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Chapter 7 Fusing: joining ice to ice.


After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

* Define the process of fusing ice to ice

* Discuss fusing with aluminum in detail

* Describe flat fusing

* Describe natural peg fusing

* Describe weight on pressure/handsaw fusing

* Describe nail-board fusing

* Discuss various techniques used in fusing

* Discuss the benefits of horizontal fusing over vertical fusing

Key Terms and Concepts


raw block

natural peg fusing

flat fusing

weight on pressure/handsaw fusing

instant fusing

nail board

nail-board fusing

primary sculpture

Fusing with Aluminum

Other Methods of Fusing

  * Flat Fusing
  * Natural Peg Fusing
  * Weight on
    Pressure/Handsaw Fusing
  * Nail-board Fusing

Notes on Fusing

  * Horizontal Versus Vertical

Artist Profile

Fusing is a method where one or more pieces of ice are welded together. It allows you to expand the finished sculpture beyond the limitations of the original dimensions of a block of ice. The size and shape of an ice block should not dictate the ultimate dimensions of the artwork, nor limit the creativity of the sculptor. The design, quantity of ice available, and--most importantly--safety considerations, should define the ice sculpture's final form.

The fusing process may be applied when creating single or multi-block sculptures with dimensions beyond those of a standard block of ice. Appendages and accessories, such as arms, legs, wings, tails, swords, and shields, can be sculpted separately and joined to the primary sculpture later. These additions are normally carved from the scrap ice removed from the negative space that remains after completing the primary sculpture. Sculptors consider possible uses of the scrap ice when designing their templates to best utilize the entire block.

During fusing, the sculptor should try to join pieces where natural curves or existing lines will help mask the joint. The skilled artist will blend the fuse with details applied to represent feathers, muscle tone, fish scales, or similar finish work. The locations for the fuse joints are decided during the designing and mapping of the templates.

When working on large, multi-block designs, it is wise to avoid stacking ice walls for carving substantial sculptures whenever possible. By placing block on block, straight lines or seams will show throughout the finished piece. To eliminate this unwanted appearance, it is usually best to design the sculpture in modular units, and then assemble the units to hide the fuse lines. This modular approach will result in less waste and less unnecessary lifting.


Aluminum has completely changed the way most of today's best sculptors approach joining multiple pieces of ice. Before the use of aluminum was introduced, peg fusing, heavy applications of slush, or time consuming sanding were how all sculptors assembled their ice pieces. Applying aluminum allows the carver to polish both surfaces of the ice, thereby forming a tight seal.

When ice melts it, of course, turns to water. When water flows over ice it erodes the surface. The warmer the water, the more drastic and defined this erosion can be. Since ice tends to begin melting at 32[degrees]F, an aluminum sheet warmer than 32[degrees]F will melt the ice with which it has contact. If the goal is merely to remove subtle imperfections in an already prepared piece of ice, then the aluminum only needs to be between 40[degrees] and 60[degrees]F, reducing any excess run-off of water.

The other problem that may occur when using overheated aluminum is that it will raise the temperature of the ice to which it is being applied, further impeding the freezing process. Obviously, the aluminum will cool down quickly once it is placed on the ice, often at uneven rates, depending on the temperature at which the sculptor is working. The colder the working conditions, the faster it will cool down. The solution is to either keep reheating the aluminum or to alternate between two or more pieces of aluminum. The sculptor should note that overheating the aluminum results in uneven erosion and warming of the ice.

Although aluminum has made fusing much easier, there are several considerations that sculptors should address to ensure a perfect fuse:

* Using the proper piece of aluminum is very important. A piece 1/2" thick, or more, will be less flexible. The rigidity of the straight edge will increase the integrity of the flat surfaces on both sides of the aluminum. The aluminum piece should also be larger than the surfaces being leveled. This allows the sculptor to rub the aluminum against the ice in a circular motion without gouging the surface. This process allows the melting ice to dissipate evenly while preventing water from pooling between the aluminum and ice, which would make the surfaces uneven.

* Aluminum is most affordable and most commonly found in flat sheets. However, aluminum can be customized to attach pieces together in curved lines or "V" shapes.

* Aluminum can be heated in several ways. The most affordable and most commonly used is a standard, no-frills clothes iron. This method is preferred over the use of blowtorches and heat lamps.



There are several additional methods of fusing ice, including flat fining, natural peg fusing, weight on pressure or handsaw fusing, and nail-board fusing. These methods all have their benefits, and for the most part, were the procedures followed before fusing with aluminum was developed. They are still used, but their applications are more limited.

Flat Fusing

Flat Fuses are used where two pieces are joined at a line, such as a belt or between several slate rocks, to conceal the fuse. When using this method, both surfaces of the ice pieces that will be joined must be perfectly smooth; it is very important to make sure that both sides are as flit as possible. Sculptors often use an electric iron, marble cutting board, or thick sheet of aluminum for this purpose. They are rubbed over both surfaces to be joined in a circular motion, as if the sculptor is waxing the ice, to ensure that the joint ends are perfectly flat.

When the pieces are assembled there should be no gaps in the joint. Gaps appear as either pockets of water or air between the pieces of ice. After inspecting for gaps, the sculpture is placed in the freezer and allowed to harden.

Instant Fusing

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, ice sculptors used sheets of wet cheesecloth or a sprinkling of salt between blocks to create a rough exterior. This roughing of the ice would aid in bonding the two surfaces together. However, each process had its faults. Cheesecloth created a visible seam, and salt hastened the deterioration of the ice. Better methods are available today.

Pressing a slightly softened, warmer piece of ice against a very cold piece of ice results in instant fusing, as the two join instantly. This method is most commonly used in conjunction with, and during, fat./using. Both surfaces must be perfectly flat and free of all debris, such as slush or ice chunks, prior to fusing.

Note: Never use salt! Using salt in the fusing process is a bad method that tends to be taught frequently in ice-carving books and classes. Salt actually causes pitting in the ice while softening it. The use of salt can help in the initial freezing process under the correct conditions, but salt residue will be trapped in the joint, causing the ice around the seam to melt first. The use of salt during fusing only weakens the joint.

Natural Peg Fusing

The great Grecian and Roman architects have been lauded over the centuries for their ability to construct massive temples and aqueducts, with columns rising high into the sky, capable of supporting substantial weight. Considering the lack of advanced technology, construction equipment, and adhesives, how did they build their tall columns of stone? The answer is peg fusing.


Stonecutters chiseled out massive, but movable, pieces of marble, granite, and limestone. Each section was roughed out to approximately the same height and width, and then flattened until smooth on both the top and bottom. The stonecutters would then chisel a square depression or slot, about 4" deep, into the center of each flattened side.

After determining that the ground was level, or by creating a level base as described in Chapter 4, a large foundation block was placed where the architect wanted to place a column. A rectangular stone peg, approximately 72" long, was then placed into the 4" slot. The next stone was placed on the first stone, with the stone peg inserted into the bottom of the top stone, and so on until the column was the desired height. The structure was secured from movement by its own weight, centered on the stone pegs linking each section, creating a solid monument that has stood the test of time.


To finish the column, and to give the illusion of a monolithic stone pillar, the stonecutters chiseled vertical channels around the length of the column. Additionally, for stability, the architects would often reduce the diameter of sections of the column as it rose, creating a larger diameter at the base that gradually tapered to a smaller diameter near the top.

In ice sculpting, natural peg fining is used to make pieces fit together in a place where a natural curve or line exists. This technique makes the fuse almost impossible to detect, as it blends in with the naturally flowing lines of the sculpture. Extensive study of composition, as well as considerable practice in pegging, is needed to properly execute this method.

When attempting natural peg fusing in a warm and melting environment, the sculptor should allow both pieces to freeze separately. This will stop the ice from melting and prevent water from dripping into the fuse holes. Water running into the fuse holes will expand when re-freezing; and could cause the ice to crack. It is important not to use any more water than is absolutely necessary.

Weight on Pressure or Handsaw Fusing

Weight on pressure fusing, otherwise known as handsaw fusing, is often employed when making multi-block displays. For this method, it is imperative that both surfaces being joined are perfectly flat. However, it is not usually necessary to use marble, an iron, or aluminum since the sculptor will be using raw blocks. New raw blocks, which have not been cut, normally have smooth sides formed during the making of the ice block. If the surfaces to be joined are not perfectly flat, it may be necessary to use a nail board to level out any uneven areas.


To achieve a successful fit after one block has been stacked upon another, it is often necessary to guide a handsaw between the blocks. This improves uniformity between the contours of both surfaces being fused together. The sculptor may need to run the saw through several times before the two blocks mesh together properly.

Cool water is then poured slowly over the blocks to fill some of any remaining gaps. Caution must be observed when applying the water, as it may cause the blocks to crack if they or the applied water were not properly Tempered. The water should also be applied very slowly and in small quantities. It is best to pour the water onto the ice slightly above the seam, allowing it time to chill as it cascades down the ice before actually entering the seam. It may require several passes for the water to freeze to the ice.

There should be no gaps around the outside edges, as these gaps often become much larger as the block melts. Although this is usually not a major issue, it is wise to inspect each piece after it has been displayed, to become familiar with the changes that occur during melting. Some snow may need to be added around the seam to aid in the initial freezing process. Later, the snow may easily be removed while finishing the sculpture.

Nail-Board Fusing

Nail-board fusing is one of the most recent developments in the evolution of ice sculpting, although it has its faults. The process involves roughing the facing edges of two ice blocks with a board that has many nail points protruding evenly through one side. After scoring the ice with the board, the two blocks are laid upon each other with a spacer, such as a screwdriver, between them. Freezing water (32[degrees]F) is poured between the blocks as the screwdriver is removed. The frozen water cements the grooves of ice together.


One benefit of this method is that it can be done without a heat source or electricity. And its seam does not dissolve after long exposure to the sun's rays. But although the bond between the two blocks is very strong, it produces arguably the least attractive of the joints created by fusing. When safety and strength are paramount, nail-board fusing is a good method. However, if the piece were for competition or for a presentation centerpiece, this would not be the preferred method.


One thing to keep in mind when working at below-freezing temperatures is that the pieces of ice must be attached immediately. Otherwise, the melted ice on the surface that was just planed will re-freeze, creating a weak and uneven surface. To be safe, the best thing to do is to wipe off the melted surface after planing it with the hard, flat edge of a concrete trowel or similar tool.

In some cases, when fusing ice at temperatures above freezing, it may be necessary to chill one or more of the pieces to be fused. Before doing so, the sculptor needs to make sure that the areas to be attached are smooth and free from debris prior to letting them set. This will reduce the time the ice piece will need to be in contact with the warm aluminum.

Gum remover and/or dry ice may also need to be applied to the area being fused, to speed up the freezing process. While any of these are being applied, it is very important that the pieces being frozen together do not move during any fusing process.

The larger the surface area at the point of attachment, the stronger the bond becomes. If the surface area needs to be small for design reasons, it is wise to fuse the two pieces together as larger, rough-cut pieces, and then finish shaping after the bond is secure. This method will also result in a much cleaner fuse line. When fusing two pieces together, the sculptor will notice a slight indentation around the external edges of the lines where they come together. This is almost impossible to avoid, so the best way to eliminate the problem is to make the pieces wider than needed. This way, the sculptor can cut the piece down. He will find that the point at which the two pieces come together is much more precise and no longer contains the indentation.

Horizontal Versus Vertical Fusing

When fusing ice, regardless of the method used, it is best to work in concert with the forces of nature. Gravity is the natural force that secured the great columns of the Parthenon. It can be both the agent and the enemy of the sculptor. Obviously, it is best to let the gravitational forces of nature work for the sculptor whenever possible.

To ensure a quick and secure fuse in the exact location desired between two ice pieces, it is imperative that they remain still. With this in mind, it is best to fuse ice sculptures horizontally, stacking one piece upon the other. This is both safe and easy.

However, not all joints are destined to be horizontal. Quite often wings, arms, hands, and other extended appendages require fuses on the side of the primary sculpture. Still, it is best to fuse sections horizontally, even if the sculpture will eventually be exhibited vertically. This will require some extra handling of the ice block, but the improved fusing may actually result in time saved overall.


Meet the Artist--Michael Vosburg

Michael Vosburg is the owner and operator of Ice Sculptures Unlimited, Inc., an independent, full-service vendor of ice sculptures of all sizes and configurations. Based in Richmond, Virginia, his company serves the metropolitan areas of Richmond, Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, and Charlottesville. Michael began his business in June 1997 after a 20-year career as a chef. His company averages approximately 40 sculptures a month, sometimes producing more than 150 sculptures during the month of December. Chef vosburg has produced sculptures for a variety of clients, including ESPN and ABC's Monday Night Football.

Ask the Artist

Q How did you get into the ice sculpting business?

A I was working as a chef at the Bull & Bear Club in 1992, when the general manager mentioned how nice he thought it would be to have an ice sculpture as the centerpiece for an incoming buffet. I volunteered, although I had never done one. So I bought a book and a chain saw, and wade a pretty mediocre cornucopia. But by the time I was an executive chef a little while later, I was doing a round 70 sculptures a year. I decided to give it a try full-time, and have never lost money since I went into this business.

Q What do you think is so important about fusing ice?

A Well, I have to tell you that I had my struggles with my sculptures frequently breaking when I first started out. It happened during ice sculpting competitions and while doing sculptures for my clients. Learning to fuse was often my only way to have a finished sculpture. I've learned a lot over the years about the benefits of fusing ice.
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Title Annotation:Part II Working With Ice
Publication:Ice Sculpting the Modern Way
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Chapter 6 Sculpting with templates.
Next Article:Chapter 8 The studio.

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