Backyard Zamboni

Zamboni, everyone knows what it is, everyone wants to drive one, and everyone is facinated by it. Who doesn’t stop what they are doing when they are at the rink and watch it go around in amazement as it resurfaces the ice. It’s almost calming. However, people tend to call all ice resurfacers Zambonis and to be technical, Zamboni is a company and they make a ice resurfacer just like a handful of other companies, but the Zamboni Company was the first market with an ice resurfacer and was the most popular resurfacer that it became the name everyone knew and turned it into an adjective to refer to all resurfacers. Enough with the history, onto the fun stuff.

Who wouldn’t want one for their rink in their backyard or on their pond/lake. That got me thinking and perusing the internet to find some of most dedicate people out there creating amazing ice resurfacers aka Zambonis for their rinks. I did find an Instructable showing you how to make you own, how cool! And of course there are those people who take their rink to the next level and get themselves a real Zamboni for their rink. I hope some of these inspire you to do great things with your rink.


And of course we can’t talk about Zambonis without mentioning our favorite all hockey band The Zambonis. Enjoy this classic tune.

Making Ice!

I seen have a common question asked among some of the backyard rink building groups: How long does it take to make ice? Well, this can be a loaded question, as it varies greatly by the weather and depth you are trying to freeze. You can really dig into the science behind how ice freezes, but for me I was trying to find the bottom line answer. There were two charts that I found that break it down pretty simply. The first showing ice growth over a day and the other over a week. Since for the most part people are trying to freeze a minimum of 4 inches you should be able to do that over a weeks time.

As you can see from the charts the temperature is relative to the growth of ice. There can be other factors as well such as depth, wind and snow or rain fall.

Once you have your base ice frozen, you may want to build more depth through base building/flooding/resurfacing/watering (there are many ways people refer to this process). The same science from above applies to building ice or resurfacing, but since you are only laying down a very thin layer of water it should freeze relatively quickly with the right conditions. The below chart should guide you when trying to determine the right temperature for resurfacing or base building. I found this chart in the literature from my NiceRink Resurfacer.

Degrees (F)Degrees (C)ResurfacingBase Building
350 to 3MarginalNot Advised
25 to 15-4 to -9FairMarginal
15 to 0-10 to -17GoodGood
0 to -10-18 to -23ExcellentVery Good
-15 / Lower-24 / lowerGoodExcellent

Now I will put a disclaimer on this, as I am no scientist but someone who is merely interpreting what I read. With science there are many variables, but I do hope this helps you get the general idea of how long it will take to get your rink up and running.

So you want to build a backyard/outdoor rink?

Congratulations on making the best decision ever! It won’t always be easy but in the end it’s was one of the best decisions I made for my family. Here is a basic outline of what it takes to get going on your new endeavor. We have articles covering the various topics of this process.

Common Ice Maintenance Problems

The following chart describes some of the common problems with outdoor rink ice and suggests some remedies for consideration.

Problem Cause Remedy
Shell or Shale ice Heavy flooding, leaving ponds of water which freeze on top and run away underneath
  • Scrape away, and fill with wet snow, or gradually build up with warm water resurfacing/flooding.
Cracked Ice Cold temperatures
  • Fill cracks with a wet snow slush and resurface/flood.
Pebble or Rough Ice Too much snow on ice, or flooding while snowing, or scrapers not flat or not sharp enough, or you could be using too little water, if it ripples you are using too much water
  • Make sure the ice is clean of all snow before resurfacing/flooding, or repair/sharpen scraper or blades or use warmer water.
  • Make sure you are applying the correct amounts of water.
Ice Chipping Brittle ice from severe cold weather
  • Resurface/flood with warm water.
Spring Deterioration Warm weather or painted lines absorbing sun’s rays or sun reflecting off the rink boards
  • Do not allow skating and place snow on melting areas as a thicker layer of ice will help prevent melting in warm weather. Some rinks may have as much as 30 cm (12″) of ice by the end of the season.
  • You can also try and bank snow up against the outside of the boards throughout the season will have an insulating effect in the warm weather.
Low Spots on the Ice Excessive use, usually in goal crease, behind net, at players boxes, etc.
  • Flood utilizing the bucket dump method in the evening after all the patrons have left.

Cracks in the Ice

One of the scariest feelings is resurfacing/flooding the rink and the ice is cracking. The sound puts a pit in your stomach the first time you experience it. I immediately went and started to research to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong. I luckily found a Facebook post by the guys over at NiceRink.

The short answer is that it’s normal.The moisture in your slab is acting as the glue to keep it all together.  When it’s extremely cold out that moisture dissipates and can cause settling. You then go and shock the ice with a resurface and which in turn can cause cracks.

Luckily it’s not that big of an issue and its a pretty straight forward fix:

  • Pack any larger holes, chipped cracks, etc. with a slush mixture of snow and water. Make sure you pack it in and smooth it out and let it freeze. Don’t just fill it with with water, as the water will expand when it freezes and you’ll have little bumps.
  • Then commence resurfacing/flooding and apply a layer of water. You can repeat this over and over again pausing between each flood allowing it time to freeze. Usually a minimum of 15-20 minutes or as some have told me, the time it takes to drink a beer.

The Joys of Shell Ice

A topic I see come up frequently on a Facebook group (Backyard Ice Rinks) I am a part of is shell ice. It is a big pain and there are various methods for taking care of it. So lets get into this.

So what exactly is shell ice? Shell ice is created either naturally or after a resurfacing and is really brittle ice that tends to be formed in small areas from a couple of square inches but can range up to several square feet or more.  It is formed when the new water (rain, slush, or from resurfacing) is much warmer than the ice surface and the air temps are really cold/windy.  The new water doesn’t have a chance to form a bond with the existing ice, so it creates it’s own layer of ice, thus the shell affect. Using hot/warm water for a resurfacer is definitely better if you have it, but try to avoid resurfacing in extreme cold conditions or extreme hot water as you might be making the right conditions for shell ice.

Well you now know the basics of shell ice, so how does one take care of it? I haven’t found one common theme when researching this topic so I will share the different methods that are suggested.

  • One method is to chop this shell ice up completely with something like a heavy duty ice scraper, remove it from the ice surface, and make a couple of resurfacing passes. Some say to fill the areas with snow so that when you resurface it creates a slush that should then freeze.
  • You can also use a sharp object, such as an nail, to make holes in the shell ice. Then the next time you flood, water will fill up the empty space in under the thin layer, and if the temp is low enough, it will freeze to form solid ice. This is better than just destroying the shell ice, as very few ice fragments are created this way, which means there is less chance of getting a rough surface when you flood.
  • There is more of an extreme method and that is to perform the “bucket dump” method. We will be covering more on that in another post.


Photo credit: Joe Mason

Review: ManPlow Revolution 44 Snow Pusher


Maintaining your rink is the key to a successful season and one of the biggest headaches is snow removal. When I have several inches or more I use my snow blower to get the bulk of it off the rink I then go back and do a more precise clean up process. In this process I was just using a regular 24″ snow shovel which worked out ok, but it was time consuming. That’s when I went on the quest to find something that would help not only with snow cleanup but also regular ice maintenance like post stake snow removal. There are many products out there but when I stumbled upon the ManPlow, I just had to try it out. I ordered one up through Amazon, using Prime (the best thing ever) and it was at my house in 2 days time, just in time for the next snow storm.

The Revolution 44 was an easy assembly and within 10 minutes was ready for action. One of the neat features about this was that the blade was reversible, so as it wears down over time and use you can flip the blade around and you are back in business. The blade is also replaceable. so once you have gotten you money’s worth out of it order up a new blade and throw it on there.

I went with the Revolution 44 because of course bigger is better, right? But really, my rink is 30’x60′ and I wanted to move snow quickly. Well, that was definitely the right call for me. This thing really moves the snow. One of the advertised features is that snow does not stick to the blade and this definitely lived up to that. Another advertised feature is that it is light weight and I can confirm that this thing is indeed light weight, only coming in at 9 pounds. The U-shaped aluminum handle makes for easy use as well and is durable as well. Now this is just a snow pusher and it is not designed for throwing snow, so I push the snow around the rink making various piles and come back with a regular shovel or my snow blower to actually remove the snow from the rink.

I have been using this thing for a few weeks now and have used it both for snow removal from storms and general rink maintenance and would highly recommend this snow pusher for your rink.