I live in the northeast US and have a depression in my backyard: after weeks of freezing weather we had a warm, rainy weekend. Then it all froze =)

So now I have a backyard rink, about 100' x 50' (30m x 15m), but I'd like to get it flatter and better-suited to skating. There are spots where it was slushy and a bootprint froze in, ridges and ripples from who-knows-what, &c.

I'm willing to build apparatus to help me, but would rather not spend much. (Say, under $100 US.) I'm willing to spend up to an hour a day out there working to maintain the rink.

I'm not willing to just flood it to a depth of two inches to set a new layer: that'd take way too much water.* I want to use the existing ice (and surrounding snow, if more water's needed) as much as possible.

How can I perfect this rink and ensure my kids the best skating every afternoon, all winter?

* - I know because two years ago, last time this happened, I tried just flooding it. There's enough topography to the ice that In a month of late-night floodings I wasn't able to raise the level enough to effect changes to imperfections on the not-level portions.

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    I'm far from an expert but I'm sure you'll have to add some liquid water. Would you be happy with an answer that set out to minimise this?
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:51
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    Do you happen to have anything like a 4-wheeler or riding lawnmower that could be improvised into a Zamboni? Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:52
  • @ChrisH absolutely. I just won't use anything like 100'x50'x3" of water =) (See new footnote for some more context.)
    – nitsua60
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:53
  • @CharlieBrumbaugh I might be able to borrow one... if you've got an answer that uses one and gets massively-upvoted, that'll put the pressure on me to do my neighbor a favor or two =)
    – nitsua60
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:54
  • What are conditions like during the day? Presumably below freezing but does the sun soften the surface? I'm wondering about adding snow to the low patches in the morning, and watering it as soon as the sun goes off it.
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 7:55

4 Answers 4


We have a pond on our farm and often groom the ice for ice skating. We have a pretty simple 3-step process that takes about 20 minutes with a couple of people and gives us great ice:

  1. Shovel off any snow. The melting/freezing snow really ruins your ice. We use a metal bladed shovel which also helps to knock off any bumps in the ice. (Some loose ice shavings help with the next step, anyways.)
  2. Spray/dump warm water over the ice. In your case where you don't want to have to add water the weed burner will probably work. You just need a thin layer of water to work with.
  3. Level the water as needed. We just use a large push broom to ensure we get even coverage. Ultimately, gravity is your friend here and the water should settle to be completely smooth before it freezes, the broom is only used to help push water around. If your hose reaches all areas, then you likely won't even need the broom.

A few notes:

  • Don't try to do this if it is windy. It will still work, but not as well.
  • Keeping snow off of the ice is the most important part.
  • As others have mentioned, keep people off the ice while it is setting.
  • Work with your temperature. If it is going to be above freezing for a little while, just let the sun do all the work for you and let it re-freeze over night. If it is very cold (we get down around -10F at times) you'll need more/warmer water as it freezes so fast.

For reference take a look at step three of Bob Vila's 3 Simple Steps to a Backyard Ice Skating Rink. (Yes, it really is just as easy as it sounds).

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    IMHO a Zamboni would be some pretty gross overkill. There are two different circumstances we have to groom the ice. The first is at the end of the day/prepping for the next day. We use a hose, and just shoot water out over all the ice. Let it sit and the next morning you're good to go! The second scenario is after the ice has been roughed up from use -- for that we use a much smaller amount of water (so it freezes faster) and the push broom. You're essentially just painting the ice. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes and you're good to go! (You may not even need/want the broom).
    – Fortis
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 22:18

It looks like to build a homemade Zamboni, you need some type of powered transport like a four-wheeler, riding lawnmower or a kid on a tricycle. Then you need a supply of hot water and something to spread it out behind the vehicle. The plans that I have seen usually have a water tank that has a hose going down to a PVC pipe with holes in it and a towel behind.

There are more detailed instructions here and another story with explanation here.

YouTube has all kinds of videos on this.


Obvious try and keep people off the ice when it is soft.

Ice resurfacer

Before Zamboni 3 or 4 workers had to scrape, wash, and squeegee the ice. A thin layer of water was then added for the fresh ice. This process was extremely time consuming, and Zamboni wanted to find a more efficient way to resurface the ice.

Hot water is frequently used because it slightly melts the layer of ice below it, forming a stronger bond when frozen, and because heating the water drives off dissolved gases. This limits chipping and cracking, providing a more enjoyable skating surface.

It is not clear how they scraped but I would try a tool like is used for scraping tile off a floor. Then sweep the chips off. Then add a small amount of hot water to the problem spots. For a squeegee I would look at a roller squeegee like is used for tennis courts.

  • I'm not sure what you're suggesting, here. Surely a Zamboni can't be bought for anything even close to $100. So are you recommending the pre-Zamboni techniques mentioned in the quote? Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 19:21

I don't ice skate and my main goals of working with ice are to get it gone. That said, if I did want to even out ice with the least amount of work and expense I would get a weed burner and a bottle of propane.

Inexpensive weed burns can be purchased for about $20 US it easily connects to the 5 gallon propane grill bottle, if you don't have a propane grill, some you know probably does, borrow it and refill it before returning. Don't use disposable propane bottles, that would be expensive.

Use the weed burner to melt the high spots, they should melt and level out with the rest of the ice. If you want to get fancy for another $10 you can get a push Squeegee and get a nice smooth finish on the whole area.

weed burner image

  • Commercial links are for example only, there are lots of examples, do your own shopping, i just picked these randomly. Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:42
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    I like this idea :) Weed burners are lots of fun. Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:43
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    @ab2 Here is an xkcd what if where the idea of using a flamethrower to clear snow was explored what-if.xkcd.com/130 Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:46
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    This is a brilliant suggestion. God help us all if you decide to use your genius in pursuit of world domination.
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 0:24
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    @Charlie Brumbaugh I checked the numbers in your link; they are OK. However the picture is misleading. You don't need three aircraft carriers; all you need is a "semi" truck gasoline tanker attached to your car, with another semi ready to refuel the first every 25 miles. (I wish someone would check my numbers, because intuitively this doesn't seem like enough.)
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 6:21

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