Here is how I built a mini ramp for skateboarding in my basement. It’s less of a “how-to” than a “how-I-did-it.” I built a number of ramps growing up. Also, I was a steelworker in a shipyard through my twenties so I have my own methods of working from that experience that may be helpful to some folks.
I should have blogged this as I was doing it. I did post a project log in the forums at RampPlans.org, but even some of that was well after the fact. Even though I’ve built a number of ramps before, I learned a lot from many of the previous contributors to RPDO.
Let me state now that this is not the normal way to build a ramp. Usually, you complete the entire frame and then add the layers. For the reasons I mention below, I made this using modular construction. You know, the way aircraft carriers are built.
This ramp has been done for almost nine months and I skate it almost every day. I kept putting off posting it because I wanted to format it to be easier to understand, but now I just want to put out there.
- Ramp Specs
- Transition Sections
- Flat Bottom
- Working space: 12 ft x 24 ft
- Width: 12 ft
- Flat: 8 ft
- Trans: 6.5 ft
- Trans ht: 36 in.
- Total ht: ~ 40 in.
- Decks: ~ 30 in. deep
We’re remodeling this house and I want to be able to move the ramp outside when the time comes. I’m building it in a away that will allow me to remove only the top layer to get each module out the door, which also means the decks couldn’t be an integral part of the transitions.
Below is a list of the material I ordered. And I say “ordered” because I picked up the phone, told Home Depot what I wanted and when. I don’t have a truck and I think $59 to have it brought right to my door is a good deal. You don’t have to stand in line to check out or schlep all the wood around, load, unload etc. I got maybe a dozen extra 2x4s, and a couple extra sheets of 3/8 ply.
Here’s how the lumber arrived. One nice chunk wrapped in plastic in case it rains.
Something not on the list above is screws. Someone on the RPDO forums recommended “Deck Mate” screws. I’ll be eternally grateful to that guy, whoever he was. These things are the best. I got three 5 lb boxes of different lengths. Those are about $26 each but worth it. No slipping, no snapping screw heads off, they have some kinda lube that makes them easy to drive. Here’s a pic so you know what to look for. I haven’t seen them at Lowes, only Home Depot. Maybe it’s their house brand.
I made this diagram to help figure out the notch in the transition pieces for my coping. It’s pretty straightforward, but I thought some folks might find it helpful.
Some builders say that no matter how careful you are in planning and construction that you will end shimming the coping into place. That may be true but you gotta start somewhere. Since this ramp was built on a near perfectly flat slab, and I was really uptight about the cuts and fit up, it worked for me.
Scribing the Transition Radius
Most folks like to use the good ol’ string and pencil method to draw the curve on their transition templates. Back when I was a youngster I did that plenty times when we were building ramps. For the transition template on this ramp I used trammel points. You can buy them at a lot of places and there are many types. The ones I have are some ancient hand-me-downs. Each one has a metal pointer for scribing or scratching, but you can replace one with a pencil. If you don’t have those you can also use a scrap 2×4 by putting a screw through one end and drilling a hole for a pencil at the other end.
Then you just clamp those babies to something like a 2×4 and dial in the radius you want.
My transition pieces don’t have the deck area as an integral part because I need to be able to get them out the basement door eventually. So, I started by laying two sheets together and snapping a line at 81.5 inches, 3.5 for the 2×4 on the bottom plus my radius of 78. Then, I put the pencil point at the top of the transition and put the other point on the chalk line. That was an easy way to find the center point for the radius. I measured from there to edge to get the bottom dead center, where my template would end. And then transferred that measurement to the other sheet.
With everything in place we started swinging an arc.
Framing Layout and Prep Work
Here’s how I did the rest of the work on the transition pieces. I put my ribs on 8 inch centers. To step off where they should go I used dividers. This may look like a compass, but trust me, they’re called dividers. This is a pic of my ancient dividers.
I used the scale from my combination square to set the dividers to 8 inches. It’s not a ruler, it’s called a scale.
Then stepped off the 8 inch centers, making a scratch to mark each one.
After that I grabbed a piece of scrap 2×4, centered it by eye on my marks, and traced around it to help me mark the screw holes.
I quickly eyeballed the screw holes and marked it with a pencil. You can measure if you want, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I drilled those out first.
Cutting Out the Templates
Finally, I cut out the whole transition piece with a jig saw. Take your time and be as accurate as possible with this one. You’ll use it as a template for the rest. Once that’s done I clamped it to the other side of the plywood sheet. Sometimes plywood is not as square or as machine-perfect as you might expect. It’s important that the bottom edge and the top corner line up as closely as possible. I used a framing square hung over the side to make sure everything was even.
Once everything was lined up I used some quick clamps to keep it in place.
First I traced the outline. Then, I used the holes I drilled in the first piece as a hole template and drilled through those.
When that was done I removed the original template and cut the next piece out. Rinse and repeat until you have all your pieces. For this ramp I needed 12.
Framing the Transitions
Once I had my plywood transition pieces cut out I started on the 2×4 ribs next. I used some scrap as a table and screwed the base of my miter saw to it. Then, I set up a work stop to the length of my ribs so I didn’t have to keep measuring. I just screwed some more scrap pieces together to make something. This saves so much time over marking and lining up each piece.
I cut my pieces to come out about 1/16 inch short of 48 inches once the sides are attached (48 – 3/4 Plywood – 3/4 Plywood – 1/16 Fudge = 46 7/16 Ribs). That seems to make up for various imperfections, like inconsistently thick plywood. I have six transition sections and each needed 13 ribs (I added another later, so 14). Henry Ford would be proud…
Prior to assembly I started the screws in all the holes. It takes some time, but it really saves time.
If a screw hole ends up on a knot in the plywood it’s best to countersink or counter bore it with a large drill bit. Knots are so hard that the screws always seem to strip out the 2×4 before they can pull the screw head flush. And it’s gotta be flush if you’re putting sections together. Same goes for surface layers too.
When I put these together I like to start with the back bottom brace. It’s the least critical as far as fit-up, and then at least the pieces can hold up themselves.
And here’s a section all framed up. I put my ribs on 8″ centers. That’s plenty close enough considering I’m laying all of my plywood layers with the grain going up the transition.
Transition Base Layers
I decided to put plywood on with the the grain running perpendicular to the ribs, also known as the hard way. I grew up building vert ramps with larger transitions and that’s just how we did it. Also, if you were sheathing a roof or floor on a house you would never lay plywood parallel to the framing, it would just be too weak. I want this ramp to be as rigid and fast as possible. I’m old and I need all the speed I can get.
In hindsight, this was probably at least five times as much work. My transition radius is 78 inches and the plywood was only 3/8 but it was very difficult to bend it into shape. That said, I was able to do it working mostly by myself. I only had two pieces crack and that was on very cold days. I just put an extra rib where the cracks were.
To start I screwed a scrap 2×4 to the front of the transition section to hold the first layer in place. Then, I put some extra studs under the section to raise it so there was room for the quick clamps. I laid a 2×4 across the middle of the plywood and used some screws to hold it in place. I made sure the screws didn’t stick through the back of the plywood. Finally, I started squeezing it down as I stood on it. Once it was down tight to the transition I popped some lines and screwed it down. I only used 5 screws per rib since each subsequent layer would add more.
I offset my second layer six inches in both directions. Maybe I should’ve done a little more but since I need to keep this somewhat modular I rolled with that. Since you can’t pop a line on a curved shape I set my combination square to 6 inches minus a bit for the width of the pencil line and stroked a line on two sides, left and bottom.
Then, I repeated the process on the second layer. This time I used the scrap 2×4 at the 6 inch line to hold the piece in place. The second layer is harder to clamp because of the offset but if you’re patient you can find a way to get clamps to reach.
After each section was done I slid them together. This pic shows them before I screwed them together, snapped a line, and trimmed off the excess at the top. I know a lot of people install the coping before the initial layers, but I don’t know why. That said, I will install the coping before the final layer so I can butt it up to it.
One downside of running the grain in this direction is that there is so much tension on the frame that it deflected the top rib, which was laid flat. This left the ramp wavy at the top. To fix it I installed another rib as a T-brace behind it and jacked it in there as well as I could. It’s decent now, but what a pain. I never had this problem on vert ramps because of the bigger transition and the fact that by the time you get to the last rib it’s going vert or flat so there isn’t as much tension. Bottom line is this ramp is very stiff, but it was lot of work. It may not be worth it to you.
Again, I’m building this ramp in a way that will allow me to move it easily when the time comes. Some of this won’t make sense for a typical build.
My flat is 8 feet long. I built each section to support a 4×8 sheet of CDX. Since I was tired of crawling around on my knees I built them on the saw horses. First, I snapped a grid for all my screws. Since this ramp will sit flat on a concrete floor I went with 12 inch centers.
Next, I attached the long 2x4s first by clamping them to the sheet, and driving the screws from a comfortable position, for a change. I used a framing square to make sure the edges were flush.
On these long pieces I offset the screws along the edge a bit so they wouldn’t foul the screws that go into the ribs.
Then, I flipped the whole thing over and attached ribs to the long side studs.
This is probably obvious to some folks out there, but if any of your 2×4 pieces have a knot like this, be sure to put the knot on top. The 2×4 will be a lot weaker if it’s on the bottom. It wouldn’t really matter on this flat section since it’s directly on the concrete, but I put them in the right way out of habit.
With all the ribs in place I flipped the section back over and finished screwing down the plywood.
Once all the three flat sections were done I laid them in place and started aligning them with the transition sections. I used the second layer of plywood to hold everything thing together.
OK. The next thing I did was build the decks and attached the coping. The decks are about 30 inches deep. I started by building the frame, working in the flat section which at this point only has the first two layers on it.
As I’ve mentioned, I will eventually need to get this ramp out the back door. So, in my tranny sections the 3/4 plywood doesn’t come all the way back as integral part of the deck. Normally it would, but in this case it would be impossible to get the transitions out the door sideways.
I used quick clamps to the hold frame to the transition sections and I also clamped studs on the back. After I checked it with a level I screwed it all together. Then I went back with a reciprocating saw and cut the studs flush. All that’s similar to building a deck for your house.
To keep this thing solid I added jack studs like this on the end.
Where the 8 ft section met the 4 ft section I turned the jack stud sideways to catch both.
I was running out of plywood so I used my scraps from the tranny templates. They weren’t quite big enough so I ended up with some clipped corners. I just put those on the back. To make installing the coping a little easier I left these off until that job was done.
While the deck was still open I installed the coping. I chose EMT (electrical conduit). It’s about 2.375″ OD, galvanized, and maybe a little too slick. It comes in 10 ft sections, so I had to add a 2 ft piece on each side of this 12 ft wide ramp. To connect it to the ramp I used clothesline bolts. I think they’re easier to work with and stronger than toggle bolts. Some folks like the sill plate bolts used in concrete foundations, but those can be harder to find at some stores. Clothesline bolts also come in a variety of sizes.
I drilled my holes in the framing first, then transferred those to the EMT. I put three bolts in each 10 ft piece and only 1 in the 2 footers. EMT is pretty thin-walled so once you have a pilot hole drilling the big hole is pretty easy. Here’s a bolt locked and loaded.
Put the coping in place on the ramp, add some fender washers and the nuts and you’re set.
The joints in the EMT came out pretty tight. I shimmed one side to get it perfect, but since it’s only 2 ft from the end I doubt any small bumps would bother anyone.
Of course, as soon as this thing was barely together I started skating. In fact, I started skating as soon as I had one transition section done. Try to resist that urge and you’ll finish the ramp sooner.
Anyhow, you definitely want to put on the final layer after the coping is in place. That way you can butt it up nice and tight to the coping. I used B/C plywood with the B side up, of course. I would have rather used some Skatelight or similar but who has that budget? The ramp is inside so plywood was good enough. I will say that the B/C still has some voids in the inner plys. Once it had been skated for a while some of those collapsed leaving small, but annoying dents. Definitely put the grain on your top going with the direction your skating, or your ramp will be pretty slow.
Since I was using full sheets I used a tape to measure 8 ft down the transition in couple place and marked it. Then, I temporarily screwed a 2×4 in place.
That way the 2×4 can hold the sheet in place, allowing you to walk on it to get it into place. Once you get the plywood to snap past the coping it will probably hold itself in position. To make it easier you may want to add a half inch or so to your measurement. That will make it slacker, and easier to get the plywood under the coping.
Once in place start some screws on the top edge. Work your way down each rib and any slackness will almost certainly be eliminated. I suggest you start by screwing each rib in the center. If you work from the same edge each time there is a tendency for the sheet to get out of alignment. Once all the transition sheets were on I measured the middle of the flat, which was less than a full sheet and cut those pieced to fit.
I had to buy extra screws a couple times and I lost track of exactly how many and what sizes I used. I think you can get away with using shorter screws for this last layer, and they’re easier to drive home.
The last thing I did was roll on some flat white paint. It helps keep the dust down and minimizes splinters.
This is a pic of the transition. The skateboard should help with scale. It looks a little slacker than it feels. For me, a radius of 6.5 ft. turned out to be perfect. And the few neighborhood rats I’ve let in to check it out like it too.
Here’s a standing skater’s eye view from the deck.
A view from the basement stairs before the ramp was painted.
Another pre-paint view, from across the room.
Behold… the beginning! When you think about it, do you really need a laundry room?
That’s all there is to it. Go big!