Ice Lanterns !




About: Things are not what they seem.. nor are they otherwise.

Intro: Ice Lanterns !

We first saw these ice lanterns on a visit to the the quaint town of Otaru on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
I was fascinated and mesmerized by their beauty and simplicity, and right away tried to grasp how they were made.
After struggling a bit with wrapping my mind around how to reverse engineer one of them, we happen across a couple of guys pulling a load of them on a sled to install around town.
Right away, I jumped at the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions, mostly in the form of pantomimed hand gesture sign language (my go-to form of communication with the locals in Japan) to try and extract the secret of how to make these brilliant yet simple works of art.

Fortunately, my Japanese wife was there to save them from a bout of ritual politeness with yet another gaijin (foreigner) trying to communicate in frantic pantomime, and get the scoop on exactly how to make these little gems..
So, here it is, free to all, instructions on making these gorgeous little works of art, as effemeral as the snowmelt on a cherry blossom on a warm spring day on Mt. Yotei, yet timeless in their beauty.
And hey, all you really need is a household bucket.

And since Instructables is having a contest for projects involving a bucket, i was even more inspired to share this process with anyone who might find it interesting..
So, hope you enjoy this Instructable!

Step 1: It Doesn't Take Much...

All that's really needed is:

•A household bucket/ plant pot (with no holes in it)
•A coffee can, piece of pvc pipe, or other similar object
•Some water
•Freezing cold conditions (natural or technology induced)
•A little time.

To make life easier (for the large ones)
•A drill with a drill bit (the larger diameter the better)
And if you want to make tinted ice lanterns
•Some food coloring, etc. if you like.

Step 2: So Simple..

It is so simple, I was a little embarrassed that I couldn't figure it out myself that day in Otaru.
But then, it's been a while since I used my brain cells in this way.

Fill the bucket with water
Place the PVC pipe piece, or other object, centered in the bottom of the bucket
Put it outside in sub-zero conditions (talking about Celsius here, now)— or in a freezer.
Wait until a significant layer of ice has formed ( this could take anywhere from 2-3 days, less I suppose if you live in Antarctica)
This waiting time gives you plenty of time to contemplate such things as...
Your life..
How cool it is that Instructables has contests with awesome prizes for projects that utilize such mundane objects as a bucket..
How wonderful it is at we have the ability to vote in order to have our voice heard and participate in shaping the world around us..
The sound of one hand clapping..

So after a couple days of contemplation and ice particle formation, it's ready for the next step.

Step 3: Drill It, Drain It, Tip It, Illuminate It.

So now that the ice has made a layer around the inside shape of the bucket in a desired thickness,
The only thing left to do is finish it and light it up..

Here's where the drill comes in handy. An ice pick or other object would work too, but a drill is simple and clean..

So there's still a partial bucket full of unfrozen water inside your new ice lantern that needs to be drained out.

Simple, drill a couple of holes in the ice at the top of the bucket to allow the water to drain out.
Then tip the bucket over, draining the water out, and allowing the shell of ice that has formed to come out of the bucket.

The PVC tube or other object will have formed a hole in what is now the top of the ice lantern.
Remove this object, and..

That's it.

Place a candle, or other light source such as LED lighting inside the lantern, and enjoy.

And something I haven't tried, but could be nice— add some color to the water (food coloring, or natural products like beet powder or turmeric powder)
To make colored light ice lanterns!

Step 4: ..and It's Not the Size That Matters...

Sometimes big things can come in small packages..

A friend in California mentioned she doesn't have much space and no outside freezing temperatures to boot,
So I experimented with making little tea candle sized ones too.
And they worked out great!

I tried different sizes and shapes of cups..
The one pictured, a simple paper cup filled with water and then frozen overnight, was perfect size for a tea light.

The ice form comes out of the cup easier if it is left at room temperature for a few minutes to thaw the edges, then it slides out very easily.
The shell of ice was thin on this one, but with a little more time it would get thicker and the lantern would last longer..

So simple, so effemeral, which only seems to add to the beauty.
Have fun!

Step 5: The Simple Things in Life..

Hope you enjoyed this Instructable,

Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments on your own experience.

Thank you for reading this, and
Hats off to Instructables for having such a cool online community for sharing creativity.

Hope you enjoy your new ice lanterns, and they illuminate the world around you for both yourself and many others to enjoy.


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    14 Discussions


    2 years ago



    2 years ago

    Very good idea I might give this a go in small form


    2 years ago

    Fab I love this. It would also make a great centerpiece altho here in FL dunno how long it would last. Question, since it sits flat, does the candle need an extra hole or two for oxygen to keep burning? I love the idea of flame but depending on the use, I guess LED would give off significantly less heat? Thanx for a smashing idea.


    2 years ago

    Fab I love this. It would also make a great centerpiece altho here in FL dunno how long it would last. Question, since it sits flat, does the candle need an extra hole or two for oxygen to keep burning? I love the idea of flame but depending on the use, I guess LED would give off significantly less heat? Thanx for a smashing idea.


    2 years ago

    The ice castles and hotels in ... of all places ... Iceland (and Greenland, too) make ALL their furniture, plates, cups, etc. out of ice. Fun 'ible - I voted for your project!


    2 years ago

    While you're not freezing it solid .... if you boil the water first, you will not get "cloudy" ice.


    2 years ago

    Love this idea. Will try in the summer months coming up soon.


    2 years ago

    also nice with berries and/or small pine or holly branches frozen in them

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    I bet this could work for a summer party as well. We always need little lights so guests don't trip across the yard on the way to & from the bonfire. Tea lights are cheap and we only need them for a few hours. Making the ice big and/or thick enough would last long enough, be conversational, and be less waste than those paper bags (assuming I use rainwater).


    2 years ago

    Wowwww Amazing


    2 years ago

    Gorgeous idea for lighting. :)


    2 years ago

    I love this! So beautiful! Thanks for sharing :)


    Fun way to make a luminary. I like how they won't fall over and catch fire. Also the bubbles look cool.