ice sculpting techniques
The other day I got an email asking for advice on how to "write on the ice." Right away, I sent back an email that explained which kinds of magic markers let you write on ice when it's still frozen (not while it's melting). Well, you can probably see where this is going: that's not what he meant...the whole entry...
Lianne Rimer stands behind a color logo CNC machined into an oversized “Monster” block.
Today, we’re going to try something a little different than the usual. Joe and Lianne Rimer of Ice Pro have agreed to make regular contributions to ice carving secrets. Here is their first article. Look for more in the near future!
In an effort to share with the ice community, we at Ice Pro will be bringing a new subject to ice carving secrets on a monthly basis. The information we provide will be based on observations made by our team during our time both as ice sculpture manufacturers and competition carvers.
In this first article we would like to talk about CNC routers use as we see it in the ice field. We would also like to delve into the difference between flatbeds and 3D ice router CNCs. We are not going to discuss which brands we think are the best, or try to steer you toward one or the other. This article deals strictly with our observations of each machine’s strengths and weaknesses and offers basic insights. A CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) is basically a router that will cut on three axes to produce a two dimensional or three dimensional sculpture. The design is generated on a software program on your computer and then sent to the machine. Often it is the misconception that this process makes carving quicker and easier. More often, it has been our experience that using a CNC can actually take longer than just hand cutting a standard piece. The time alone creating a design can be two to three times longer than the time it would take to create a template and cut it by hand.
Where the CNC makes its pay
By producing pieces that could not be produced cost effectively by handSome of these examples are sorbet dishes, shot glasses, Tiered trays, and platters that need level ice removal (spiral pocketing) while retaining a lip, small centerpieces, etc.
By producing quality logosA decent carver can create most logos that you see but for the amount of time they would spend in the freezer the CNC lends itself more efficiently to this process. It should also be noted that if you are doing complex sand filling at different levels so the colors touch, it would be nearly impossible without the use of a CNC.
As previously mentioned, creating a design for a standard three dimensional piece can be quite time consuming. However, once it’s complete and runs correctly it can be used again and again in the future. Even then, a really good swan will take upwards of 60 minutes to run and will still need to be detailed. The point is that this is not a get out of jail free card for the carver that does not want to work. The CNC only acts as another tool (albeit a really big one!). The art and design, and quite often the detail, all come from the mind and the capabilities of the carver, artist, or designer.
The most important part of a CNC’s use is the design that is created on the computer. Anyone who has used drawing aids and drawing programs on a computer knows how difficult creating a detailed drawing or design can be. When you add the three dimensional aspect it takes it to a whole new level of difficulty. Becoming proficient is not a quick process. When starting a design, the first task is to find proper photos or other artwork to base your design on. It is very helpful to have straight-on front, side and back views of your object. This will also help you visualize the proper dimensions for cutting at the proper scale. An even bigger help, of course, is to have a 3d object of the piece, such as a toy. You can then measure out the proportions to the scale of the block. Another thing you need to keep in mind is that you are only working with a 10” block. Pocketing away ice on both sides at varying planes may leave you with little ice! Because you are instructing the machine to cut in different dimensions, you need to instruct which layers to cut first, or some may not cut at all. Determining which parts of your design to cut first is aided by different colored layers in the software; which you designate, and then assign a cutting order to. The software has capabilities nearly as extensive as your imagination. However, it’s often not very user-friendly, and is better learned hands-on. (Expect a lot of trial and error.)
As we have stated there are basically two main types of CNCs in use. The following is some very basic information that will help you understand their strengths and fundamental differences. These descriptions are basic beginner level comments to help persons that have had little or no experience with CNCs gain some understanding.
The two most common CNCs and their strengths:
Flatbed:In this set-up the block or plate is laid flat on a bed and the router cuts it from above. Because gravity is on your side, this machine is great for logos, sorbets, centerpieces, shot glasses, and smaller pieces. The Z travel (depth you can cut) comes in a variety of ranges on these machines. Our system is set up to run up to 5” deep but there are flat beds that can cut full 10” thick blocks. Cutting full three dimensional ice sculptures on these machines can be cumbersome because of the fact that you have to get the block on the table and then remove the sculpture. Flatbeds also tend to have less three dimensional capabilities.
3D:In this set up the block is slid in standing up, wedged and then cut while standing. The full block sculpture is cut from one side and then the block is turned around and the back side is cut. It has to be done this way because the deepest the end mill can cut is just a little over 5”. Also, there is a 5” area left at the bottom of the block that can not be cut since the block is standing. This area works fine in the majority of 3 dimensional designs as a base.Most of the smaller piece designs that we mention in the flat bed category can be run in a 3D CNC but it is trickier and requires some rigging. You also lose some of your cutting area on these designs because of the 5” blank area at the bottom.
If you are an ice carver that is contemplating going the direction of a CNC there are several factors you need to consider in moving forward:
- Determining which machine(s) you will purchase and the price.
- How you will produce slabs. We have a band saw but you can use a vertical cutting saw. If you are doing small volume with a CNC you can start with an Alaskan mill.
- Space for these items plus computer station.
- Additional monthly utility expense, not only for running the machine, but also for the additional freezer space it requires, and operating a 25 degree freezer. We run separate freezers for holding product at a lower temperature.
- Control of humidity. Even with walking through additional freezers to go to the freezer that runs our machines, we battle with humidity. This can really mess with your machine’s production.
Having both types is very helpful to our business. Interestingly we find that we usually have an equal amount of work for both machines, but when the work load gets lopsided we usually will alter a design to run in the machine it is less suited for. Hopefully this sheds a little light on some basic CNC information. If you have questions about our experience with our machines please feel free to e-mail us at Iceprofl@hotmail.com.
Thanks, Lianne and Joe Rimer
Ice Pro produces CNC ice work for the following quality Ice Sculptors
Ice Carvers Choice, serving Memphis and the Mid South
ice dragon, serving Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle
Arctic Ice, serving Greater Tampa Bay
All Star Ice, serving Orlando and the Florida East Coast
Brentons, serving Naples and Ft. Myers, FL
And we directly produce sculptures for the Florida West Coast from Sarasota/Bradenton south
If you are a quality sculptor interested in affordable high quality CNC product shipped to your location please visit our web site at www.iceprofl.com and/ or contact us at Iceprofl@hotmail.com
We also have Clinebell ice blocks and ice bowls available, as well as our specialty oversized Monster ice blocks.
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