A sleigh is born!

Unusually for this website, this project has absolutely nothing to do with software services. But it was something I did for the local community and many people have asked me about it, so I have added a blog page.

The back story is that I have been a member of Maidenhead Round Table for many years (last year I was the chairman), and one of the things MRT do during the year is run a Santa sleigh around town each December to raise money for charity. The problem was, that the old sleigh was getting a bit long in the tooth and needed to be replaced after 13 years. It had water damage, many repairs had been bodged and it was looking less and less like a sleigh and more and more like a huge red pile of wood.

I wanted to build a sleigh that would look like a child might imagine one. Shiny, red and gold, and on runners like a real sleigh. Mindful of budget, I had to use our existing trailer to mount it on, 8x4 feet. I also wanted to get the weight down and so decided on a two seater. Big enough for Santa and two small kids that would provide good pictures for parents.

Because of the issues with the last sleigh, waterproofing was also a consideration, and so I would seal the entire sleigh using fibreglass. I don’t want to be building another one in a couple of years. This one needs to last at least 10 years; 15 would be better.



We decided to allocate a budget of £700 for the sleigh. This money came directly from our charity account and needed to be spent wisely. It is helping us raise more funds, but spent recklessly means it is money wasted, that could have gone directly to help someone else.


I almost exclusively used soft structural plywood. I bought sheets of 8x4 feet in 12mm and 18mm thickness. 4 of each. I drew the shape of the sleigh onto a 12mm sheet and cut it out. Then used that sheet as a template for the opposite side. For the curved skin I used "bendy plywood" that is just 1.5mm thick to give shape. Fibreglass would later give strength.

18mm Structural Plywood

There was no grand plan or technical drawings. I just cut the piece I wanted as I needed it and added it to the structure. I avoided using nails or glue. Everything is screwed and countersunk. If I made a mistake (and I did lots), I just unscrewed, cut a new piece of wood to fit and added it. My brother helped with sanding and holding heavy bits as I added them. It became a heavy thing and needed two men to lift and turn it.


Fibreglass was the single most expensive item on my build list. I was unable to find anyone to donate the materials and needed almost 12kg of resin + hardener. The mat and tape where also costly with the combined kit coming in at about £300.

However, it was a cost I was willing to swallow. I had to add strength to the thin bendy plywood I used to form the curved shapes. I wanted to add waterproofing to prevent rot and extend the life of the sleigh. I also wanted a smooth finish for the paint so that it would shine. The sleigh is a night time thing and shiny paint would reflect street lights and be more visible and magical.

I had never used fibreglass before. My advice would be to watch YouTube videos on using it and don’t try to do it all in one sheet. Chop it up and do it in smaller sections with overlapping edges and then sand, fill and smooth after. And make sure you don’t leave this until the winter. The resin absolutely won’t cure under 10°C and your sleigh will be sticky until February.


I was incredibly lucky regarding paint. I found a local car repair company that offered to paint the sleigh for us. They had seen images of our sleigh on social media as it was being built, and were sufficiently impressed with the quality to want to be a part of its construction.

The spray company contacted their supplier and their supplier donated the paint for free. This was £400 worth of red paint and £600 worth of gold that was specially made to be shiny. The red so happens to be Rosso Scuderia - Ferrari paint. It left us with a great finish.

The spray company also spent considerable time filing and smoothing before the paint. It took them 9 days to paint the sleigh. It would not have looked so professional if I had had to do it myself in my garage. For some things, professional help can be a god-send.


We had been using generators on the old sleigh. The sound was horrendous, the exhaust fumes were slowly killing all my elves and every year we were spending money maintaining and repairing them. I decided new sleigh, new solution. We went with a 115Ah 12v leisure battery. These are not car batteries. Car batteries are designed to be always fully charged and to allow a huge draw on ignition. Leisure batteries provide a trickle charge all the way down until flat. These perform better and last longer.

800w amp

Now using 12v DC, I could wire all the sound like a car. I used an 800w car amp, 260w 6”x9” marine speakers (for boats), added a blade fuse box to protect the expensive stuff and used 10M bolt as a ground for the system. I also added a 12v SD card reader to play the music.


Lighting is important for your sleigh and we’d had a very nice paint job done on ours. I wanted to show it off. In the past, we have used rope lights and fairy lights. Unfortunately, these end up outlining the shape of the sleigh but everything else goes completely black. You end up with a wireframe outline of your sleigh and no one can actually see the sleigh itself. I didn’t want another stealth sleigh.

5050 waterproof LEDs

I wanted to uplight the sleigh, much as is done with buildings, without using tons of power that would drain our leisure battery. Fortunately LED lights these days are really good. I found some that were cheap, waterproof, ran 12v and are extremely bright for low power consumption. They come on reels that you can chop to size. To find them, google “5050 waterproof LEDs”.

General Advice

It is tempting to make this a group project and share the workload. Having been part of a Round Table for many years, I’d recommend against this. Make it one man’s vision. Building a sleigh by committee means no one knows how it will turn out, makes it harder to plan and you are going to miss your deadline as people don’t achieve their bit on time. By all means, get other people in to help, but have a chief elf to dictate proceedings.

Use your local community. Businesses especially. We managed to get all our wood for free (£220), all our paint for free (£1,000) and we had an automotive shop fill and paint the sleigh for us to a standard that would have been very hard in my garage.

Don’t be frightened of this. It is a big project, it does take time, but it isn’t impossible. I am not a carpenter. I’m an IT guy who was so bad at woodwork at school, I dropped it aged 13. I’ve never done anything since. I’ve never used fibreglass before, I’m not an electrician and I’m not an artist. YouTube has tons of videos showing you everything you could possibly need to know. I’d go so far as to say this was a YouTube built sleigh. This build is a combination of research, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness to get it right.

Are there any templates? No. I looked. In the end, I found a cartoon of a sleigh and decided I’d just try to make it a bit like that as I liked the shape. Just draw it out onto your wood, and if it looks wrong, draw it again. It took me about 10 goes before I finally took a jigsaw to it.


The feedback we have had has been great. We can take it off the trailer (unbolt it) and it is welcomed into pubs and shopping malls so we can do more than just tow it. Lots of people shared pictures of their kids on Facebook and Twitter and we got some fantastic exposure. Even the build progress shots in the run up to xmas really turbocharged our Facebook page. We could expect 1500 impressions per photo. It was like a slow build marketing campaign.

We ended up raising more than £5000 using the sleigh this year, and expect to continue this for at least 10 years, maybe even 20. Not a bad return for a £700 investment. I'm almost aged out now, but I know I've left a great assest that the guys can use for many years after I've gone.