Instructions: How To Make Ice Candles
Note on the name:
These are really “ice candle holders” with a candle put inside after the holder is made, but we’ve always just called them “ice candles”. We’ll use that name as we describe the process below.
- one or more large containers, such as 5-gallon white commercial food buckets.
- a hammer
- a large Phillips screw driver
- a bucket to fill the large container(s) if you can’t fit it under a tap.
1. Fill your large container with water to about 3 inches from the top. The water will expand up as it freezes.
2. Put it outside your house, and let it freeze overnight or as long as needed depending on the temperature. We usually let it sit on our porch about 10-12 hours in very cold weather (around 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower), but up to 24 hours if it's closer to freezing. With the right amount of time, the inside should still be liquid, but an ice wall will form on the sides and top that is a few inches thick. You can usually see how much is frozen by looking down the top of the container (and can see water bubbles in the middle moving around if you tilt it.) You want the ice candle at least a few inches thick, both so it doesn’t crack as you’re later making the top opening, and so the walls don’t melt on the first warm day after you make it.
NOTE: to keep the bottom thinner (and easier to chip away to make the opening in step 6.), place your bucket outside on a piece of Styrofoam insulation. Thanks to André Mercier from Quebec, Canada, for this helpful tip!
3. Bring the bucket back into the house and thaw it for about 15 minutes so that the ice candle detaches from the sides of the bucket. I just put it on a rug in case any water comes off of the container. The ice may make several loud cracking noises as it thaws – children, pets, and sensitive adults should beware. Occasionally a container itself (as opposed to the ice) will actually crack open – since you’ve now got ice all the way around on the inside, you won’t get a flood on your floor, but you have to check your containers and not reuse them if they crack, or you may get water leakage the next time you fill a cracked container with water.
4. Then, take the container back outside and carefully slide the ice candle out of the bucket. I do this on the edge of our porch, as a little water will run out, and if the ice candle falls and cracks you don't want all of the remaining unfrozen water to pour out on your floor. Some people do this step and the remaining steps in a bathtub or shower, which also works fine for avoiding water in the house and also has the benefit of keeping you warmer. I just like doing these things outside – it’s part of my winter tradition.
5. What was the ice at the top (of the bucket) will now be the bottom of the ice candle. For the remaining work, you want the ice candle sitting on its bottom.
6. You can then take a Phillips screwdriver and hammer, and gently tap through the top of the ice candle (the surface that was on the bottom of the bucket, and is now the thinnest layer of ice.) You have to be careful to tap a few holes in a circle to gradually make a larger hole, otherwise you can split or crack the ice candle. I have found that if you crack the ice candle, even to the point of pieces coming off, you can often “glue” them back in by putting the piece back in place and drizzling water over it, which then freezes the piece back into place.
7. Once you've opened up a hole about 6 inches across, you can pour the water out. I do this with heavy winter mitts on, both as the ice candle itself is cold and the nearly-frozen water you’re pouring out tends to get on your hands.
8. You can then widen the hole by additional tapping with the Phillips screwdriver and hammer to take more of the ice off around the top edges. Any pieces that fall down inside the ice candle can now be scraped out with your mitt.
9. You should then end up with a holder that looks like a primitive glass - open on top, with solid ice sides and bottom. Put a candle in it, and you’ve got a beautiful and natural light for your walk, driveway, or any other path you’re walking on a winter’s night.
Instructions written and some photographs by Paul
- If you have any questions or feedback please feel free to contact me (Paul Wagner) at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- It’s helpful to choose the large ice candle containers to have smooth sides, and be slightly larger at the top than the bottom (to make it easier to remove the ice candle.) Again, we’ve found the commercial white five-gallon food buckets to work very well.
- You’ll need one or more large containers; we make four per night so that we can get twelve ice candles total made over three nights.
- I’ve found that if the temperature is much above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you may not be able to get good solid walls without waiting several days. Obviously, the colder the weather, the quicker your ice candles form.
- We’ve used all kinds of candles, ranging from votives to larger candles that are several inches in diameter. You want the actual candle to be somewhat shorter than the ice candle so that it fits entirely inside – otherwise the wind will tend to blow your candle out. You don’t need a high-quality candle – we’ve picked up most of ours from overstock, liquidator and dollar stores.
- Realize that leaving the actual candles outside in the holders can be harmful to them – melted snow can accumulate around the wick, making the candle difficult to light, and the candles themselves can crack and deteriorate in cold weather.
- There are lots of variations on the ice candle theme, with people using many different sizes and types of containers. One of the more interesting variations we’ve seen was when some of our friends from Minnesota made ice candles with water balloons – you let the water inside the balloon freeze a little (but not solid), then crack it open for a broken eggshell effect that holds a small votive candle – these had very interesting patterns.
We learned how to make the ice candles pictured here from
Ian and Gale Tucker of