Sand Castle Bucket Ice Lantern

Jennifer Shea Hedberg | 13 August, 2020

Summer Ice Lantern in a Sand Castle bucket

Quick! I just noticed that summer toys are going on sale in all sorts of stores, so now is the time to swoop up some toy sand buckets to make ice lantern now or in the winter. 

In my book, Ice Luminary Magic - The Ice Wrangler's guide to Making Illuminated Ice Creations, I talk about ways to make interesting ice lantern shapes that go beyond the simple bucket. In this case, it is a sand bucket shaped like a sand castle. I will be using the Partial-freeze Bucket Ice Lantern method found on page 19 to make a basic bucket ice lantern. This method relies on the natural freezing process of water to create a chamber inside the ice for a candle or other light source. 


Strength of the bucket?

I find it exciting that toy sand buckets come shaped like mini castles! Because these sand buckets are meant for rough treatment and lugging heavy sand, most are made with very durable* plastic. They are also designed to be flipped over to release a form of packed sand, so they should release ice, too. But, always check to make sure that the opening in the bucket is larger than the bottom and that there is no plastic extending into the bucket that would keep the ice from sliding out.

To ensure that there is an opening at one end of the ice which will reduce the chances of the ice freezing solid and breaking your bucket, consider covering the top of the bucket with a layer of Styrofoam or other insulating material. The water in the bucket closest to the insulation should freeze last resulting in a hole in the ice. This offers the added benefit of a way to easily remove the unfrozen water and reveal a cavity. 

Another reason to put the insulation on top of the bucket instead of underneath.

Because these buckets are designed to be flipped over, the castle image is upside-down on the bucket and most of the castle-like details are found at the bottom or middle of the bucket. Thus, it is important for the opening of the ice to be on the top so the bottom and middle ice will form completely. 

*Warning: Any bucket could break if it's filled with water and that water is allowed to freeze solid. But most buckets that are built for tough use will be fine. A good example is utility buckets from most hardware stores. They tend to withstand multiple freezings and refreezing without breaking. 

What size bucket is best?

I like to make sure a sand bucket is big enough to be able to create a inside chamber big enough for a candle to burn easily. Also, the smaller the bucket, the quicker the ice freezes and the shorter the window of opportunity to catch it before it freezes solid. So given those two concepts, I would purchase a sand bucket that is at least 8" or larger in one or more dimensions. In the video below, you will see the size of bucket I prefer and the candle chamber that size bucket can create. 

[In the video, I said "use a smaller drill." I meant to say that a smaller drill BIT is better to use when working with thin or delicate ice and then run warm water through the hole to make it bigger if a larger hole is desired.]  

Make ice lanterns all year 'round.

I made the ice lantern in these photos in my freezer - in August - when it starts to get dark around 8 or 8:30pm, so I decided to use it as a wine cooler and let the sun light it up! In the winter, when I can use the outdoors as a freezer and it gets darker earlier, I might make 10 of them and use them to line a walkway. Their fun shape tends to make the light dance in a different way that a simple bucket.

In the winter, there are many more options for magic . . . 

Kids staring into a sand castle bucket ice lantern

For more ideas about playing with ice, check out my book, Ice Luminary Magic, and ice lantern kits. Let's make winter wonderful this year!

Enjoy the Glow!

-- Jennifer Shea Hedberg, The Ice Wrangler

P.S. I love making masks, too! My goal is to make masks that are fun and comfortable to wear. Please check it out!


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