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  Jenifer Holcombe Soykan




  This site is dedicated to recreational sleds used to slide down hills.  This section will attempt to address a variety of issues concerning the sleds, first of which is care of sleds and rehabilitation of those sleds that need it.  We are aware that for the most part we are dealing with antiques, but this is not the place to enter the controversy of "attic condition" verses "restoration."  Rather, that resolution is left to the individual owner.  The purpose here is to set forth the methods owners use to enhance and protect sleds, and to illustrate some results.




ROUTINE CARE   Joan Palicia, in her book Flexible Flyer and other Great Sleds for Collectors, (Atglen PA: Shiffer Pub Ltd, 1997) p. 7, recommends against restoration and suggests that the owner wash the sled with mild soap and to sometimes use light varnish to keep the trademark from flaking.  The use of a good cleaner such as Murphys Oil Soap or a similar product can remove a lot of accumulated grime.  Whether varnish should be used is matter of judgment.  As will be discussed below, many of the early sleds were finished with shellac and a decision must be made about compatible finishes.

CLEANING  Art Bransky, see Art's Slope, is a serious sled enthusiast who prefers to not see restoration.  He has developed an aggressive cleaning of the shellac surfaces that returns many an old sled to the luster of earlier years.  Rather than repeat his methods, the viewer is invited to contact him directly for more information.

REPAIR  Inevitably a sled will be found with damage.  While bent metal runners can be carefully straightened and cracked wooden surfaces glued, the biggest problem of repair is a broken side rail. This often occurs at the point of an unsupported midpoint where a rivet was used to attach it to a cross piece.  The rivets are usually 3/16 in diameter and are not generally available. Sometimes a 3/17 carriage bolt can be substituted, but it is better to hunt down a replacement.  Deen Watson, Slope contributor, has been willing to part with some of his supply. See RIVETS on Waton's Slope P 3.

REFINISHING  It may be that most early sleds were finished with shellac, but some furniture restorers advise that shellac is not a stable finish. The owner might well consider a modern finish with UV protection if refinishing is to be done. 

  This section will describe several aspects of the resurfacing of sleds with metal runners.  For a beautiful example of restored wooden sleds of an earlier time, the viewer is encouraged to follow the link to the Canacadea Sled Shop by Lyle Palmiter.  The artwork is truly beautiful. 

 Metal Runners  We have found that sandblasting is the method of choice when the metal runners have significant rust. A skilled sandblaster using a cabinet (usually someone who restores cars can be found) can strip the metal of all rust.  This will leave a bare surface to be repainted first with a spray rust inhibitor primer, followed by a good automotive finish of the correct color.  The wood should first be protected against the harsh sandblasting.  Our expert recommended first covering the wood with masking tape and paper or cardboard, followed by a layer of duct tape.  The first layer prevents the very sticky duct tape from adhering to the wood.

 Wood Surfaces  The surfaces we have refinished thus far were significantly deteriorated, but the structures were sound. They were sleds that deserved a second life!  As Art Bransky has suggested, denatured alcohol can be lightly used to remove the shellac as it seemed to turn to glue when sanded.  In several cases the wood had turned very dark, sometimes like the side of an old barn.  A good wood bleach returned the wood a good way toward its original color.  We live in an area where there is a lot of restoration of antique boats so we took a page from them and used marine polyurethane finishes with UV protection.  This produces a very hard surface and applied by spray can, gave a very nice low luster similar to shellac.


  Graphics  Reproducing the graphics on the sleds is the hardest part and likely the one to have the greatest variation from the original sled.  If there is nothing or very little that is visible, the enthusiast will have to find a model.  At least three different challenges can be met, including detail stripping, ornate scrolls, and logos such as the eagle on the Flexible Flyers.  Here is what we have tried with some success, such as the viewer can judge by looking at Jon's Slope P 1.

  The stripes, usually along the edges of the sleds, can be masked and painted.  Before painting, we found that applying a thin coat of the finishing material on the deck (polyurethane in our case) would seal the edge of the tape to prevent bleeding underneath the edge.  This gave a much cleaner edge.


  Logos are not generally available to use for replacement. We found that the logos applied in post Philadelphia Flexible Flyers did not hold up and some were cellophane decals that were coming off. One method that seems to be working is to photograph a mint logo, shape and size it with a good computer program, and then print it on photographic transparency paper or label paper with an adhesive back.  After a few light spray coats of polyurethane it became water proof.  A test item survived our dishwasher.  The example at right is from the No 2 sled, probably from before 1908 since it has flat runners.


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  No 2 Sled in original condition  We could see enough of the original graphics to identify the pattern and copy it from a picture into a photo editing program.


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  No 2 Sled after refinishing with Stencil After replicating and fine tuning the pattern of the scroll work with the photo editor, prints were made and given to a sign technician. She created stencils from the patterns by using a plotter. The stencil has a sticky surface that adheres to the deck. It was lined up with pencil marks on the paper covering the stencil. Once in place the paper cover was removed for painting. No2Sten.jpg (131259 bytes)

   No 2 Sled with Stencil painted  After first sealing the edges of the stencil, two coats of quality paint were applied and allowed to dry.


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   No 2 Sled with Stencil partly removed  By carefully pulling the stencil back against itself, the paint remained with clean edges. A light sanding smoothed the edges and a couple of thinly sprayed on finish completed the graphics.


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  No 2 Sled - final product  Almost! The sled had white paint on the handle when we acquired it.  Although careful attention was given during the paint removal, we could not make out the pattern of the graphics underneath.  We are still looking for a good model for replicating what was there.


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  No 6 Sled - a great restoration from Scotland.  This sled dates from the very early 1900s, probably 1900 - 1906.  The owner writes the story:

   "I had seen these sleds on US Ebay  --very expensive and I presumed quite rare . I never thought I would see one in this country let alone own one.
  Flexible Flyers are rare on Ebay in the UK and one evening I idly typed in Flexible Flyer and was amazed to find an eight and a half foot sled for auction.  Not only that , it was located about 1 1/2 hours from where I live.  I was successful in my bidding but only just, being outbid in the last 25 secs. It transpired the competition was bidding from Switzerland so there is obviously an international interest in these sleds.
  Fortunately the sled was more or less complete. One runner had a large agricultural riveted period looking repair at the front right support bracket which I welded.  The bumper bar had been replaced but not riveted thus the steering did not function. I made a new one and riveted it as original. The centre deck board was missing a piece at the tail at the second last nailing point . I scarfed a new piece onto the original .The metal work was given a light sand blasting  and came up well . I finished the sled with satin polyurethane varnish including the metal which helped take
away the 'new' look.  And that's the story of my No. 6"  - Tom Abernethy, Scotland

Original Condition

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Last updated: December  1, 2007