Wisconsin native makes hand-crafted toboggans

An Eau Claire woodworker brings back a slice of nostalgia to Eau Claire through his hand-crafted toboggan sleds.
Published: Jan. 9, 2021 at 10:03 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Sledding on toboggans is a sport with deep roots in the city of Eau Claire, whether it be sledding down Half Moon Lake’s toboggan chute or competing to see who can travel fastest across the frozen lake.

A generational product that hit its stride in the 19th century, remains a special part of Steve Vogelsang’s life.

“There’s a bit of romance to toboggans, some of the best memories as a kid was sledding, you know my buddies, I can go back 55 years and think about all those really good times,” Vogelsang laughs.

Avid woodworker, Vogelsang made his first boat at the age of 12, and his first custom toboggan, 12 years ago.

He only makes a handful each year, using wood from black and white ash trees grown in Wisconsin.

“A lot of ash trees that are dying because of emerald ash borer, so instead of taking these beautiful logs and throwing them in the dump, people are cutting them up and I’m thinking geez, let’s build some toboggans out of ‘em,” Vogelsang says.

Vogelsang says there’s a certain nostalgia to the craft.

The method behind the madness?

“It’s the steaming,” Vogelsang exclaims.

After steaming the wood at 200 degrees for two hours the boards are ready to be shaped.

He says the beauty behind the functional art is that from start to finish, the process is natural; once shaped, the boards spend four days in a form.

“That’s when I sand these all down and from there they go to the assembly bench,” Vogelsang says.

“So in four days you’ve got this arc, that isn’t necessarily the finished arc, but I just think it’s really really neat,” Vogelsang laughs.

The arc is what separates his toboggans from one you might find in a store.

“If you look at this toboggan it’s arced up and then there’s a tight curve so it has a tendency to ride over the snow opposed to plowing through the snow,” Vogelsang describes.

With a finished product, Vogelsang says two years into retirement, the refined craft is for pleasure, not for profit.

“I just love building them,” Vogelsang exclaims.

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