Ice Thickness Testing and Guidelines
By angelamontana

Posted: December 17, 2012


Ice fishing season is here and that means being educated about ice thickness is extremely important.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) recommends, via their website, the following tools and instructions to use while testing the ice thickness BEFORE you set up your ice fishing station on a frozen body of water:

  • Ice chisel – An ice chisel is a metal rod with a sharp, flat blade welded onto one end. Drive the chisel into the ice, using a stabbing motion, to create a hole. Next, measure ice thickness with a tape measure.
  • Ice auger – There are 3 different kinds of augers: hand, electric and gas. Hand augers are low cost, light weight and quiet. Electric augers are also quiet, but use less manual labor than a hand auger.  Gas augers drill through ice the fastest, but are heavier, noisier and generally more costly than hand or electric models. After drilling a hole with the ice auger, measure ice thickness with a tape measure.
  • Cordless Drill – Using a cordless drill and a long, five-eighths inch wood auger bit, you can drill through eight inches of ice in less than 30 seconds. Most cordless drills that are at least 7.2 volts will work, but the type of bit is critical. You need a wood auger bit since they have a spiral called a “flute” around the shaft that metal drilling bits don’t. The flutes pull the ice chips out of the hole and help keep it from getting stuck, much in the way a full-sized ice auger works. After drilling a hole, measure ice thickness with a measure tape. Dry the bit and give it a quick spray of silicone lubricant after each use to prevent rust.
  • Tape measure – Use a tape measure to find ice’s true thickness. Put the tape measure into the hole and hook the bottom edge of ice before taking measurement. You can also use an ice fisherman’s ice skimmer with inch markings on the handle in place of the tape measure.  Don’t judge ice thickness by how easily a chisel or drill breaks the surface. It happens so quickly that it’s easy to overestimate the thickness.

The MDNR’s website also suggests that if you choose to bring a vehicle or two on the ice, after verifying the ice is thick enough, be sure to park all vehicles at least 50 feet apart and move them every two hours to prevent them from sinking.  They also recommend making a hole next to your vehicle, and if you see water over-flowing into the hole, “it’s time to move the vehicle”.

Ultimately, it is better to be safe than sorry, and if you have your own methods of testing ice thickness, by all means, use them.  Just be sure to test it first!

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