How Zambonis Work

By: Kate Kershner  | 

Now You're on Thin Ice: How the Zamboni Works

As we mentioned, resurfacing ice back in the day was a pretty obnoxious task. A crew was needed not only to drive a bladed tractor but also to sweep up the shavings and spray hot water behind them.

After several iterations — and improvements over the last 50 years— the ice resurfacing machine process is fairly basic. (This goes, by the way, for non-Zamboni brands of ice resurfacers, too.) First, a blade ranging from 77-96 inches (196-244 centimeters) cuts the ice [sources: Fleming,Zamboni]. And by cut, we mean a very close shave — NHL teams like a 1/32-inch trim [source: Fleming]. That can get about 60 cubic feet (1.7 cubic meters) of ice from a rink over the course of just one resurfacing [source: Zamboni]. Moving about 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) per hour, the machine has a horizontal auger (basically a large screw-like bit) that collects the shavings generated by the blade and feeds them to a vertical auger, which sends the shavings into the machine's snow tank.


A wash tank directs water to a conditioner, which rinses the dirty ice. A front squeegee collects that dirty water. The machine dispenses warm water (140 to 145 degrees F or 60 to 63 degrees C) through holes at the back, where a towel smoothes it as it freezes along the surface [sources: Exploratorium, Zamboni].

When loaded with water, the machine weighs an almost unbelievable 7,000 to 11,000 pounds (3,175 to 4,990 kilograms). (Depending on the model, the machine can hold about 211 to 264 gallons (800 to 1,000 liters) of water [source: Zamboni]. All-electric resurfacers— as well as those that use alternative fuels— are just as standard as gas or propane-propelled machines. Interestingly, an electric Zamboni was being used as far back as the 1960 Olympic Games.

And it's not just to please a passing fad that electric brands are gaining ground. Pollution from fossil-fuel-powered machines can be a serious health issue in a closed rink that's being resurfaced every hour. As nitrogen oxide increases, operators, skaters and spectators alike can suffer health effects, according to a 1998 Harvard study [source: Schmid].