Make an ice-light – A Finnish tradition

Requirements – bucket, water, large candle.

Temperature – below freezing for 24 hours, the colder and longer the better.

Fill a bucket of water and leave it outside to freeze. It doesn’t need to be really cold, just a few degrees below freezing will do, the actual temperature isn’t so important as long as it consistently below zero so it doesn’t start to melt again. The two in these pictures took a couple of days with temperatures of about -5C (23F) at night to -2C (29F) in the day time.

When you reckon it’s ready, turn the bucket upside down and get the ice out. These had about a 10cm / 4″ slab of ice on the top and walls of around 2″ / 5cm thick, the walls freeze more slowly, don’t tip it up too soon as they will break, and do it gently when you do. There should still be some liquid water in the middle at the bottom (watch you don’t pour it all over your feet!) which makes a space for the candle. The speed of freezing depends on your temperature of course.

I supported the sides on a couple of pieces of wood around 2cm / 3/4″ thick to allow air in, light the candle, carefully place the ice on top and you’ve a beautiful icy light. The heat of the candle melts a hole through the ice above it after a while, but this doesn’t seem to matter, the candle is protected pretty well by the ice walls from the wind not to blow it out.

Mix food dye with the water to get coloured ones or use a glow stick or two as a light source instead.

Make an ice carousel

Requirements – a frozen lake or large pond, chain saw, rope, stake, spade or shovel, outboard engine, wood for a supportive frame.

Temperature – not so important, the ice needs to be safely walkable, 15cm or more.

Another great idea from Finland where they have lots of lakes and ponds that freeze over in winter. I’ve never tried it, not living near anywhere suitable, but it looks like a great fun thing to do.

Place your stake in the ice so it doesn’t wobble, tie the rope to it and scribe a large circle on the ice. Use the chain saw to cut around the line you have scribed so you have a floating circle of ice. Site the outboard motor on a wooden frame cut through a hole in the ice and use it to spin the ice disc around. That’s the theory I’m guessing the practice is a bit more tricky to do, getting the circle really accurate will make it work so much more easily.

Throw hot water into the air and watch it drift away as steam

Requirements – boiling water, plastic or insulated cup.

Temperature – below -20C / -4F

It needs to be much colder for this one, it works better the nearer to boiling the water is and the bigger the difference between the hot water and the air temperature. Try it on the coldest day you can and do what you can to keep the water as hot as possible, realistically it needs to be below around -20C for good results.

Get a vacuum flask if you have one and fill it with boiling water (take care) leave for a minute or so to heat the flask up, pour it away and fill again with boiling water, put on the lid and go outside. If you don’t have a vacuum flask a jug or pan will work but will lose more heat, if possible use a plastic jug or similar, if not, then glass, metal is the last choice. You’ll also need a cup or even better an insulated mug.

Pour some of the water into the cup and throw it into the air. Marvel at how the hot water goes up but then turns to steam and simply drifts away! There’s lots of opportunity for photography too, get into position with a plain background behind where the steam will be and play around with shots into the sun or lit by the sun from the front.

If it’s very cold and you’re very careful, you could even try to put some in a supersoaker, water pistol or similar and puff out steam.

In a similar vein try blowing soap bubbles and watch them freeze into ice crystal balloons before they land (or maybe shortly afterwards)

Expanding ice and bottles

Requirements – empty glass bottle or jar with or without top, water, optional – drill or saw

Temperature – below freezing for 12+ hours

A simple one but fun for the younger ones or if you’ve never done it before.

On a cold night / day fill a bottle with cold water and screw the lid on tight, place it outside and wait a few hours or until the next day, this is a good one for overnight. As the ice freezes it expands and so will split or break the bottle. Glass works best here, plastic bottles tend to just expand with the water, even with the lid screwed on tight. You do of course have broken glass to clean up (easier if you can leave it until the ice has melted) placing on a tray first will make the clear-up easier.


Leave the top off the bottle but fill it right to the very brim, you can get a column of ice coming out of the top of the bottle.

Drill a hole in the bottle top or make a slit with a hammer and chisel, with some experimentation you can make some cool shaped ice extrusions.

The results of this vary with how cold it is, or if the temperature is falling, by how quickly it falls.

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