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How to start carving ice!

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

I started carving with no experience and no professional tools. I'm fortunate enough to live in area that holds and ice sculpting contest once a year so my first sculptures were done during these contests. Power tools are not aloud in the contest so my only tool was a 1 inch chisel from the local hardware store and my creativity. Most people will not have this opportunity so this "how to" will be for those people who aren't able to invest in tools but still would like to carve traditional ice sculptures. First things first you need to find a source for your ice. You could freeze water in something like a cooler or a tote but this will leave you with a block of ice that is cloudy and not very good to carve. If you are just starting out purchasing a bunch of expensive equipment isn't really an option so I would search locally for an ice supplier that produced block ice for carving ie. 40x20x10.

Montana ice sculpture - uncarved block
Uncarved 20x40x10 block of ice

Once you have access to a block you can obtain chisels like I did from the local hardware store and then just start chipping away. If you are the type that needs a little more guidance I would suggest creating yourself a template. You can use a computer to print templates, hand draw them onto cardboard or draw directly on the ice with Magic Ink Marker or any waterproof marker. This method works best if the ice hasn't started melting. I have access to a large scale printer and rolls of newsprint so with my background in graphic design this method works best for me. I apply a little water to the newsprint and then stick it right to the frozen block. The next step is to take my chisel and lightly chisel around all the lines of my drawing. After that it's time to remove all the negative space around the image. If you only have a 1 inch chisel you just start stabbing into the ice in an outward direction. Hitting directly into the ice can cause cracks that will travel through the entire block (that's not good). The much quicker method would be to use a chainsaw to block out as much of the design as you can and then shape with chisels or die grinders. If power tools are not an option a saw with large teeth like those on a Japanese Ice Saw make for the most efficient method of cutting out large chunks. After you get your sculpture to a place that you believe you are finished you can pour warm water over the sculpture or use a blow torch to clear up any rough lines and to create a crystal clear finished product. This step can be catastrophic to your sculpture if the temperature difference between the ice and the water/torch are too great. Any dramatic change temperature can crack your sculpture.


Montana Ice sculpture for a wedding
Early sculpture for a wedding done with 1" Chisel


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