Last Christmas, we decided to build a snow machine for church. This was partly due to home-sickeness partly due to we thought it be really cool.
We placed it over the entrance way so as people came in snow was gently falling. We used fans and uplighting to make it look truly wintery.
The previous year we had used a foam type snow machine but firstly its really loud so kills the vibe but also it makes a mess and the floor becomes really slippy. We wanted something better.
Below you'll find the process we went through and if you aren't interested just jump to the end for the final result. If you make a snow machine please get in touch with your photos, suggestions and improvements here.
Prototype 1 & 2:
The initial idea was to have a big vat of fake snow that would funnel down a tube. The flow would be slowed by a flap that when blown by a fan would release snow. Turning the fan on/off would control the amount of snow. This did not work. Idea two was to use the same control system but to use a rotating ball that would fill up and release snow. This also did not work as there way to much friction and its just not a simple and elegant idea.
As well as building the machine the big question throughout the process was what to use as snow. It needed to work in the machine but be cheep and easy to produce in volume. We tried buying the stuff below but it didn't have enough friction and cost way too much.
Having tried two ideas I pitched the idea to a friend called Monty who builds underwater robots for offshore drilling. He had some better ideas. In the first photo, he FaceTimed me with the simple and elegant idea of just having a rotating drum with holes in it, you use the snows own friction to stop it falling out too fast. The early prototypes worked well.
I tried making snow out of shredded plastic bags. It works but takes a long long time to make, and probably is ruining this blender...
Having prototyped the idea and it seeming to work Monty made a larger one out of a small piece of drain pipe. Along with this he tried shredding polystyrene to use as snow which worked a treat.
We then tested this out on location in the church entrance.
Having had a successful on site test we set about building the full sized version .
Here's how to build the snow machine:
- Take a large drain pipe and cut to size. Fit with an greased end cap (so it can be removed to fill up with fake snow) at each end.
- Cut holes in a diagonal pattern across the tube. The holes were about 1cm in diameter. Less is more (Remember you can add holes and increase the size but not the reverse).
- Created a cradle for this drain pipe to sit in on two sets of rubber caster wheels. The cradle stopped the pipe from going off each end and from falling off the front. It is top loaded.
- Attach a drill to a hinged piece of wood so that the drill bit rests fully on the wheel. We used rubber bands to pull the drill down onto the wheels. We did this on each side. (We used a jubilee clip to pull the triggers on).
- We then plugged the drills into a extension cable fitted with a dimmer switch. This allowed us to control the speed of the drills. We also used remote switches to be able to turn ON/OFF each drill separately. This allowed us to turn the machine on and off remotely. This was useful as we could turn it on or off as people arrived.
- This was then attached via several large G-Clamps to the overhanging walkway.
- We added fans to the drills to keel them cool, and a fan in the middle of the cradle to create a blustery effect so the snow did not fall uniformly.
- We painted it white (the pipe was already white) so it looked nice from below. The whole mechanism is quite quiet which helps when creating the wintery atmosphere.
We found the quickest way to make the snow was to attach a wire brush to a drill or grinder and then just cut through a large polystyrene box (as demonstrated by Monty below). We then found that we needed to filter it through a sieve as the dust is not partially snow like (and is hard to clear up) but the larger polystyrene flakes are really realistic as they fall. We also checked to make sure they weren't a fire hazard!
We then installed it in the entrance to church, added uplighting, christmassy music, and it was like being back in England - though if you turned the air con off its 30°C.
Here's the snow falling, it looks even better in real life, snow on the ground. A example of what Monty builds for a day job (though you don't need this extreme skills in order to build the snow machine) and me having a first go at driving a forklift truck. Its harder than it looks.
The final win was to create a little christmas manger scene which the decoration team put together. This was under the snow machine so created a great Photo Booth thy photo opportunity as you arrived under falling snow.
Get in touch...
If you make a snow machine please get in touch with your photos, suggestions and improvements here.