The playing surface or curling sheet is defined by the World Curling Federation Rules of Curling. It is a rectangular area of ice, carefully prepared to be as flat and level as possible, 146 to 150 feet (45 to 46 m) in length by 14.5 to 16.5 feet (4.4 to 5.0 m) in width. The shorter borders of the sheet are called the backboards. Because of the elongated shape, several sheets may be laid out side by side in the same arena, allowing multiple games to be played simultaneously.
A target, the house, is centred on the intersection of the centre line, drawn lengthwise down the centre of the sheet and the tee line, drawn 16 feet (4.9 m) from, and parallel to, the backboard. These lines divide the house into quarters. The house consists of a centre circle (the button) and three concentric rings, of diameters 4, 8 and 12 feet, formed by painting or laying coloured vinyl sheet under the ice and are usually distinguished by colour. A stone must at least touch the outer ring in order to score (see Scoring below), otherwise the rings are merely a visual aid for aiming and judging which stone is closer to the button. Two hog lines are drawn 37 feet (11 m) from, and parallel to, the backboard.
The hacks are fixed 12 feet (3.7 m) behind each button; a hack gives the thrower something to push against when making the throw. On indoor rinks, there are usually two fixed hacks, rubber-lined holes, one on each side of the centre line, with the inside edge no more than 3 inches (76 mm) from the centre line and the front edge on the hack line. A single moveable hack may also be used.
The ice may be natural but is usually frozen by a refrigeration plant pumping a brine solution through numerous pipes fixed lengthwise at the bottom of a shallow pan of water. Most curling clubs have an ice maker whose main job is to care for the ice. At the major curling championships, ice maintenance is extremely important. Large events, such as the Brier or other national/international championships, are typically held in an arena that presents a challenge to the ice maker, who must constantly monitor and adjust the ice and air temperatures as well as air humidity levels to ensure a consistent playing surface. It is common for each sheet of ice to have multiple sensors embedded in order to monitor surface temperature, as well as probes set up in the seating area (to monitor humidity) and in the compressor room (to monitor brine supply and return temperatures). The surface of the ice is maintained at a temperature of around 23 °F (−5 °C).
A key part of the preparation of the playing surface is the spraying of water droplets onto the ice, which form pebble on freezing. The pebbled ice surface resembles an orange peel, and the stone moves on top of the pebbled ice. As the stone moves over the pebble, any rotation of the stone causes it to curl to the inside or outside. The amount of curl (commonly referred to as the feet of curl) can change during a game as the pebble wears; the ice maker must monitor this and be prepared to scrape and re-pebble the surface prior to each game.
The curling stone (also sometimes called a rock in North America) is made of granite and is specified by the World Curling Federation, which requires a weight between 38 and 44 pounds (17.24 and 19.96 kg), a maximum circumference of 36 inches (914.4 mm) and a minimum height of 4.5 inches (114.3 mm). The only part of the stone in contact with the ice is the running surface, a narrow, flat annulus or ring, 0.25 to 0.50 inches (6.4 to 12.7 mm) wide and about 5 inches (130 mm) in diameter; the sides of the stone bulge convex down to the ring and the inside of the ring is hollowed concave to clear the ice. This concave bottom was first proposed by J. S. Russell of Toronto, Ontario, Canada sometime after 1870, and was subsequently adopted by Scottish stone manufacturer Andrew Kay.
The granite for the stones comes from two sources: Ailsa Craig, an island off the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, and the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales.
Ailsa Craig is the traditional source and produces two types of granite, Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green. Blue Hone has very low water absorption, which prevents the action of repeatedly freezing water from eroding the stone. Ailsa Craig Common Green is a lesser quality granite than Blue Hone. In the past, most curling stones were made from Blue Hone but the island is now a wildlife reserve and the quarry is restricted by environmental conditions that exclude blasting. Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite, granted by the Marquess of Ailsa, whose family has owned the island since 1560. The last harvest of Ailsa Craig granite by Kays took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tons were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders through at least 2020. Kays has been the exclusive manufacturer of curling stones for the Olympics since the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Trefor granite comes from the Yr Eifl or Trefor Granite Quarry in the village of Trefor on the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd, Wales and has produced granite since 1850. Trefor granite comes in shades of pink, blue and grey. The quarry supplies curling stone granite exclusively to the Canadian, Canada Curling Stone Co., which has been producing stones since 1992 and supplied the stones for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A handle is attached by a bolt running vertically through a hole in the centre of the stone. The handle allows the stone to be gripped and rotated upon release; on properly prepared ice the rotation will bend (curl) the path of the stone in the direction in which the front edge of the stone is turning, especially as the stone slows. Handles are coloured to identify each team; two popular colours in major tournaments being red and yellow. In competition, an electronic handle known as the eye on the hog may be fitted to detect hog line violations. This electronically detects whether the thrower's hand is in contact with the handle as it passes the hog line and indicates a violation by lights at the base of the handle. The eye on the hog eliminates human error and the need for hog line officials. It is mandatory in high-level national and international competition, but its cost, around US$650 each, currently puts it beyond the reach of most club curling.
The curling broom, or brush, is used to sweep the ice surface in the path of the stone, (see sweeping), and is also often used as a balancing aid during delivery of the stone.
Prior to the 1950s, most curling brooms were made of corn strands and were similar to household brooms of the day. In 1958, Fern Marchessault of Montreal inverted the corn straw in the centre of the broom. This style of corn broom was referred to as the Blackjack.
Artificial brooms made from man-made fabrics, rather than corn, such as the Rink Rat, also became common later during this time period. Prior to the late sixties, Scottish curling brushes were used primarily by some of the Scots, as well as by recreational and elderly curlers as a substitute for corn brooms, since the technique was easier to learn. In the late sixties, competitive curlers from Calgary, Alberta, such as John Mayer, Bruce Stewart, and, later, the world junior championship teams skipped by Paul Gowsell, proved that the curling brush could be just as (or more) effective without all the blisters common to corn broom use. During that time period, there was much debate in competitive curling circles as to which sweeping device was more effective: brush or broom. Eventually, the brush won out with the majority of curlers making the switch to the less costly and more efficient brush. Today, brushes have replaced traditional corn brooms at every level of curling; it is rare now to see a curler using a corn broom on a regular basis.
Curling brushes may have fabric, hog hair, or horsehair heads. Modern curling brush handles are usually hollow tubes made of fibreglass or carbon fibre instead of a solid length of wooden dowel. These hollow tube handles are lighter and stronger than wooden handles, allowing faster sweeping and also enabling more downward force to be applied to the broom head with reduced shaft flex. New, "directional fabric" brooms, which players are worried will alter the fundamentals of the sport by reducing the level of skill required, have been accused of giving players an unfair advantage. The new brooms were temporarily banned by the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada for the 2015-2016 season. The new brooms "isolate the friction caused by brushing only where the running surface of the rock has contact with ice––on top of the pebble––with little resistance", which makes sweepers have unprecedented control over the direction the stone goes.
Curling shoes are similar to ordinary athletic shoes except that they have dissimilar soles; the slider shoe (usually known as a "slider") is designed for the sliding foot and the "gripper shoe" (usually known as a gripper) for the hack foot.
The slider is designed to slide and typically has a Teflon sole. It is worn by the thrower during delivery from the hack and by sweepers or the skip to glide down the ice when sweeping or otherwise traveling down the sheet quickly. Stainless steel was once common for slider soles, and "red brick" sliders with lateral blocks of PVC on the sole are also available. Most shoes have a full-sole sliding surface, but some shoes have a sliding surface covering only the outline of the shoe and other enhancements with the full-sole slider. Some shoes have small disc sliders covering the front and heel portions or only the front portion of the foot, which allow more flexibility in the sliding foot for curlers playing with tuck deliveries. When a player is not throwing, the player's slider shoe can be temporarily rendered non-slippery by using a slip-on gripper. Ordinary athletic shoes may be converted to sliders by using a step-on or slip-on Teflon slider or by applying electrical or gaffer tape directly to the sole or over a piece of cardboard. This arrangement often suits casual or beginning players.
The gripper is worn by the thrower on the hack foot during delivery and is designed to grip the ice. It may have a normal athletic shoe sole or a special layer of rubbery material applied to the sole of a thickness to match the sliding shoe. The toe of the hack foot shoe may also have a rubberised coating on the top surface or a flap that hangs over the toe to reduce wear on the top of the shoe as it drags on the ice behind the thrower.