10 steps to building a gemstone ice castle

When cabin fever hits, bundle up and head outdoors to create a dazzling ice castle your kids will tell their kids about.

Story and photos by Leslie Foster

Block fort at night

Transport your bricks to your building pad. We used sleds to make this a lot easier.

First things first: constructing a gemstone castle is a labour of love. Don’t underestimate the work involved.

Our castle took over 80 hours of work from start to finish. But don’t let that deter you.

It’s a fabulous outdoor winter activity, fun for the entire family and the results are worth it.


• Ice brick moulds (We used disposable tin loaf pans.)

• Food colouring (Lots!)

• Buckets/pitchers

• Turkey baster

• Sheets of plastic

• Sleds or a wagon


1. Purchase supplies. We bought disposable tin loaf pans as moulds to create our ice bricks. You can find larger quantities at online commercial kitchen retailers. Remember, the smaller the container, the more bricks you’ll need to make. We used 200 tins and made over 500 bricks. Keep in mind that after freezing three rounds of bricks, some of the tin containers started to deteriorate.

2. Line up the containers on a level surface. We did this on our walkway. Then fill with cold water.

3. Before the water begins to freeze, add drops of food colouring; the more drops, the more saturated the colour. We used approximately 10 drops per container. Mix and match to create a rainbow of colours.

4. Let freeze completely and then unmould the bricks. Depending on when you will be constructing your castle, place a sheet of plastic between layers of bricks to prevent them from sticking together.

5. The day before you start building, prepare your pad. Select the area where you will build your castle and measure out your dimensions. Our castle was approximately two metres by three metres. Make sure you pack down the snow very well. You can use snowshoes or pieces of wood to do this. We tried to leave the snow in the immediate vicinity untouched, to make for better photos.

6. Transport your bricks to your building pad. We used sleds to make this a lot easier.

You’re ready to start building ready to start building

7.We used a long piece of string staked with pegs to make sure we were building in a level, straight line. Take extra care when placing this first layer of bricks to ensure you are starting from a solid foundation. If it’s crooked or not level, you will find each subsequent layer more difficult to build without your walls caving in.

8. We used snow as mortar and a turkey baster to saturate each joint with water. This creates a strong ice “glue.” We repeated the process on each joint until it was completely filled with ice “glue” mortar. Remember to leave yourself a doorway.

9. Build up to your desired height. Ours was 1.25 metres tall. We used disposable paper cups to create a few cylindrical ice blocks to decorate the top level.

10. We used a soft brush to remove excess snow and ice covering our colourful gemstone bricks. It’s best if you do this as you are building, so excess mortar doesn’t freeze onto the surface of the bricks, diminishing the gemstone-coloured effect. Then we used the turkey baster to wet each brick. You want to do this when it is very cold, to avoid melting any of your mortar and to minimize colour running to bricks below. You can skip this step if you wish; however, it helps the colour show through and makes your bricks sparkle in the sunlight.

Photo tips

Choose your construction area wisely. If you want it to last longer, avoid areas exposed to the highest sun of the day. If you want fabulous daylight pictures, place it in a sunny area to catch glinting sun, but remember that most daytime pictures are best taken in overcast conditions.

For nighttime photos, run an extension cord out to your castle and place a soft light inside. We found that we achieved the best results with a dimmer switch. When we used a brighter light, most of our photos were overexposed.

Take pictures to document your process. We took pictures after each layer was constructed and then created a really cool time lapse video.