Survival Skills: How to Make a Bushcraft Ice Chisel
Use this tool to cut holes in the ice to catch fish and access drinking water
Fish can serve as a reliable survival food source in winter if you’re near a frozen body of water with stable ice conditions. A frozen lake can give you access to fishing spots not reachable from shore and to beaver lodges too. However, despite all the food (and source of hydration) below the ice, it’s unlikely that you happened to pack an auger or ice chisel in your survival kit. If you’re lucky enough to have an axe, it can do the job at getting you through the ice—but an ice chisel is a faster and more efficient option. An ice chisel can also be an effective key tool for snaring beavers.
If you have the right tools, knowing how to make a simple ice chisel can be very useful—and maybe even life-saving. Here’s how it’s done.
Make a Survival Ice Chisel in 5 Steps
A fixed-blade belt knife, preferably with full tang, is key as it’ll form the “bit” of your chisel. A small folding saw will also make the process a heck of a lot faster. Consider carrying one in your survival kit along with a length of parachute cord, which is important for this process too.
- Cut a pole that’s no shorter than 5 feet long and a little thicker in diameter than your wrist. The longer your pole, the thicker the ice you’ll be able to chisel through. If you don’t have an axe or a saw, you’ll have to fell the tree with your belt knife. Consider speeding up the process by using your knife to baton the tree horizontally at opposing angles to remove wedges until the tree goes down.
- Trim the ends off of the pole to make them as square as possible. Next, remove all of the branches, taking extra caution to whittle down all nubs until smooth.
- If your knife has a narrower, flatter handle, use your saw to make a slot into the wide end of your pole by making two deep, parallel and vertical cuts down into the pole. Space the cuts out at about the same width as the thickness of your knife’s handle, going about as deep as your knife’s handle is long. Remove the wood in the middle of the cuts using the saw and your knife to create a slot.
- Insert the handle of your knife handle into the end of the slot. (You might have to use another stick as a wedge to hold the slot open wide enough to insert the knife into the slot.) If necessary, stab the knife handle into the slot as deeply as possible by lightly stabbing in down into a piece of wood on the ground. (Note: If your knife has a lanyard hole in it anywhere, it’s a good idea to thread a length of parachute cord through it at the beginning this step.)
- Using a series of Canadian Jam Knots, tightly tie and wrap your parachute cord around the slot to secure your knife. (Finish by tightly tying off the p-cord that you threaded through your knife’s lanyard hole in Step 4.) Once lashed, if there is any play or wiggle in the knife, then the chisel is not going to work properly and you’ll need to start over. The knife needs to be tight.
Once the knife is tightly and securely lashed in place, you can head out onto the ice to use the chisel. Start slowly, striking directly downwards with the chisel and periodically removing the snow from the hole with your hand until you’re through. Just make sure you have basic knowledge of ice safety before you venture out and always check the thickness of the ice when in question.