide on the length of the snowshoe, which can typically be around 30 inches (76 cm).
  4. Identify the point that is three-eighths of the length of the snowshoe. For example, if our snowshoes are 30 inches (76 cm), 3/8 of the length would be around 12 inches (30.5 cm) on the diagonal. This point will be the widest point of the ‘shoe and is the toe or leading edge. At the toe, the curve should be rounded and taper off toward the heel.

Read More: Traditional Wooden Snowshoes: Shapes, Designs & Names

Make the Form For The Frame

To make the form, which will help you bend the Ash to the desired snowshoe shape, you’ll need the scrap wood you collected.  Using your pattern, nail two ¾ inch (1.9 cm) forms on a piece of plywood. Also, nail 12 wedges three-fourths of an inch (1.9 cm) away from the forms.

photo looking down at mean wearing homemade traditional snowshoes

Get ready to use your homemade snowshoes! Photo Benjamin Roussey

Make the sides smooth using a drawknife. Now locate the inner face of the wood and ensure that it faces inside. Wedge the strip of Ash between the wedges you have nailed on the two forms and allow the wood to dry for a few weeks. If you are unable to bend the staves (Ash) easily, steam them a bit.

Insert Crossbars

After the Ash has dried, it’s time for crossbars, which will make the snowshoes sturdy. The crossbars, which you can also form from the Ash, will need to be slightly more than an inch (2.54 cm) in diameter. Crossbar length will need to span the width of the snowshoe.

Make four crossbars and insert them within the frame so that the shape of the frame is retained. To add the crossbars, you need to drill holes in the frame and insert the ends of the crossbars into these holes. Once this is done, you can smooth the frame and crossbars by sanding them.

Read More: Traditional Snowshoe Care & Maintenance

Lacing and Webbing

Depending on your preferences, you can now use rawhide lacing or the more modern neoprene webbing on the snowshoe. While strict traditionalists might prefer strong rawhide, you need to take care when lacing it to create a cane chair or diamond pattern. However, neoprene webbing lasts three times as long as rawhide and is easier to install.

Rawhide

If you choose to use rawhide on your snowshoe, you need to obtain green, hair-free rawhide strips and drill small holes around the frame. Now you need to weave the rawhide in a diamond pattern by stretching it across the frame points. Though time-consuming, the finished product will help provide a stellar snowshoe that will keep you floating even on powdered snow.

Rawhide will absorb moisture when used on snow, but dry up later and tighten to provide a fantastic cushioning effect as you walk on snow through the woods or any outdoor terrain.

If you need additional assistance with lacing, Country Ways offers a low-cost kit on lacing patterns and directions.

Neoprene

Modern, synthetic neoprene can withstand the moisture and cold conditions that exposure to snow brings and ensure that your snowshoe is maintenance-free for years. Moreover, you can complete making the snowshoe in a shorter time since there is no intricate lacing and threading involved. All you need to do is fix the neoprene webbing to the frame, and you are all set to go walking through the woods, enjoying the serene beauty and quiet of the winter.

Bindings

Whether you use rawhide or neoprene, you also need to install sturdy straps to the shoes so that you can attach them firmly to your feet. There are a variety of straps to choose from for the bindings. For example, an H-style binding consists of a toe strap, mid-boot strap, and heel strap, or A-style binding consists of only a toe and heel strap. You can choose to make your strap or purchase one from traditional snowshoe retailers.

Read More: Traditional Snowshoe Bindings 101

Go Out And Use Your Homemade Snowshoes!

Now that you have made a pair of wooden snowshoes go out and enjoy the snow! Just remember to care and maintain them throughout and after the season to ensure lifelong quality.

Have you ever made a pair of wooden snowshoes? What suggestions or recommendations do you have? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More: 
Snowshoes &  The Canadian First Nations
The Future Of Traditional Snowshoes: We Value Our 6000-Year-Old Tradition
Maine Guide Snowshoes: The Real Deal

Updated April 2020 with formatting changes and link additions

About the author

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Benjamin Roussey

Benjamin Roussey is from Sacramento, CA. He has two master’s degrees and served four years in the US Navy. His bachelor’s degree is from CSUS (1999) where he was on a baseball pitching scholarship. His second master’s degree is an MBA in Global Management from the Univ. of Phoenix (2006) where he attributes his writing prowess. He has worked everywhere from small businesses to large corporations, and also for public agencies. He has lived in Korea and Saudi Arabia where he was an ESL instructor. He misses Saudi food and living in Korea. Benjamin has a tremendous work ethic and is quite focused. Now he writes professionally for several clients that covers one sector of our economy to another. He now lives in the Phoenix area after living in Cabo San Lucas, MX for 3 years. He enjoys sports, movies, reading, and current events when he is not working online.

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