Design & DIY

Learn how to carve ice like a pro

Ice carving

When it comes to ice sculpting, nothing is off-limits for Toronto-based company Ice Boy. Its extensive and elaborate portfolio features everything from a rearing, eight-foot horse, to two birds on entwined branches—the latter of which took over 60 hours to create.

However, there’s no doubt about it—ice carving isn’t for amateurs. Or, as Kevin Slavish, Ice Boy’s creative director puts it: “There is no such thing as a ‘starter’ sculpture. Ice caving is art, not a popsicle stick project.”

But if you’re still keen to brandish a chainsaw and brave the frost, here’s what you can expect to encounter as a beginner ice carver.

Before you become an ice carver, you’ll need to become a skilled carver

Since carving skills transfer easily from one medium to the other, Slavish says it’s best to practice on other materials before moving to the cold, hard stuff. That’s how Ice Boy’s resident master carver Fred Marquina learned his trade. Marquina trained in the Philippines, first working with wood before perfecting his skills using foam, chocolate, fruit, and, eventually, ice.

Food might not sound as exciting as ice, but as anyone who has been to Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair can attest, sculpted butter, whether it’s of an iconic dead racoon or Rob Ford’s face, is just as much of a crowd-pleaser.

Apprentice with a master to hone composition, scale, proportion, and balance techniques

“Volunteer to work beside a skilled ice carver before you invest thousands of dollars in tools,” advises Slavish, adding that carvers who are interested in braving ice can contact Ice Boy for their first trip to the freezer.

Get ready to invest

Ice carving isn’t a cheap hobby. While frozen water is relatively easy to come by, other specialized tools of the trade include chain saws, aluminum plates, chisels, and sanding discs. To save a few bucks, Slavish recommends that beginners start out with new wood chisels, rather than the pricier ice carving chisels.

Get ready for some heavy lifting

Keeping your tools sharp is only one aspect of ice carving—you’ll need to keep your body toned as well. One of Salvish’s top pieces of advice for amateur carvers (other than wearing warm clothes, of course) is to work out. “A block of ice measuring 10 inches high, 20 inches wide, and 40 inches long weighs 300 pounds,” he points out.

And always remember—ice melts

Avoiding common mistakes is easy, just as long as your remember that ice is affected by changes in temperature. If you’re carving outside of a freezer, make sure to temper your ice before your carve. This ensures that it won’t fracture from the sudden temperature change while it’s being carved or on display.

Finally, when you’re plotting out your design, think about what your sculpture will look like after it’s been outside of the freezer for a few hours. “Design and carve to allow for melting,” says Slavish.