Construction & Materials
This page is intended for technical aspects of ramp construction and material information. Along with free ramp plans and tutorials, RPO also aims to serve as a reliable and informative source for ramp building techniques and information.
You'll find information in two general categories: the first is all about Construction and Design issues; and the second is about Materials and Tools.
The formatting is a little crude at the moment. So expect changes later on! Feel free to submit questions if you are unclear about or unable to find the information you are looking for.
Construction / Design Issues:
- Determining the Radius, or Curve Profile, for your ramp.
- Drawing the Radius.
- Bending lumber for curved ramps.
- Important measurements for mini-ramps.
- Basic joinery techniques.
- Basic coping techniques.
- Basic site work and preparation.
Material / Tool Issues:
- A primer on lumber.
- Basic information about fasteners.
- Choosing a surface.
- Waterproofing your ramp.
- Material options for the coping.
- Material options for grindable edges on boxes.
- A primer on tools.
Construction / Design Issues:
Choosing a transition profile, or curve radius, for your ramp is one of the most debated issues in ramp building. THERE IS NO SINGLE, OR CORRECT ANSWER! More than a few issues are used when determining the steepness of your ramp's transition(s). Some of the factors include: the type of riding (i.e. skateboarding vs. rollerblading vs. biking), the height of the ramp, the length of the flatbottom of the ramp if it's a halfpipe, the ability of the rider, and the preference of the rider. Let's look at each in a little more depth.
Type of Riding: All ramp dimensions, regardless of the sport, are generally the same when dealing with half pipes and quarter pipes that are greater than 6' tall. For instance, a 12' tall half pipe will have a 10' transition radius and 2' of vert regardless if it's used for skateboarding, rollerblading, or biking. However, as the height decreases, the transition steepness begins to have a greater affect on the way the ramp rides. On a 4' tall ramp a rollerblader might want a steeper ramp (a.k.a. a smaller radius) than a skateboarder. So, if you plan on building a ramp under 6', make it a little steeper for rollerblading and biking, and a little more mellow for skateboarding.
Height of the Ramp: This topic was touched on a bit in the previous paragraph, but let's expand. A very crude rule can be stated about quarter pipes and half pipes that are under 8' tall: As the height of the ramp decreases, so should the radius! But, this ratio can be sublte and it varies from sport to sport. A REALLY GOOD RULE TO REMEMBER: THE RADIUS SHOULD ALWAYS BE GREATER THAN THE HEIGHT; AND A RAMP UNDER 6' TALL SHOULD NOT GO TO VERT! This rule is especially true for beginners.
Length of Flatbottom on a Half Pipe: If you happen to be building a mini-ramp in a tight spot and don't have tons of space for the length of the ramp's flat bottom, it might be a good idea to use a more mellow transition. Using a more mellow curve will make the ramp feel longer and more managable to ride.
Ability of the Rider: Hey, if your better at skating transitions, you might like the challenge of a steeper ramp. But guaranteed, if your just a beginner you'll have more fun and learn more tricks by starting out on a more mellow ramp. Please, please, please don't built a 4' quarter pipe that goes to vert as your first ramp! You will hate it!
Rider Preference: Last, all the above reccomendations can go straight out the window if you prefer! Some riders want a continuous radius, some want a changing radius, some want a seriously challenging 3' tall oververt--it's all up to you!
RPO strongly reccomends our readers to go out and ride different transitions and to choose one to replicate on your ramps at home. Afterall, if your not going to have fun riding your ramp, it's just going to be a waste of time and money building it.
Pa-Chow!! That's easy, string and compass method all the way! You might have seen this method elsewhere on the net, it's definitely the way to go. And it's very easy and accurate. You'll need a pencil, a screw, and some string. Place the screw at a 90° angle the length of the radius away from the beginning of the transition. Tie the string to the screw then tie the pencil the exact radius length away from the screw--now draw away! Sometimes I use a 2"x4" stud instead of string because the stiffness keeps the measurment more accurate than a stretchy piece string.Drawing the Transition Profile for a Quarter Pipe.
Do NOT wet your lumber to get it to bend more easily!! This method is mentioned all over the internet and is is completely unnecessary. Plywood up to 1/2" thick will bend just fine if you bend it along the long axis (hotdog style). Don't bother with water, it ruins the wood.
The best way to surface a ramp is to use two layers of sub-surface, typically 3/8" or 1/2", and a final riding surface, typically 1/4" or 1/8" plywood or masonite. Using two layers of sub-surface and a final layer allows you to a avert the problems of bending the structural plywood 'hamburger style' and having againts-the-grain speed issues.
If you want to ride directly on plywood, purchase a nice 1/4" wood that you can stain or paint. It will bend along the short axis just fine, giving you with-the-grain riding and less surface seams.illustration in the works...
It's pretty important that you generalize the diminsions of your mini-ramp so you know where it'll fit the best (backyard, garage, etc.). You should definitely worry about the length, width, and height!
Length: To calculate the length you need to add up all the individual lengths of the flatbottom, the transitions, and the decks. It's highly recommended to add at least 2' for the decks, and as much flatbottom that you can fit up to 8'. The transition portion will pretty much take care of itself after you've chosen a transition profile radius.
Width: Shoot for making the ramp as wide as you can fit (while staying within budget) in increments of 4'. So ideally your ramp would be at least 8' wide; you can do 4' but it would be a little stuffy! Very common widths include 8', 12', and 16' for backyard mini-ramps.
Height: Last comes the height. The sky is the limit if your outdoors, but if your building under a roof, it's nice to have at the very least 5' of vertical clearance from the top of the decks to the ceiling overhead. Common backyard mini-ramp heights range anywhere between 3' and 6'.
Material / Tool Issues:
LUMBER... Yes your ramp will be made out of lumber if your going to get any use out of this site! Wood is an excellent material for building ramps because it's affordable, available, and very easy to work with. Lumber comes in standard diminsions so it's convenient to build your ramps according to those diminsions.
Studs: Wood studs will be the bulk of the ramp framing. Wood studs come in many varieties: pine, fir, oak, redwood, etc. The different varieties yield different strength and weatherability ratings. Wood studs can also be pressure treated for longer outdoor lifespans.photo on the way...
Nominal Cross Section Actual Cross Section Typical Lengths Typical Use 2" x 4" 1.5" x 3.5" 8' 10' 12' 16' transition framing, framing 2" x 6" 1.5" x 5.5" 8' 10' 12' 16' transition framing, framing 2" x 8" 1.5" x 7.25" 8' 12' 16' framing 2" x 10" 1.5" x 9.25" 8' 12' 16' framing 2" x 12" 1.5" x 11.25" 8' 12' 16' framingphoto on the way... Sheet Size Thickness Typical Use 4'x 8' 1/4" top surfacing 4'x 8' 3/8" top surfacing, sub-surfacing 4'x 8' 1/2" top surfacing, sub-surfacing, deck surfacing 4'x 8' 5/8" deck surfacing, transition templates 4'x 8' 3/4" deck surfacing, transition templates, box surfacing
Along with typical sizes and thicknesses, plywood comes in standard sanded finishes as well. The different finishes vary quite a bit, as do the prices. Until we have more permanent information about plywood finishes, check out this article on Wikipedia.com.
RPO recommends using screws instead of nails. Screws keep a tighter hold once fastened, and can be easily removed to replace surface pieces or for complete ramp disassebly.
Screws: Any and all metallic fasteners should be EXTERIOR GRADE! Don't use drywall screws, the heads break easily and cause a real surface and structural hazard. Use wood screws. They should be made of steel with a corrosion resistant silicon bronze or similar type of coating. Just look at the label before you buy, it will be very clear what what type of application the screws are for.photo on the way...
Bolts and Other Fasteners: When dealing with bolts and other fixed fasteners, look for a low cost hot dipped galvanized steel. Regular and hardened steel will rust in the elements and eventually fail. Galvanize steel has a corrosion resistent "bath" that seals the steel from moisture.photo on the way...
All the above mentioned fasteners are easily found in your local hardware store or big box home improvement affiliate. Ask an associate if you can't find them.
There are lots of good options out there for surfacing you ramps. Each option though has it's strengths and weaknesses.
Masonite (or Hardboard): Masonite is the cheapest way to get a great riding surface. It is very inexpensive, costing about $7 for 1/8" thick sheets and about $11 for 1/4" thick sheets. It can also be bent "hamburger style" very easily. However, masonite is probably the worst surface in terms of weatherability. Masonite should never get wet! It will absorb water and swell and buckle. You can think of masonite as a super-dense fibrous sheet, like cardboard. It is possible to paint masonite; you should use an oil or shellac-based quick dry coating before using any water based products! RPO recommends to leave the masonite alone, as you would have to treat all surfaces of each piece of masonite where moisture could penetrate. Instead, use a tarp for weatherproofing, and buy new sheets when needed.photo on the way...
Plywood: Plywood is a good choice as well. Try to use 1/4" thick sheets if using plywood. 1/4" plywood bends "hamburger style" which means the long grain of the wood will be parallel to the direction of riding. If you use a thicker plywood it will have to bend "hotdog style" and you will have to ride perpendicular with the grain, which will slow the rider down. Pick a high grade finish, preferably grad A, for the surface side. Grade A plywood has minimal surface defects and is always sanded smooth. Painting plywood is perfectly safe, and recommended. Learn more about plywood grading...photo on the way...
Skatelite: Not much to say about Skatelite. It comes in three varieties, it's VERY expensive, and it's the top choice if you can afford it!
Visit the official Skatelite website here: www.skatelite.com.
Visit this website for pricing and purchasing: www.buyskatelite.com.photo on the way...
Ramp Armor: Ramp Armor is similar to Skatelite. It's been around since 2000. Pricing and quality is comparable to Skatelite. Visit the official Ramp Armor website here: www.ramparmor.com.photo on the way...
It's highly recommended to pre-drill and countersink each surface screw when attaching your riding surface (plywood is a little more forgivable for countersinking).
The better protected the your ramp, the longer it will last! Protect your investment.
Painting: Yes, paint your ramp! Coating the wood in a good exterior grade paint will make it last three times as long, if not more. Ideally each piece of untreaded wood should get some paint. Paint not only protects the ramp from rain, but also from humidity, hot dry air, and damaging sunlight. If possible, paint the wooden frame before attaching the surface, and, also paint the layers of plywood individually. At the very least, get a coat of paint on the exterior surfaces, starting with the surfaces that have the most contact with rainfall.
Tarps: If you can't get the ramp painted at least try to get a tarp for rain protection. Finding a good tarp is tricky. You should look for a tarp with a significant thickness and that covers the entire ramp under one surface. And when covering your ramp with a tarp, it is important to allow the ramp to breath; otherwise the ramp will get baked from the sun heating up small bits of humidity/moisture that gets trapped underneath the tarp. Use a few 2"x4"s to fashion a make-shift tent-like structure for the tarp to rest over. Tarps will run you around $100 for one that is large enough to cover a mini-ramp--worth every penny!
Paint your ramp and use a tarp for the best protection.
The three most used materials for cpoing are metal pipe, PVC pipe, and pool coping. Pool coping is pretty gnarly and typically isn't found on any ramp that doesn't reach vert, so we won't be discussing it in this article. The size of the metal or PVC pipe can vary. Stick with an outside diameter of between 1.5" and 2".
Metal Coping: Metal is definietly the standard choice for coping, it has been for many many years. Try to find a stainless steel pipe, or paint a regular steel pipe. Steel rusts, but it won't rust enough that a few grinds couldn't rub away. Metal coping has the best grinding sensation and sound!
PVC Coping: PVC is a great alternative to metal. PVC is cheap, easy to work with, and lighter than steel which is nice for transport. PVC pipe comes in a few color choices, choose a darker color for imitating the look of steel (there's something fishy about the look of white coping on a fresh new ramp..). PVC coping slides like a dream, never needs wax, and is very stealthy when it comes to sound and finicky neighbors!
Power tools are dangerous! Get help if or when you need it!
Luckily, it's not necessary to have a construction background to build a ramp, not even for a halfpipe. All ramps have the same basic construction sequence which means if you can build one, you can pretty much build them all. So learn how to use a basic set of tools and you should be covered from there on out!
The set of absolutely necessary tools include the following:
Circular Saw: A circular saw is needed for straight cuts. You'll use it to cut the 2"x framing and and the straight plywood cuts. With the correct blade, you can chop steel angle and coping as well (if available, a mitre saw with a diamond-tip steel-cutting blade is highly recommended for cutting steel).
Jig Saw: A jig saw is necessary if your building a ramp with any kind of curving transitions (i.e. quarter pipes and half pipes). You'll use it to cut the 3/4" or 5/8" plywood transition side panels. It's also handy for cutting handle holes into smaller quarter pipes and some boxes.
Power Drill: A power drill is needed for drilling holes and fastening screws.
Hammer: Yeah, a hammer is basic issue for any kind of construction. You'll use it...
Tape Measure: You need a tape measure to get accurate lengths. A tape that's at least 25' long should do the trick.
Carpenters Pencil: Use a carpenters pencil rather than a writing pencil. The lead is larger and harder making it easier to get marks on uneven surfaces. The lead won't break every five seconds and it won't drive you crazy!
Safety Glasses: Use them! Your vision is worth more than $3 for safety glasses.
Additional, but not necessary, tools include the following:
Mitre Saw: A mitre saw is very handy for making straight and angle cuts on 2"x framing. It's also handy because you can fashion a jig to cut lengths of framing that need to be the same size.
A Secondary Drill: Having a secondary drill is handy if your pre-drilling any screw holes. With a single drill you'd waste a lot of time changing bits back and forth.
Clamps: A ratcheting or adjustable clamp comes in handy for drilling bolt holes through multiple layers of 2"x's and plywood; specifically in building half pipes.
Level: A level is nice for uber-precise building.
Chalk Line: A chalk line is very useful when applying the surface to the framing. Snap a line from edge to edge where the stud locations are visible on either side, now you have a guide where the screws need to be placed to bite into the framing.
Work Gloves: Some folks prefer to work bare-handed, for the rest of us, get some gloves. They will makes splinters obsolete and extend the use of your hands a little longer.
Shovel: You'll need a shovel for any digging that might be necessary. This will vary according to your specefic site conditions.
The power tools listed above can be corded or cordless. Having cordless tools is fantastic, except they are generally more expensive for comparable torque, and they run on batteries that need to be charged. Corded tools are cheap and powerful, but they require the use of extention cords... and electrical outlets! Oh, and don't forget a tool belt, they make it a heck of a lot easier to keep all your small items organized and readily available.