Backyard Ice Bar Gets Cooler With 3D Printing

We upped the tech quotient of our backyard ice bar with coasters made from 3D-printed forms.

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Ice bar 2015

Weeks of below-zero temperatures enable my family’s favorite winter distraction: the ice bar. We finished construction last weekend and invited friends and neighbors to brave the chilly opening night.

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Backyard structure

The process is pretty simple. We fill storage bins with water and freeze blocks. This year we moved ice production to the garage, to avoid having to shovel snow off the blocks in the weeks leading up to the bar’s debut – a totally unnecessary precaution since the most snow Minneapolis got from a single storm this winter is 3.4 inches (wonder where it all wound up?). We did get plenty of the bitter cold we needed to make the blocks.

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Ice wall

Since there was very little snow in the yard, we couldn't repeat last year’s snow couches. Instead we put up a wire fence that I tried and failed to encase in ice. The fix: small sheets of ice tied to the structure.

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3D-printed forms and silicone molds

A friend with access to a 3D printer got creative. Ben designed coasters and signs using SketchUp 3D modeling software. He printed the coaster and signs on a MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer (thanks to Steve Wilmes Consulting, which let Ben use the printer). It took about two hours for the coaster form to print.

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3D-printed sign

Ben made molds of the hard plastic forms using silicone from AeroMarine. It took about 24 hours for each mold to settle. When it came time to make the ice shapes, we  couldn't get the ice out of the "Bednarz ice bar" molds without breaking it.

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Custom ice coaster

The coaster mold worked best, so we made a bunch of ice coasters.

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Frozen pictures

We added photos to the ice wall – an easy, low-tech project. We printed pictures on ordinary printer paper and froze them in aluminum pans, using pennies and pebbles to keep the paper flat while the water froze.

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Ice extras

An ice graveyard, lit with strings of micro LEDs, made use of all the ice fragments and extra blocks.

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Open for business

Ice bar dress code: snow pants, hats, gloves.

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Ice blocks

Ice blocks took over our garage during production.

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The makers

My husband and I built the ice bar and ice wall. With temperatures in the Twin Cities forecast to reach 50 degrees late next week, the scene won’t be around for long. Any ideas for next year's structures? Send them to me.