The Bucket System: Modular Snow Construction




About: I am a recent graduate of the Sustainable Manufacturing program at California State University Chico. I currently consult with local businesses and provide freelance design work. I've been making things for ...

I live in a place where it snows maybe twice a year. Recently we got a good five inch snowfall, which qualifies as a lot here. I decided to try my hand at building a snow building. I wanted something simple, and this is what I came up with.

All you do is pack snow tightly into a bucket, and pop out the compacted snow as a cylinder. Stand the cylinder up on the ground on end. Continue to do this, layering the cylinders like bricks to build a structure. Grab some appropriate junk from somewhere to make a roof, and you're done.

NOTE: The pictures for this guide were taken in broad daylight. The white balance on the cheap camera I had at the time did not like the bright snow and darkened the pictures significantly.

Step 1: That Evil Bucket

Go get a five gallon bucket.

Stare at it. Think angry thoughts at it.

By the end of this project you will hate that bucket more than anything on Earth.

Or, you could just go build my bucket and everything will be better.

(See, with an unmodified bucket the snow likes to stick in the bucket and not come out in one piece, requiring you to hit it, shake it, and generally have your intelligence soundly defeated by an inanimate object.)

Step 2: The MUCH Better Bucket(s)

I went an got another bucket, the same size and type as the first. Using my trusty reciprocating saw, I cut a slit all the way down one side of one of the buckets, from rim to base. That was all the real modification needed.

Step 3: Materials/Tools

This is fairly open ended, but here's a list of things you should or can have.

  • The double-bucket tool from the last step
  • A shovel to get snow into said bucket
  • A good amount of snow. I had about six inches, but whatever works. If you have dry snow, this probably won't work. The wetter the better.
  • Good cold-weather gear, but in LAYERS! It was about 30 degrees out when I was building this, and I was bundled up well, but this is actually hard work, so I began to sweat. At the end of the process I was in a t-shirt.
  • Something thin and stiff to square off the edges of blocks to make them fit better, A wood scrap works great.
  • Water. As mentioned, this is hard work and therefore you should treat it like work on any normal day. Stay hydrated!

Step 4: The Basics

If you haven't figured this out by now, here goes.

To use the bucket system, take the cut bucket and stick it inside the normal bucket. Pack the nested bucket full of snow very tightly.

To unload it, take the normal bucket off of the slit bucket, and set the slit bucket upside down. Jiggle it a little bit and the compacted snow should come out fine in a solid cylinder. If not, pull the slit open a bit and shake the whole bucket to guarantee that the snow comes out.

Be careful with the cylinder once it's out of the bucket, as it can break easily. If at all possible, remove the cylinder from the bucket in its final position.

To continue building, keep making cylinders, setting them close together as shown. Pack snow in the cracks to make the wall stronger.

It is a good idea to do a test wall before building your final structure. Make it about three cylinders long and as high as possible before it breaks or falls over. This is a good way to see if your snow will collapse under stress.

When starting a new layer, stack the cylinders as evenly as possible.

Step 5: Building a Roof

This is optional, depending on your structure. I made a framework from random pieces of lumber and fence posts, which I laid out in a grid on top of the wall structure. I then layered pine bough over that, first one way, then the other. Over that I layered snow. Be very careful not to make your roof too heavy for your walls to hold. It helps prevent getting poked in the face and the overall appearance of the building to cut the ends of the boughs off once the roof is built.

Step 6: Final Product

There we go. It lasted about four days before collapsing. The pile of snow lasted for another 3 days after the collapse. My dogs used it as a doghouse for a few nights.

Step 7: Thoughts

This is by no means meant for a shelter, more for fun. If you have little kids, I definitely would not recommend a roof.

It is quite possible in colder environments to mist your structure with water right before the hard freeze at night to strengthen it with a shell of ice.

I do not know the compaction strength of snow. Inquiring minds want to know!

Feel free to do whatever you want with this method. It works anywhere there is snow, buckets, and a sense of fun!



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    18 Discussions

    That is a really cool i'm going to try that this year with my friends. You can also make the window a little bigger and us it as an airsoft fort. That is what i'm going to try and do.


    5 years ago on Step 7

    Well done! You could even use the rectangular buckets that cat litter comes in! Next time, try waxing the inside of your bucket with car wax; it should help with the dislodging of a block.

    2 replies

    7 years ago on Step 4

    I know, you said not to ask, but... Did you use the sword to flatten that cylinder? =)

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 4

    yeah. it was a project gone wrong from a long time ago. not even sharp. but it's still fun to hit things with. earlier in the day i had decapitated some snowmen with it :P


    7 years ago on Introduction

    We used to do this all the time as kids. We got lazy though and used big blue laundry tubs instead of buckets.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    If someone counts with a group of friends these could very well be a good refuge in case of a blizzard.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    yeah, it could conceivably be used as a survival structure, but only if the weather was very cold. i would not want to be in one of these in a blizzard, because snow could potentially pile on top of it and cause it to collapse.

    ilpugKaptain Kool

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    no, this was a couple weeks ago. i am just fantastically lazy, so i posted it late.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This would be a lot better if my cursed internet would let me make photo tips.

    Kaptain Kool

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I built a fort like this a while ago. I actually used pine branches for the roof.