Ice Day at Killjoy

A couple of weeks ago I was able to spend some money on a block of ice for one of our weekly meetings. We’ve all seen these blocks before, over-sized ice cubes that artists use to carve sculptures or luges or even create ice bars. The plan was to take this block (20 x 40 x 10) and carve off smaller, more manageable blocks to teach our management team the basics of hand carving ice spheres.  What follows is a synopsis of what is being called “the best meeting of all time.”

But first, a little background on ice. Hand carved ice is a relatively new take on an extremely old tradition. In Japanese bar culture, many bars don’t have ice machines, they simply bring in blocks of ice daily and chip fresh. Their reason: the ice is colder and clearer than commercial machine ice.

The purpose of this clear ice is to add a visual element to the spirit or cocktail. Hidetsugu Ueno seems to be the pioneer bringing this concept back to the mainstream. His ice carving skills are top among many who are using this process in their bars. His goal is not to add a gimmick to his drink program, only to elevate his liquids by adding the clearest and coldest ice he can access.

How to get clear ice

A few options:

1)    Buy an ice block machine ($4000+)

2)    Many studies have been conducted on this project. For the best, is recommended (Camper English goes into great depths of various methods of how to obtain the best ice at home). Good water is key, temperature control, some investment in equipment (molds etc) and time. To make a large clear ice block in Camper’s cooler method, you’re looking at 13+ hours and a huge possibility of some clouding.

3)    Buy it. Local distributors sell large block ice ( and ice sculpture companies ( may also sell blocks that they are unable to use for decent prices. Unusable blocks tend to be those that have cracks or clouds and cannot be used for scultptures. (this method requires a lot of communication)

4) If size doesn’t matter, many commercial machines now produce 1.5-2″ cubes that work. Tough to carve, but they are produced en masse, with very little effort (these machines tend to be extremely finnicky – not good for high volume bars, but great for cocktail lounges etc)

How to Take ice from block size to usable ‘chunks’

Ice arrives in a 20”x40”x10” 300lb block. It is difficult to move, awkward and slippery. (blanket not included)







For greatest ease – invest in an electric chainsaw to make your cuts. It is a fast and easy way to get a nice straight cut, and you can catch the ‘slush’ to use in other ways.

If you don’t have a chainsaw, I recommend investing in some simple tools:

-6” (or more) kitchen knife (strong blade – good luck persuading Chef on this one)


-ice pick(s) (this is easier and a lot more fun with 2+ people)

-level  (moreso for the chainsaw method)

-ruler (measure twice, cut once – pretty much the only thing I retained from wood shop)

First, use the knife to etch a line when you want to separate the ice along one side. Using the hammer and the knife perpendicular to the ice, chip along the line to make a small ditch from corner to corner. Rotate the block 90deg and continue the ditch along the new side (use a ruler and knife to extend the ditch in a straight line). Continue for all four sides. Now, holding the knife straight up and down on the wider side of the block, poke the knife into the center of the ditch to make a small pit. Use the hammer to make a few big taps and the ice should fall off in a straight cut. Use the same method to turn that small cut into even smaller, more manageable pieces.


Once you have oversized cubes roughly the sice of half a brick you are ready to go. Use the ice picks to carve away the edges and corners of the block until you have the size and the shape you require. Some have turned this into an art form and can cut and shape ice into diamond-like pieces that reflect light.

Be extremely careful when using this method. You can substitute the icepick for a knife in this step as well. Once you’ve carved the ice to an appropriate size, you’re left with an absolutely stunning ice cube to chill your drink and wow your customers.