Introduction: How to Make an Ice/Snow Beirut Table
Looking to throw the ultimate winter party? It won't be complete without one of these! Straight from Colgate's 18 Pine St. Winter Carnival, I'll show you how I built my wonderful ice/snow beirut table, complete with custom cup holders carved (in a way) directly into the table's surface!
OBVIOUSLY, this is a pretty exclusive instructable, as you'll need to live in a cold climate with plenty of snow for this to work. There was a little blizzard that had moved through Hamilton this past winter ('07) that gave me the material I needed to make this a reality. Having temperatures at 20 degrees and below at night helped as well, especially with freezing the table's top surface. Where you are geographically (and thus what type of snow you normally get) will impact the process involved in making the table as well; I'll explain more about different approaches to dealing with that factor later on in the instructable.
The instructions here for the top ice surface are based largely on Wisegeek's Introducing Table Hockey on Real Ice tutorial, which is definitely a good thing to check out in its own right. The snow base & cup moldings were modifications I made on my own design, as well as the fact that my final table doesn't have a piece of plywood wedged in it. :)
Ready to start playing beer pong like Eskimos? Bundle up, and let's get to it!
Step 1: General Overview & Materials List
Before we being, let me just say that I have a tendency to write a lot (I suppose it comes from being an English Major, eh?). That, and my recommendation that you should read through the entire instructable before you begin to construct it.
Here's the general outline of what we'll be doing, and the approximate time frame you'll need to complete the project:
1. Buy Materials / Do a snow dance (however long it takes you to do that; my snow dances might take days--like speaking Entish--but yours may be shorter/longer).
2. Compact the snow base (this took me several hours, but it will depend on the type of snow you're working with).
3. Setup the ice rig (for the table surface; a few minutes tops).
4. Layer the table (I did this over the course of 3 nights, adding a new layer each night; the process can be sped up tremendously if it is particularly cold--10 degrees F or below--but it'll still probably take you at least one night, unless you're an Eskimo insomniac).
5. Transfer the table surface to the table base (hardly any time at all, if you have the right manpower).
6. Engrave the cup molds (a few minutes)
7. Drink and be merry in inebriated frivolity (many, many hours)
Here's a list of the materials you'll need: you may need to adjust depending on your circumstance, but these are what worked for me.
--> SNOW!! & Cold Temperature (this project won't work without them!)
--> Snow shovel
--> Ice scraper (like the one for your car; helps if it has a brush on it too)
--> 2 large trashcans
--> 2 large pieces of MDF (4' x 8'...thick is good, but too thick is unwieldy. We'll be reinforcing one with the other so whatever thickness you get will be doubled for the table-top construction. MDF is a type of wood sheet, as I understand it...forget what it stands for...but you can basically go into any hardware store that deals wood and say "I need a plank 'o' wood" and you'll get something that'll work) *1
--> 2 smaller pieces of MDF (4' x 2.5'...thickness not as important here, but don't go too thin or it'll warp) *1
--> 2 2"x4"x8' wood beams *1
--> 2 2"x4"x44" wood beams *1 *2
--> A level
--> 2-3 saw-horses, or suitable supports (for holding the MDF & ice - must be strong & weather-resistant)
--> A water-spritzer bottle (I used an old Febreeze bottle; well, actually it still was in use, but I dumped it out into a temporary container, washed it, and used it anyway)
--> 2 smaller planks of wood (like shallow shelves; dimensions don't really matter...see the section on making the ice surface for visual example)
--> Plastic sheet (4 mil)
--> Suitable weights (I used paint cans)
--> A bucket ( for ferrying water; if you have a hose you can use, by all means! Your back will thank you)
--> Red Solo Cups (none other! If they're grooved on the side, you can have them lock into place in the cup molds)
--> Strong friends (to help you transfer the ice top to the snow base)
Optional Materials, for that extra pizazz:
--> Icicle lights (blue looks really cool)
--> Halogen outdoor working lights
--> A work buddy (Thanks be to me housemate of old, Mr. Ben!)
--> About 8-10 large C-clamps
--> Food dye
*1These measurements are dependent on what size table you want to build. 4'x8' was precut at the lumber mill I went to, so it was easier to get that then have them cut it. As far as beirut goes, it's a little on the big side, but I prefer a bigger table (better contest of skill, in my honest opinion).
*2The length of these pieces needs to be less than the other two, so they all fit together to make a rectangle. The wood beams need to fit onto the tables surface and not drape off the side.
Apart from the wood & plastic, I had everything else I needed laying around the house. All tolled, I only spent about $40, but that will vary depending on how many of the materials you already have (of course).
Got all that? Sweet. Let's move on to setting up the ice rig...
Step 2: Contructing the Base
Actually, there is one step I forgot to mention earlier, and it's probably the most labor-intensive one of this whole project...
...you've got to clear an area for your table! Now if you've got one of those fancy-shmancy snow-chucking machines, then you're all peachy-king; but if you're like us poor college students, whip out that snow shovel and start a clearing.
After you've cleared out a suitable area (remember, gotta have room for people to move around the table as well!), then it's time to start on constructing the snow base.
Put down the two trashcans on the spot where you want the table to be (i.e., its final position). Since they are basically acting as structural supports, you'll want them spaced out enough to that they are effectively load-bearing. You can position one of the large MDF boards on top as reference. You don't want them too close to the edges, though, since they'll break the continuity of the snow, and its unsightly.
Now take the four MDF boards and make a box around the trashcans. You can prop them up lazily however you like - I used some old shelves I had lying around my basement. Their function is more to shape & hold the snow while you compact it, so they'll need to be in place in a moderately firm manner.
Here's where we get into some deviance, as not everybody will be working with the same snow. I was working with powder when I did this, which made the shoveling easier, but the compacting more lengthy. A heavier snow would probably have the reverse effects. I wouldn't recommend using slushy snow, unless you know you'll get a good freeze that night; shoveling it will be really hard, but your table will be a solid as a rock the next day. Pay attention to the extended weather forecast!
Then start shoveling! Fill the box with snow from the surrounding area. You'll want to stop at increments--I'd recommend sixths--to get in and compact the snow. This ensures that the base is solid all the way through. Compacting simply involves getting in yourself and stomping down on the snow, like grape-crushing for wine (if you feel so compelled, listen to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony whilst you do this). Be sure, when you get out to start shoveling another layer, to check that all the boards are still in place; if they've moved, you might need to reinforce their supports.
NOTE: If you're really short on cash/supplies, you can get by with only one large and one slightly smaller MDF boards, and build the table in halves. This is what I had to do, but if I had to do it again, I'd probably use two. You can make a corner and compact the snow there, then move the boards around to the other side of the snow base and compact that corner; if you're compacting well enough, the unsupported snow corner will hold even while you compact the opposite corner. This way obviously takes more time and effort, but I just thought I'd let it be known that it was possible.
Keep layering/compacting the snow basin until you've covered everything but the top of the trash cans. Then lay down one of the long beams across the tops of the trashcans, and fill/compact snow until it's level with the top of the beam. The beam acts as a level, and a sweeping support, so you can take another straight-edge and sweep away the excess snow for a nice, flat surface. You'll want to avoid piling the snow on much higher than the tops of the trashcans, as it'll place more strain on the sides of the table (and make it more likely to fall apart). As such, you'll want to make sure that the trashcans you're using will translate to the right height you want your table to be.
After you've finished the top, you can remove the beam, and fill in the cavity it leaves. This snow doesn't need to be compacted, and I wouldn't try to since it might place unnecessary strain on the structure.
Now, remove the wood planks CAUTIOUSLY; if snow is dribbling off the edge, you haven't compacted enough. It's good practice, while you're layering, to periodically remove the planks and check for snow dribble, so you'll know if you need to compact more.
After you've removed the planks, you'll want to coat the sides with water to help solidify them even more. It's good to do this step when it is really cold out, so I'd wait until the evening/night for temperatures to drop. Fill your spritzer bottle up with lukewarm water: hot water melts the snow too much, and cold water simply freezes on contact. Lukewarm water will melt the surface just enough to help the ice that it forms attach itself more firmly to the table. Shining outdoor halogens on the surfaces (~500 W), in rotation, can accomplish the same effect. The ice coating won't be significant, but it'll help keep the sides of the table intact, especially when people will be walking around and, most likely, brushing up against it all the time. Give each side several coats (might take a few hours for each coat to harden, depending on the outside temperature).
NOTE: If you're working with heavier/wetter snow, you can probably skip that last step.
Sweet!!! Now that we have a base, we need to build the table surface...
Step 3: Building the Ice Rig
Don't fret: you've done most of the labor-intensive work. Now it's time to set aside your pick-axe, and pick up your paint brush.
You'll want to setup the saw-horses (or whatever you're using for supports) as close to the snow base as you can get, to minimize the distance you'll have to move the ice top once it's made (trust me, this sucker's heavy AND fragile). Lay the MDF boards on top of the saw-horses and break out your level. You need to have these boards be as level as possible, so if the ground you're building on is not flat, you need to make adjustments to make sure that the boards are laying flat. You can't really see in any of the pictures I've provided, but there are smaller, thinner boards wedged underneath the MDF and the saw-horses that buttress the left side of the table up to make up for the uneven ground.
Allow me to deviate here just for a bit to relay my experience with this part. I built the ice top using only one MDF board (I can't remember the thickness of it now, but it wasn't terribly thin), and unlike what happened with the guys at Wisegeek, my ice expanded down as well as up, particularly around the corners. This is not good, as it creates an unlevel surface on the bottom of the ice sheet. Now, since the base for the table is made of compacted snow, it doesn't affect how straight the ice sheet sits on the table as much as you might think, but it does add unneccessary strain on the snow basin structure, particularly on the corners. So, I reasoned that if you used two boards and stack them on top of one another, then would be enough reinforcement to guide the ice more upwards than downwards; plus, having two boards instead of one helps with constructing the snow basin, as I had to make due with just one.
Once you get it even, lay the beams around the perimeter of the MDF boards (such that they stand 4" tall); if you've measured right when you bought/cut them, they should form a perfect rectangle that sits on the edge of the MDF. Secure them in place with something temporary (I used Gorilla tape, which SUCKS in cold weather so DON'T USE IT! If you have large C-clamps, those would work the best; put two around each corner and maybe one in the center of each beam and you should be golden). The beams themselves will not be subjected to that much pressure; they're there more as guides for the ice.
After the beams are in place, line the whole inner part with the plastic sheet. If at all possible, try to smooth out the bottom as much as you can, as it will make it easier to detach from the ice block later. (In fact, I was never able to detach mine, so in the end I just trimmed the excess plastic away rather than try to separate it; since it's clear, its invisible in the final product). Secure the plastic to the beams either on the top or outside of the beam, not the inside. Then place the whatever weights your using on the corners to minimize the edge of the plastic from flipping back into the water basin (see the photo for what I mean by this).
Step 4: Layering the Ice Top
Now to add the water! Simply bucket in water into the basin you've created. The fellows at Wisegeek recommended that you do this process in layers, which I wholeheartedly agree with; apart from giving you more control over the final product, it also minimizes the chance that your surface will suffer from external elements (wind, debris, etc) because it will freeze faster. I'd use a ruler to mark how much water you put in...
As for the thickness, that's really your call. I did three layers of about an inch a-piece, which gave me a nice, 3-inch thick slab. The downside to that, though, was weight: the fracker weighed a ton. The thicker you go, the less likely it will crack ('cause it's stronger), but the more likely it will be that you will crack it while trying to move it. The thinner you go the more likely it will crack, period. So, I suppose I would shoot for around 3 inches, done in 3 (or more) layers.
But generally, it's as simple as it sounds. Pour water into the basin and measure the amount by sticking a ruler in. Once it's at the desired height, leave it alone until its frozen, then come back and repeat the process. You'll want to obviously use cold water, as that will expedite the freezing process. Also, it helps to have the outside temperature be below 20 degrees F with no (or minimal) wind. You want the water to stand still when it freezes; wind creates ripples and, depending on the temperature, could create an uneven final surface. If it is excessively windy, you can drape another piece of plastic over the basin to help shield the water. This will slow down the freezing process, though, and you don't want to do that when the sun is still out, as it will greenhouse and might prevent the water from freezing altogether.
NOTE: Be really diligent about checking the corners of the table (from underneath)! At any sign of warping, you'll need to reinforce.
Here are some ideas to get creative with the table; they make for really awesome effects afterwards!
Dye your water As you can see from some of the pictures, my ice top was a lovely shade of cloudy cobalt. You can get really nice effects if you make each layer a different color, too.
Add the icicle lights This was an idea I really wanted to execute, but didn't have the time to really fool around with it to make it work. I'm not even sure the specs on those lights are up to the task, but what you might do is freeze those lights into the final layer on the ice. That way the table glows! The ice should be thick enough so that the heat put off by the lights doesn't melt the surrounding ice too much, and you should make sure that if you have to freeze a connecting plug in the layer that you insulate it so that water can't get in the connection (which might short something). Also, don't have them plugged in when you put them in the water for initial freezing!! Like I said before, check the specs on the lights to see if they can withstand that before trying.
Add custom logos You can freeze cut-out posterboard into the final layer as well for some nice custom branding.
Any other ideas? Post some comments!
Now that we've waited a day or two for the ice to freeze, it's time to transfer it over to the snow base...
Step 5: Assembling the Table
After you've gone back inside for a few minutes to warm up and call a bunch of your stronger friends, head back outside to move the ice slab over to the snow base.
Before I continue, I must confess that my initial attempt to move this behemoth resulted in a nice, clean break right down the middle of the table. Yup, it cracked on me. Which might have worked out, in my particular case, for the better; the crack was clean enough that we could piece it back together, after moving each piece individually, almost seamlessly. In some of the pictures I took you can barely tell that it's cracked!
I'm not, however, going to suggest that you intentionally crack your table, because there's no way to guarantee a clean break. So, unless you know how to cut ice (I don't) and have the appropriate tools (I don't even know what they are, but I already know I don't have them anyway), then don't even think about intentionally breaking it.
So, how to move it? Well, I've obviously thought a lot about why my attempt broke it, and I've come up with a reasonably good explanation, even though my theory about how I would do it were I to build it again is pretty much the same.
The first thing that went wrong in my case was that my MDF board warped when freezing the layers. This resulted in thicker corners, which put more weight on the ends of the ice slab than in the middle. This, in turn, demanded that more manpower be delegated to the ends of the table (because that's where more of the weight was coming from), which in turn placed stress on the center part of the table (even though it was being supported by people as well), which caused the crack. Had we anticipated that and put more people in the center of the slab, I believe it still would have cracked, because the ends of the slab would pull down respectively, putting reverse pressure on the center of the slab...and cracking it. In fact, it would've been worse to do that latter approach, because those ends would have likely fallen to the ground and possibly broken into even more pieces; at least, with most people on the ends, we were able to catch the broken halves and transport them without any further damage.
The second thing that went wrong in my case was that we moved the slab on by far the warmest day leading up to the party. Even though the temperature was still only about 32 degrees F (apart from sitting in the sun), I believe it was enough to start the edges melting. I'm not sure if it was actually a problem, but I'm sure it didn't help any.
Soo, what to do? Given the somewhat fragile nature of the table on which your placing this slab, I still hold that the best solution it to get as many as your friends as possible to lift and slide the slab from the rig table to the snow table. Have as many people as you can all hold the table from underneath; you want all the lift coming from the underside of the table, not the edges. It's a good idea to have people stationed on the other side of the snow base too so that those on the inside (in between the rig and the snow base) can pass it off.
I found it's easier on the hands as well as providing more grip to use dish towels as "gloves" when lifting the table.
You can do a certain degree of shifting-in-place once it's on the snow basin; I found that my table was stronger than I thought it was in this regard, and I think that the texture of the ice helps it to slide more on the compacted snow. However, you should want to keep this to a minimum, since doing it will increase the risk of you damaging the table.
Well, now that you have the slab in place, the only thing left to do is to add some finishing touches...
Step 6: Finishing Touches
Now that you've got the table pretty much assembled, you can trim it up all nice and neat.
Since ice doesn't always form perfectly, the top of your table is likely to have some minor defects. Running over them with a car ice scraper is the best way to get rid of these, plus if you have a brush on the other end of the scraper you can easily wipe off the excess shavings. Remember that you want a nice, clean surface, so don't overwork the scraping or else you'll start creating imperfections like the ones you're fixing to remove! Once you have the scraping mostly complete, I would wipe it down with a dish towel to get it really shiny, as the dish towel tends to do a slightly better job at removing the smaller shavings than the brush.
You can also use the brush to work-over the sides of the snow base, trimming it to fit the ice slab; since I had to build the base in piecemeal, my edges didn't totally line up, so I had to do more of this than (hopefully) you will. Again, moderate brushing motions will suffice here: over pressuring might take out a whole section of your table! The snow sides (remember from earlier) are ice-coated, so they won't shed as easily...just be patient and, like a master sculpture, in the end you'll have a much better product.
The only thing left now are the hole molds. For this, I made the fortunate mistake of buying grooved Solo cups (mistake only in that they were grooved; it's never a mistake to go with Solo!), but that ended up working better in the long run because the grooves make for a unique mold shape that holds the cup in place. Making the molds is surprisingly simple (be sure to have a towel on hand before you start this): simply arrange the cups as you want the molds to be, and fill them about 1/8 to 1/4 of boiling water. Let them site anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the ambient temperature), then remove the cups. Wipe out the outside water melt (in the groove) with your towel immediately. That's it! You can test it by putting an empty Solo back in the groove; you should have to twist it to have it lock into place. If it's not as deep as you'd like, simply put the Solo with boiling water back in for a bit longer. My grooves where only about 1/16 to 1/8 inches deep (enough to hold the cup plus the beer in place against any slight wind or other movement, since without them they'd slide on the ice & off the table).
One last consideration: if you're used to playing with a warm water cup, the warmest you can have it will have to be luke-warm. Despite what your fingers might want (boiling hot!), anything hotter than luke-warm might screwup your water cup mold.
Step 7: Throw an Awesome Party!
You are now the proud builder AND owner of one of the most amazing tables known to man!! Now all you have left to do is throw an amazing party!
Pictures of mine can be found here: Winter Carnival '07.
Please let me know how your table goes, improvements you think might be made to what I've said here, or how you liked/disliked this instructable, by posting some comments!
...and remember: Champions are made one cup at a time. :)