Make a Set of Life Saving Ice Claws





Introduction: Make a Set of Life Saving Ice Claws

It's winter and that means cold and ice but that doesn't mean being trapped inside....many people get outdoors with activities such as pond hockey, ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, photography and more. All of these activities may have you crossing questionably safe frozen waters

Every year dozens of people die after falling through thin ice. Experts calculate that over half of "through the ice" deaths would be avoided if everyone had Ice Claws.

Ice Claws, also known as ice safety picks, ice picks, ice awls, bear claws, and ice gripers are sharp-ended handles that can be used to help pull oneself up out of icy water. Typically victims struggle to get out due to the cold, extra weight of water soaked clothes, and nothing to grab onto other than slippery ice. Ice Claws have been proven to greatly ease the situation.

Here's a recent report from NBC TV that explains the danger and how to use Ice Claws to get out of the icy water

Ice Claws are not very expensive, a pair can be had for less than $10. But with a little research I found it's very easy to make a set out of reclaimed and common materials for little or no money. I made my first pair in under 30 minutes with simple hand tools. I think this would make a great Scout program project or stocking stuffer for the outdoors-person on your list.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Parts and Tools Needed

Parts Needed

  • Old broom, shovel handle or wooden dowel - make sure the material you use floats
  • 2 Nails - 10 - 16 penny nails
  • Para-cord or nylon cord - approx 5 ft

Tools Needed

  • Tape measure
  • Wood saw
  • Vise or clamps to hold during sawing.
  • Sandpaper or wood file
  • Drill
  • Drill bits (I ended up using 7/64 as pilot hole, 9/64 as nail receiver hole, and 7/32 for the cord hole)
  • Hammer
  • Hacksaw
  • Metal File
  • Knife or Scissors to cut cord
  • Lighter to keep the cord from fraying.

Step 2: Make Two Ice Claw Handles With Spikes

  • Measure the wood into 4 or 5 inch lengths. I only had hand tools available this weekend but I tried both a vise and a miter box to help make the cuts straighter. Both worked well, but a tablesaw or radial arm saw would have been nice. Be careful as you reach the end of the cut not to splinter the wood.
  • Smooth out the ends of the wood pieces. It's best to put a slight bevel on the edges to avoid splintering.
  • Drill two holes in the end of each handle. One should be a pilot hole, a bit smaller than your nail, the other should be big enough to be receive the spike from the opposite handle. (Note in the picture how the two spikes are offset and not centered on the ends of the handles). Drill deep enough so at least 1/3 of the nail goes into the wood. It's easier to drill both holes before putting the nail in it's hole.
  • Pound a nail into each of the handles
  • Use a hack saw to cut off the end of the nail. Be careful here, you'll find the nail gets pretty hot during this process.
  • Finally, use a file to sharpen the broken off nails. These don't have to be razor sharp.

Step 3: Finish Your Ice Claws

Now that you have two equal handles that mate into each other, you'll want to do a little finish work

  • Drill a hole in each end of the Ice Claw, big enough to hold your safety cord.
  • If you are using nylon cord, it's best to melt the ends slightly with a lighter to avoid fraying. Be careful, melted nylon can hurt!
  • Thread the cord through each end and tie a simple knot

Congratulations! Your new Ice Safety Claws are finished. I hope you never need to use them.

Whenever you are on the ice these should be on your person. Some folks wear them around their necks, some carry them in a convenient jacket pocket. and some thread them through their sleeves (if you do this you'll want to put cork on the sharp ends).

Thanks for checking out my Instructable! Good Luck on all your projects.

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Here's a suggestion to improve upon your method of pounding in the nail, then cutting it, then sharpening it. First cut the flat head off. Then put it in the chuck of your drill with the cut end sticking out and drill it into your pilot hole. That's it. No need to sharpen it after because you preserved the point.

Also, to get the holes to line up so they fit together perfectly, put 2 BBs between them and pound them together with a hammer on a table top. Use the dents from the BBs as your guides.

Finally, I think that if you are able to split the wood with your own strength, you are not going to need a tool to get out of a frozen pond. You can probably raise your fist and fly out.

2 replies

I am sitting here laughing out loud about your (Superman?) comment!!!

Thanks...another benefit of, good suggestions like these can really help improve future bulids!

There is one VERY IMPORTANT point when making these ice claws. The exposed metal claw should be at least 4 inches long. Six inches would be even better. Hardened nails or steel is better than soft steel which will bend.

If you have broken through the ice in and area where there is any sort of snow on top, you will have to be able to penetrate to firm ice through that snow or frazzle ice to perform self-rescue.

I was on a snowmoble rescue course through my work at the federal government several years ago where we jumped into open water at a lake near Parry Sound Ontario and performed self-rescue. We were in snowmobile floater suits and the air temperature was about -10F and the water temp at or below 32F. This was all under the watchful eyes of Rescue Para-medics. The commercial and homemade ice picks were demonstrated and used by myself and classmates. They failed, hands down. (no pun). They are a good safety device to have and to get trained with self-rescue is even better.

Would it be worth treating the wood with varnish or oil to preserve it ?

Perhaps cord whipping the ends to prevent splitting ?

2 replies

Linseed oil would be perfect.

some extra paracord skill would probably make it stronger and cooler looking...I'd like to see someone add a slipknot to the design that holds the two ends together yet easily slides apart, thanks for your comment

Ill let my fellow scouts know about this, thanks!

1 reply

Great, I'd love to know how it works out for you!

These are just a tad too dangerous without nails that go all the way thru the hardwood handle. That's my addition I'd would highly recommend for safety, if one breaks you'd be in a cold spot. But great instructable.

2 replies

just thought I'd add that this design has been around for many years, basic instructions were found on the DNR website

I read it and I'd really be weary of the first line of a dowl rod of any kind.... I'd insist on a hard wood everyone should agree pine would just explode with any force. And it states 16 penny nails weird.

Just like "survival" Knives that are made with a full tang handle , I would prefer having a longer nail that goes completely through the wood to avoid the possibility of the nail splitting through the handle. I have seen nails,( though at that length they are called spikes), easily long and thick enough to do that.

Either way, a very good idea. Kudos to you.

1 reply

Thanks,I think a full nail would add some strength but I don't know it's really needed. I can't take credit for the design, I found it on the Dept of Natural Resources website

Nice. I know an Ice Fisherman who may like this idea. Thanks for posting it.

nice work.

If you put two holes in the end so the nails align you can holster the claws so the nails aren't exposed while you are carrying them. Put a whistle on the cord so you can summon help if need be.

1 reply

Thanks, hmm, I do already use 2 holes and offset nails so the claws can nest inside each other, sorry if I didn't make that clear enough. I like the idea of whistle on the cord, thanks for you comment!

One year I made these for half of my Christmas list (part-way hoping to convert at least a few stay-indoors-when-it's-cold friends to ice fishing fiends - didn't work). What you do that I like is drilling the receiving holes so that the claws fit together. It's easy to personalize these, too. I've always caught far more fish ice when ice fishing than in open water. The only time I even edged toward trouble was when I "tested" the ice freezing over on a drilled hole and the new ice gave way. I quickly threw myself to the side where the ice was a good five feet thick. As my youngest says, "It's all good!" Nice job - thanks! Fish on!

1 reply

Thanks! I like your idea of personalizing these, I'm gonna have to try that. Hey if they don't like fresh air and fresh fish, they should be tested :-) Thanks again, Good luck fishing (and stay dry) !

Dude, thank you!