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Ice, ice baby: Q&A with 'Snow Day Fest' ice carver

Photo for: Ice, ice baby: Q&A with

Reynaldo Clemente will chip and chainsaw his way through a block of ice to create a frozen work of art during the Forest Preserve's "Snow Day Festival" on Saturday, January 20, at Plum Creek Nature Center.

Clemente, who is a lab assistant for the ice carving class at Joliet Junior College, began carving as a freshman at the school. He took the class as an elective and was hooked. He said he learned the fundamentals in class and more by trial and error and asking questions.

Here is a Q&A session to get you warmed up to the idea of attending the festival and seeing Clemente in action:

How long does an average ice carving take?
It really all depends on the carving. A smaller carving could take me 30-45 minutes, but a larger more fragile one I could work on over the course of a few days or hours at a time.

Do you use a certain type of ice?
Ice carvers use specially made ice. Essentially, it’s purified water with an air hose in it, kind of like a fish tank. This allows the block to freeze in a way that pushes gas outward instead of inward. That’s why the ice cubes in your freezer have little bubbles trapped in the middle.

What are your tools? Are they specialized?
Ice carving tools are a bit specialized, for sure. Most of them start off life as standard woodworking or metalworking tools. Of course, we have our chainsaws, but we also have angle grinders, sanders and Dremels. Most of these tools can be found in anyone’s garage. The specialized parts are the bits and little attachments that were created for ice carvers to go through ice easily. We also have our hand tools, razor sharp chisels and saws we can use to give that unique touch that power tools can’t quite do.

Do you get cold?
This is my favorite question. Yes, I’m very cold. The key is (dressing in) layers.

How do you keep the ice from cracking?
Working smart and not too fast. The ice will crack if exposed to large temperature differences or if it gets hit too hard in one spot.

How heavy is a block of ice?
Clear ice blocks can be 300-400 pounds, so a bit heavy.

Why sculpt ice?
I fell in love with it since day one. I’m an aspiring chef-to-be. It lets me be creative and work with my hands. Plus, it’s pretty rad, being able to sculpt something most people just see as something to keep their drinks cold.

What’s the biggest ice sculpture you ever created?
Weight wise, I recently carved a reindeer that was close to half a ton. One of the tallest ones I’ve done was for a fundraiser dinner at the college, a huge heron close to 8 feet tall.


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