Thermal auger

By Ray Ford

An easy way to heat a hole in the ice

Thermal auger

Photo by Conrad Gregoire

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Fetching winter water got a lot easier for White Lake, Ont., cottager Conrad Gregoire when he installed an electrically powered thermal auger fashioned from a diverse combo of workshop items.







The idea “just came to me,” says the former scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. “I realized you don’t need to remove all the ice. You just need to heat a few millimetres of it in the right place.”

Gregoire took a 15-metre length of heating cable (the kind used to keep waterlines and eavestroughs from freezing) and wrapped it around the outside of a 4′ section of 6″ dia. stove pipe.







He interspaced the coils with a second cable (old telephone cable or a worn extension cord will work) as a spacer to keep the heat line from touching itself, which would cause a short. Gregoire wrapped the wire coil (held in place by Tuck Tape) in the pink foam insulation that’s usually used for sill plates.







Then he rolled an 8″-dia. stovepipe around the outside. By pouring a ring of epoxy into the gap between pipes, he kept the cables in place at both ends.







The auger bolts to the floating dock, with the top a few inches above water level. When it’s time for water, Gregoire flips a switch and waits a minute for the ice to thaw around the auger’s inner wall. When the core of ice bobs free, he pushes it beneath the auger with a broomstick and fetches water with a coffee can on a stick. (Hint: Trimming off the crimped end at the bottom of the pipe makes it easier to push the ice down.)

“If you put the auger in at freezeup, it’s very stable. I took it out in the spring when the ice got soft. I didn’t know if it would survive, but there was no damage at all,” he says. “I make little gizmos whenever I need them—it’s sort of a MacGyver thing.”

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Ray Ford