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Recycled Ice Shanty
January 20, 2011

by Layne Cameron

[Layne lives in Okemos and sometimes says that he can't go skiing because he has to go ice-fishing! But, ya know, fresh fish from a lake without using a boat is a good thing. The ice-fishermen are really onto something, I bet -- notice how quiet they are. --JP]

First of all, I have a confession to make. I'm a packrat. That's not the confession, though. The revelation is that I love being one!

I don't keep crap for crap's sake, though. I only squirrel away stuff that has the potential to be reused. (OK, I admit that's a rationalization; a mantra of a true packrat.) There's something immensely satisfying about sorting through my nut/bolt organizer and locating the perfect piece of hardware to finish a job correctly. The same can be said about rummaging through my lumber pile or my boxes of bike parts to extract the exact board or part needed to complete a project.

And in this case, I kept some old black boat canvas so I could build a portable ice shanty.

In its first life, the heavy canvas, replete with plastic windows, was used as a homemade enclosure for our ski boat, affording us on-the-water overnight accommodations. But since we recently splurged for factory canvas, the pile of black material was relegated to the basement.

As winter approached, I was ecstatic to discover that the canvas could not only be reused, but it was also the perfect material to create a respectable-looking and high-functioning shelter. (Black canvas actually heats up on sunny winter days, and the windows keep feelings of claustrophobia at bay.)

The first step was roughing out a structure with the canvas panels. Using some rope, pillars in the basement, and a clothes rack, I was able to use clothes pins to construct a 5' X 5' X 5' prototype. I let the prototype percolate for a couple of days before committing to a frame option.

I wanted something that would not rust and would be light and portable. I didn't want screws or anything else that would be compromised after sitting on a frozen lake in snowy, wet conditions for hours at a time. Those needs led to the logical choice of PVC pipe.

While PVC pipe is easy to find -- and cheap -- the connectors are not. After calling several local plumbing shops and coming up empty, I decided to special order the parts from an online PVC building site. Pipe can be bought in 10' lengths at less than $4 a piece. (I needed about 50 feet of one-inch pipe.) However, the connectors cost about $3 a piece. (I needed eight, and since they were somewhat difficult to find, I ordered two extra.)

PVC is a fun and easy building material. Following my drafting plan, I cut the pipe with a hack saw and cleaned away the rough edges with my fingers. Since most of the time was spent creating a good plan, it took only fifteen minutes to cut the pipe.

Using the connectors, I pieced the frame together in less than five minutes. With a black marker, I labeled each pipe's location (to speed construction/deconstruction while on the ice). My wife, Sandy, then dismantled my prototype and draped the fabric over the frame. Being a true team effort, she even identified a more efficient and more attractive use of the fabric. Her design yielded more windows, and more welcomed sunlight, as well as reducing the number of seams needed to be sewed. She pinned the seams, and we brought out the sewing machine.

Once again using the team approach, Sandy efficiently sewed together the panels as I fed the fabric through the machine to avoid binding.

The Christening
My first outing proved to be a successful one. With 20-degree temperatures and a respectable windchill, I drove to a local honey hole. Once there, I shuttled the shanty across the ice via a rail sled with bungee cords holding everything in place.

Since I had the foresight to mark the PVC pipes, the frame went up quickly. Draping the canvas over the frame took a bit longer, however, since I didn't have good eye for its shape yet. Once constructed, though, it looked exactly as I hoped it would. And better yet, it functioned just as I hoped it would.

Once the warmth of drilling the holes through 8" of ice wore off, I was able to slide my portable shelter over the holes and fish warmly, dare I say comfortably, for hours.

I smiled as I sat atop a five-gallon bucket snug in my black shanty, peering across a pond that I had all to myself. Heck, even the fish must of liked what I had accomplished. For I was able to catch a dozen bluegills and begin the enjoyable task of filling my freezer for a tasty winter fish fry!

Magical shanty connector.

Another view.

A nice shanty, bluegills on the ice, and a cheerful teen-ager: pure bliss!

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