A first timer’s guide to carving ice in Fairbanks

Alaska First Timer Notes Downloadable Version

Nothing can fully prepare you for competing in Alaska.  This guide can only help; it won’t fully prepare you, only experience can do that.  You will have to endure mental setbacks & your body will ache.


         They will supply a shovel, lights, extension cords, saw horses, planks, scaffolding, sunshade.  (use the sawhorses & planks to create a work table and a tool bench)

            Power tools 110V-

Extension cords– Provided by Ice Alaska.  If you need more go to the lighting office.  Note- power cords will literally snap in half at –20 bring wire splicing tools and electrical tape for your tool repair.  Keeping your power tools in a hot box when not in use will help.


                                    Electric saw- (thoroughly remove all oil for flight)

                                                Bring sharpening bits to re-sharpen your chains.

                                                2 saws- Sharpen before you go to the site.

                                                            14” Stihl E140- Sharp, extra chain & adj. tools

28” Stihl E220- Sharp, extra chain & adj. tools

                                    Gas saw-

                                                Not recommended to take on plane

                                                Stinky, noisey, hard to start, heavy

(Can be rented in the park if you feel they are absolutely necessary)

Be careful when cutting close to the ground.  There is gravel under the snow!

The ice can become really hard overnight due to the cold temperatures.  Modify your chains so they move through the ice faster and you don’t become fatigued trying to move your saw through the ice.  When your chain becomes dull, take the time to sharpen it immediately.  Trying to keep carving with a dull chain will wear you out quicker.


                        Die grinder- take 2 and change bits as needed

Set one up with large bit and one with small bit

Tools for switching bits



                 Pistol grip sander-  with Velcro backer pad & green sand paper

                        Angle Grinder– with an 3 Hole sanding disc

                        Makita Blower– very handy for cleaning snow off your sculpture

            Hand tools-

                        Chisels- sharp!

                                    Junk chisel for the snow/dirt areas

                        Hand saw

                        Ice pick & 6 Prong Pick


                        Junk chisel (You may use a floor scraper with a replaceable blade)


            Fusion Tools-

                        Aluminum- don’t use below 10 degrees


Syringe (Large & Small)

                        Hand saw

Misc Tools-


                        Hot box- to defrost tools, keep beverages from freezing

Tool Box or an insulated box

Heat source-

            Ceramic heater or Halogen light

                        A Blower is handy for keeping the snow off your carving

                        Small plastic wedge for separating larger pieces of ice

                        A Layout jig is handy for measuring small pieces to be added on later

                        A straight edge

                        Tape measure

                        A Brush


                        Magic Marker

                        Camera & extra batteries or charger

                        Heat gun

                        Chainsaw sharpening tools

                        2” Poly plank foam (cut to just barely fir in your tool case)


                        Thermos to take coffee back to your site

                        Larger cup for water or fruit punch at meals (stay hydrated)

Test new tools in your studio before you leave so you fully understand the function of the tool.

Bring some cash to the site for emergency cord & tool repair.  The repair guys don’t take credit cards.

Carving Clothes- Stay away from Cotton

            Heavy duty boots (rated at least -40F)

            Warm socks & plenty of them

            Neoprene socks or polypropylene, thin wicking socks

            Under armor bottoms 2 pairs

            Sweat pants

            Bib snow pants (waterproof, breathable)


            Under armor top 2 pair


            Coat, loose fitting, breathable shell


            Polar fleece hood


            Hearing protection

            World’s best gloves (3 pairs, rotate at every meal!) broken-in gloves grip better

            Thin liner gloves

            Mittens for the brutal cold-  You will have to get used to the lack of dexterity

    Rotate your gloves every time you go in for a meal. They have a drying rack set up inside. Don’t forget to label your stuff.  Some carvers put hand warmers in their gloves or mittens.  Stay away from Cotton.  If your boots aren’t cutting it, switch out your socks at every meal, that will go a long way.

Regulate your body temperature.  If you start to feel hot, open your coat, or take off your coat for a couple of minutes.  Sweat is your enemy.

If snow is caked on your jacket.  Change it, or leave your coat outside when you go into a warm area.  The snow will melt and soak into your jacket.


            Temperatures can be as low as -40 degrees F or up to +40 degrees F. (Normally it is between -20 & +20)  Eat more calories to help combat the cold.  DRINK TWICE THE WATER YOU NORMALLY DO.


            It is natural and will not be perfect.  It will have cracks, snails, aquatic plants & bubbles in it.  Never cut all of the way through the ice to the ground, the snow underneath WILL contain gravel.

Height & Width dimensions will be fairly accurate.  The thickness is a variable.  I have seen ice as thin as 28” & as thick as 44”

Allow for a layer of white ice (1-6 inches) could have gravel, sand, dirt etc. Use old junk chisel when removing it. You may want to work it into your design.

Template and Design

You might consider templating some of the delicate parts using a hard template like poster board so that you can move around cracks etc.

When creating your design remember the size of the ice and what it weighs.

            Will you stack and carve or carve and stack.

For the single block event you will not have the use of a forklift.  Keep in mind that the ice is always bigger and heavier than you expect it’s going to be.


Have the following ready-

            Copy of your design

            Title of your sculpture

            Light color you would like used on your sculpture

Ice Alaska will give you a pin and a sweatshirt


Check two 50 lb. cases. Check with your airline for size restrictions and extra bag costs.

Ways of cutting weight-

            Pack some heavy stuff in your carry-on bag. (no power tools)

Wear your carving coat on the plane.

Wear your boots on the plane.  (This sucks, only do as a last resort)

Make sure you don’t duplicate tools with your partner(s)

Traveling with this equipment can be stressful…do your research and know

what you can take and what they will confiscate.  Propane, gum freeze, oil, WD-40 will be confiscated.

It’s not everyday travelers fly with power tools.  The TSA will rummage through your tool case.  Leave a detailed list of the case’s contents, along with your contact information, in your case.

Cold weather fusing methods

         Use very cold water (not right from the barrel, it is too warm)


Nail board-

            Christmas tree method (for horizontal fusion)-

                        Flatten 2 pieces of ice with a nailboard

                        Score the top piece with a v bit in a pattern like this-

                        Place the pieces on top of each other & add water.

Add the water slowly.  Too quickly could cause the ice to crack in very cold temps

                        Remember water runs down hill.

Ice Dam Method (for vertical fusion)-

            Flatten 2 pieces of ice with a nailboard

Scoop out a valley in the smaller of the 2 pieces like this-

The valley should be about 1/8” deep

            Hold the small piece against the large piece (very still)

            Add water around the perimeter & let freeze

            Using slush create a damn around 3 sides (leaving the top open)

            Allow to freeze

            Slowly add water from the top.  About 20% at a time.

            Let freeze in between adding water

Aluminum Method-

 If temp is +10F to + 28 F degrees.

Hand Saw-

Good at all temps below 30F.  Ice may be too wide for a hand saw to be effective. Be patient


To show volume or to enhance light reflection.

Different textures-




            Japanese Texture Saw

            Chip chop



            Hand sanded


            Wire brush


Remember your tool marks will not melt out so polishing will need to take place.

                 Use a pistol grip sander for finishing

Torch…no way unless the ice warms to above +10F

Keep your area clean and organized as you go

The sculpture is judged under white lights at night and you place the lights.

You also pick the color for the colored display of your ice the following day.

Create stanchions 12-18 inches off the ground.  This might seem low, but people will get the hint and stay clear.  By making the stations low, they won’t block your sculpture for photos.


Set up a time line and includes 8 hours of sleep, you will feel better and carve better.   Carve during daylight as much as possible. It is warmer!

Meals are provided. Eat alot, you will burn much of what you take in just staying

warm.  Even when you’re not hungry, eat a full meal.  You’ll be surprised how hungry you’ll become after you start eating.

            Breakfast is in the hotel.

                        Lunch is typically soup and sandwiches

                        Dinner tends to be more substantial

Stay hydrated.

Health, & Safety

            Wash your hands and use sanitizer regularly

            Glasses are not recommended, wear contacts with sun glasses if necessary

            Bring Ibuprofin, Imodium EX, Lip Balm

            Keep your mouth covered when it is cold

Tourist information

            A tripod is recommended for the best photos at night.  Lithium batteries hold up best in the cold.  Consider an extra set of batteries.

Chena Hot Springs Resort- (about 1 hr away from Fairbanks)

                        Tour Ice hotel/museum- tours at 11:00, 1:00 & 3:00

Hot springs.  After your visit to the ice hotel.

Have lunch there (Chena Burger & an Alaskan Amber Yum!)

                        Take your camera, you will probably see moose on the way.

Prospector Store-

                        In Fairbanks. A unique store with cold weather gear.

            Big Rays-

                        In Fairbanks, A working mans outfitting store

Sportsman’s Warehouse-

like a Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops

Gift store-

At the ice park, souvenirs pictures of ice and past events etc.

AIH hardware

On airport road. it is one of the best hardware stores in the world!


Keep your eyes upward,  you might catch a glimpse of the Aurora or an owl.

Hotel & Travel

         Most Carvers will be staying at the Westmark

Take some reading material for the flight, it’s a long one no matter where you’re coming from.

When in Fairbanks you can use the limited shuttle service at the park or rent your own car.  The shuttle service will get you where you NEED to go, not necessarily where you want to go .  You may want a rental car if you do not like shuttles etc. Be careful of black ice.  You can park you rental car close by after unloading your tools.   You will need to plug your car into an outlet to heat the engine most days, or the engine will freeze.