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How to Build a Snowman

Tips for Building a Snowman in Classic Style

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It's a dreary winter's day, snow blankets the ground outside, and there's nothing to do. So you decide to build a snowman. Problem is, the decision isn't entirely yours: Mother Nature has a say in whether or not it's a good time for such a project. Below, I'll begin by telling you when that time is.

Then we'll get right down to the fun part! From the proper way to make the big bottom snowball to composing a classic snowman face, I'll tell you how to build a snowman the smart way.

1. When to Build a Snowman: Type of Snow Needed

Photo shows snowman wearing top hat. I made this black top hat for my snowman using a flower pot.
David Beaulieu

It's not true that "snow is snow." There are different types of snow, in terms of consistency, just as there are different types of dirt. You wouldn't step in mud the same way you'd step in nice, dry dirt, would you? Well, neither can you build a snowman with just any kind of snow.

Do a test first. Scoop up a handful of snow. Try to make a snowball out of it. If you can easily make a good, tight snowball, then it may be time to build a snowman. There's a delicate balance: The snow has to be wet enough to be sticky, but it can't be slushy.

The other factor is amount of snow. If there's just a dusting, it will be difficult to roll enough snow together to build a snowman. Wait till there's at least a few inches of the white stuff.

2. How to Build a Snowman: Overview

The classic snowman is composed of 3 balls stacked vertically. The bottom is the biggest. It forms the foundation, so we'll call it the "legs," even though it looks nothing like legs.

The middle ball forms the belly (more properly, "torso"), and that's the next biggest in size. To build a snowman in the classic style, you stick branches into the belly for arms.

The 3rd ball is much smaller and forms the head, to which facial features are added.

Building a snowman is fun in one sense, but it means some hard work for your muscles. If you have back problems, you might wish to wear a back brace. Push the balls using your legs as much as possible. Another option is to get some help from others and make building a snowman a joint effort.

3. Building a Snowman's "Legs": The Bottom Ball

It all starts by making a snowball, which you then put on the ground and start rolling. Sounds simple? But it's not that easy to make a good snowman ball.

The idea is to have more snow accumulate on the snowball as you push it around, till it gets big enough to start building a snowman with. But if you push in just 1 direction, you won't end up with a globe-shaped object: It will look more like a jelly roll!

So start rolling it 1 way, then reverse directions and roll it another way. As you go, pack down the snow with your gloved hands, which will make for a tighter ball. Shave off areas where it's becoming uneven.

When this bottom ball gets big, you'd better start pushing it towards its final resting place, before it gets too heavy!

4. How to Build a Snowman's Belly: The Middle Ball

Need ramp to raise the snowman snowball? This picture shows how simple it is to make such a ramp.
David Beaulieu

Repeat for middle ball, only make it smaller. You'll be glad you did when it comes time to try to hoist it up onto the bottom ball.

What if you're done making the middle ball, then realize it is too heavy to lift? If you're building a snowman with someone, roll the ball onto a tarp; then the 2 of you can get on either side of the tarp and lift.

If you're alone, build a plywood ramp. Stick anything you can find under the plywood to support the weight of the giant snowball: a sawhorse (picture), cinder blocks, even packed snow.

No matter how you get the ball up, you'll want to provide a seat for it first on the bottom ball. Scoop out snow on top of the bottom ball to make a rounded indentation, in which the next ball can rest.

5. How to Build a Snowman's Head: The Top Ball

Make the snowball for the head the smallest of the 3, but not too small. Why? Because remember, the head has to support the objects you'll be inserting into it for facial features. It also has to support a pipe and a hat. I'll discuss a tip later for anchoring facial features, but your snowman's head will need some heft to it for you to implement this tip.

Scoop out a seat on top of the middle ball on which the head will be able to rest securely, then mount it up there.

6. Decorate the Head

In the movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is shown, at one point, finishing up building a snowman by sticking a pipe in its mouth. Upon being queried by Andie MacDowell, "Where did you get that?", Murray quips, "I went over to the snowman shop." In reality, there is, of course, no snowman shop. So click the following links for some ideas on making your own top hat, making your own pipe, and dressing a snowman:

  1. Learn how to make a hat for a snowman
  2. Learn how to make a pipe for a snowman
  3. Learn how to dress a snowman

7. Put a Face on Your Snowman

A carrot is a classic nose for a snowman. "Predrill" with a sharp object rather than trying to force the carrot in. In fact, it's good policy to make such pilot holes prior to inserting any objects into your snowman (for eyes, arms, etc).

For the eyes and mouth, charcoal (2 pieces and 3 or more pieces, respectively) is the classic material. Small, dark stones are an alternative and have the advantage of not discoloring the snow the way charcoal will do.

But whether you use charcoal or stones for the eyes and mouth, these features will pop out on warm days, because they can't be anchored into the head. Alternatively, use big metal washers, sprayed black. Secure them with bolts, pushed into the head at a downward angle.

8. How to Build a Snowman's Arms

Crooked branches are best for the arms: You can imagine the crook is an elbow.

I'm never lacking for branches to use, since I have eastern white pine trees in my yard. Their wood is brittle, so branches often snap off after ice storms. I can simply trim up some of the fallen branches with my ratchet pruners to form arms.

Try to find a branch with "fingers" at the end, and put a glove over them. You don't actually have to insert the fingers into the glove's finger holes; the idea here is simply that the glove is less likely to fall off of such a branch, because there's resistance. A glove might blow off of a straight, unforked branch.

I told you before about pilot holes. It's especially important to make them for the arms.

9. Should You Decorate a Snowman With a Broom?

For the most part, I stick with a classic design when building a snowman. And according to the classic design, your completed figure should be holding a broom.

But this is one area where I stray from the classic design. I like to supply my figure with a snow shovel, rather than a broom. In my region, which is subjected to serious snowstorms, a shovel seems much more apt.

Jam the blade of the shovel down into the snow on the ground underneath one of the arms. This will stabilize it at the bottom. At the top, it's probably sufficient just to lean it against the branch, although you can tie it if it doesn't stay put for you.

10. More Tips on How to Build a Snowman

There are finishing touches to take care of when building a snowman:

  1. Sculpting the balls to round them off
  2. Packing extra snow around the waist and neck

This will bring out the sculptor in you! Step back and evaluate the figure. Does it look a bit lopsided somewhere? Did one of the balls come out too flat? "Corrective surgery" is possible! Just add some of the white stuff to areas that could use more, to correct the figure's proportions. Pat it down well to pack it. Likewise, shave off areas that could use a little less.

Since the waist and neck are joints, reinforce them by packing extra snow around them.

On a warm day, your figure will literally "go to pieces." But you can add more snow and reinsert eyes, etc. that pop out.

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