Saturday, March 10, 2007

Makin' Ice - More than you ever wanted to know.

Making the ice is a tedious process that must truly be done with TLC and a lot of patience. People seem to enjoy learning about it. I hope you do. If not, then go surf some porn or something.

The surface under the ice is concrete. Pipes contained in the concrete carry the brine (saltwater) solution that is chilled by the compressor system to about 17 degrees and pumped through. Everything is turned on and left for several hours to get the concrete surface at or near 17 degrees. Then a thin coat of water is applied to the concrete, usually with a garden hose.

Next comes the white coat. A wheel cart holds a 55 gallon barrel to mix the white paint solution in water. A gasoline pump on the cart pumps the white water through a copper pipe with water mist jets across it. This is about 15 feed across and the jets are similar to what you see in the grocery to mist the fruits and vegetables. The assembly is pushed along the ice to spray a coating of white evenly across.

Then another thin clear coat seals that in so you can walk around on it without disturbing the white. Now it is time to paint the lines and logos. This is all painted by hand! The lines are scored, or marked with a magic marker, or a chalk line. Another trick for the straight lines is to just stretch a thin string and freeze it in, then paint between the strings. The circles have to be drawn with a large compass or by using a string fixed in the middle and run around in a circle. Again, the painting is done by hand with icemaking paint.

The logos are started with a large stencil made of heavy paper (like butcher's paper) that has perforations along the outline of the design. It's laid on the ice and paint is applied over the holes to leave the outline on the ice. Then the colors are painted in by hand. Sometimes a design change means that the changes have to be done freehand.

Now it gets really tricky. You can't just start pouring water on it or it will blow the paint all over the place and make a mess. You have to use a bug sprayer to apply a light mist over the paint and let it freeze in layers before adding more. If you add the water too fast, the paint will float to the top instead of being embedded near the bottom.

Once all of the lines and logos are sealed in, it's time to start flooding to bring the ice up to depth. This is usually done with the Zamboni, one flooding coat at a time. Instead of putting the whole conditioner down on the ice like you see it games, it is just lowered to the point that the towel is the only thing dragging the ice and then turn on the water.

Once the lines are painted, you basically can't stop. You have to get to the point of flooding and then flood, let dry/freeze, and flood again. If you wait too long after it all freezes, you run the risk of it getting a layer of frost on top which will cloud it all up. Since it's not up to full depth yet, you can't cut off the frost with the Zamboni because you would cut out the lines. So, flooding with the towel must continue.

This whole process can be done in about 48 hours, maybe, if everything goes perfectly; but Murphy's Law always applies to icemaking and it usually takes more like 72 hours, nonstop.

When it's all finished, you have a sheet of ice that's about 1 inch to 1.5 inches deep. That's all. Most people assume it is several inches thick. The problem is that ice is a natural insulator. An inch of ice has about the same insulating factor as an inch of fiberglass insulation like what's in your attic. So, if you let the ice build too deep, it will actually insulate against itself. The top of the ice is too insulated from the concrete so the top is soft to skate on and can even get standing water that won't freeze.

New ice is very quirky until it sets up good. Stress fractures form all over the ice. Sometimes just walking across it can cause this, it's kind of creepy when it happens. You hear it and feel it under your feet. It can take several days or a week before it really freezes up hard and sets in. Until then, skaters usually complain that it feels soft, or very brittle under their skates and pucks can take some weird bounces.

Completion is very rewarding. All that hard work and diligence pays off when you look across your new 85'x200' sheet of virgin ice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool explanation. Thanks for keeping this blog going.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Guido said...

Glad you liked it!

1:10 PM  
Anonymous GaryD said...

Awesome post, thank you for the great info.

3:37 PM  

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