Ice Carving: How It’s Done

November 5, 2010

By Jessy Yancey

Matt Simonds of La Vergne-based Specialty Ice Carvings can design a sculpture from something as simple as a logo, drawing or photograph.

He makes his own 310-pound blocks of ice with two ice machines at his Rutherford County home. He uses an electric chainsaw, die grinders and hand-sanders to shape the ice inside one walk-in freezer, and a second freezer is used to store the ice.

“When you carve in the freezer, every cut stays, and you can make the piece perfect,” he says.

If a sculpture is larger than the block of ice, he “welds” pieces of ice together with water after using warm aluminum plates to flatten the surfaces to be joined.

To get each carving just right, Simonds makes a template of the design using newsprint and an opaque projector. He draws the design within the parameters of the 20-inch block, and he freezes the paper to the ice. Then he cuts the design with a chainsaw and refines it with other tools. A hydraulic lift in the freezer moves the blocks up and down so he can shape the ice more easily.

“Believe it or not, I sweat up a storm in the freezer,” says Simonds, whose typical carving gear includes snow boots, sweatpants, ski suit, gloves and a hooded jacket. “You have to drink a lot of fluids or you get dehydrated.”

He keeps pricing simple: $300 for most single-block carvings in the Nashville area, including delivery, setup and disposable tray. He sets the sculpture up an hour before the event, which allows the ice to clear up.

“Ice looks its best after sitting out an hour and a half,” he says. “The longer it smoothes out and naturally rounds, it conforms to the shape.”

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  1. Hilary Spellings says:

    My husband and I were married in 1995 when I was working with Matt at the Crowne Plaza. As a wedding gift, Matt offered to carve a bus in ice to surprise my husband who owned a bus company at that time. It was beautifully displayed as you walked in the door of our reception and my husband was thrilled when he saw it. He still tells the story today of what a great surprise that was and how beautiful the bus looked in ice. Thanks Matt for great memories!