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What Does A Zamboni In Hockey Do? Explained

If you enjoy ice hockey or have ever ice skated, you probably have come across a Zamboni.

A Zamboni is machine-driven or hand-pushed across the rink to smooth out the surface of the ice. A Zamboni will shave, wash, wet, smooth, and polish the ice, making it easier to skate on.

In this article, we’re going to show you what a Zamboni does and why they are used.

What Does a Zamboni Do Exactly?

Zamboni on ice rink

A Zamboni or ice resurfacer was invented in the early 1940s by Frank Zamboni and his brother Lawrence when they were trying to devise effective ways to smooth out their large rink.

At first, they would drag a scraper behind a tractor and go back to even out the ice with a thin layer of water. The process took over an hour, and Frank Zamboni, the inventor he was, came up with a much quicker invention. Today, more than 12,000 Zambonis have been sold all over the world.

The Zamboni is a mechanical invention that has a couple of functions:

  • First, it scraps the ice surface to even it out and collects the ice scraps.
  • Next, the Zamboni flushes water deep into the ice groove, loosening any dirt.
  • Then, it collects the water and debris, leaving the ice clean.
  • Finally, the Zamboni lays down a thin layer of heated water, about 1400-1450 Fahrenheit. The hot water freezes and creates a smooth finish. The hotter the water, the more even the ice surface.

Read on to understand how the process goes.

The Zamboni Working Process in Detail

Zambonis come in different shapes and sizes. Some are self-propelled, while others are pushed or pulled by the operator. To perform the said functions, a Zamboni is equipped with a snow container, washing water container, board brush, hot water tanks, and a conditioner.

The conditioner contains most of the heavy gear in a Zamboni. For example, the blade is hydraulically lowered from the conditioner to the ice surface and shaves the ice’s top layer.

The shavings collect in the snow container. Drivers can adjust the height of the blade depending on the depth of cuts required to even the ice.

The blade is set at 100 as a rule of thumb. However, the driver can adjust using a blade angle tool to ensure proper set angles.

The nozzles of the wash water container are located directly above the blade, and their function is to forcefully spray water with enough pressure to remove dirt and debris. The excess water is then vacuumed and recycled.

When it comes to hot water, some rinks prefer to remove chemicals and minerals as they can make the ice soft and weak. These impurities give the ice a pungent smell or change its color.

A towel cloth is dragged to the rear of the conditioner to ensure an even water distribution. The sprinkler pipe releases the ice, making water that wets the cloth towel.

The board brush extends and retracts from most ice resurfaces’ left side. Its function is to collect the ice shaving beyond the reach of the conditioner. The board brush also reaches the edges of the rink.

How Much Water Does A Zamboni Consume?

The Zamboni consumes approximately 3,000 gallons of water per day. That is about 200-275 gallons each time the ice is resurfaced. Most rinks get resurfaced about 10-12 times per day.

The Zamboni engineering enables the water to come out below the driver’s seat and then evenly spread out on the ice to give you a fantastic skating experience.

When fully packed with water, Zambonis weigh approximately 7,000-14,000 pounds, but when they are dry, they weigh about 6,000-10,000 pounds.     

What Fuel Does A Zamboni Run On?

Most modern machines run on propane or natural gas or are electrically powered. Reasons why propane is the fuel of choice instead of diesel or gasoline are:

  • Propane is clean, and that helps keep the engine clean too.
  • Propane has low emissions, which is ideal for a Zamboni, keeping in mind that they’re driven indoors. After combustion, propane only emits water and carbon dioxide.
  • Propane is safe to use on ice. Fuel leaks could discolor and create massive issues on your rink.
  • Zambonis have simple engine designs since they don’t vaporize the fuel. The propane runs the engine well, it’s clean and low maintenance.
  • Propane is more self-sustaining than gasoline or diesel than other fuels.    

Zambonis have four-wheel drive studded tires. The studs on the tires aim to offer the machine a good grip on the ice without sliding. The tires also don’t damage the surface of the ice.

Is Driving A Zamboni Easy?

Driving a Zamboni is not as difficult as it may seem. However, it takes about 2-3 weeks of training to learn how to operate the machines.

There are several things a driver should consider when driving the Zamboni back and forth on the ice. They include:

  • The condition of the ice
  • Humidity (amount of water vapor in the air0
  • The speed of the Zamboni (up to 9 miles per hour)
  • The depth of the cutting blade
  • The amount of water to release
  • Removing ice chippings near the boards
  • The temperature of the hot water

The challenging part of learning how to drive the Zamboni is gaining enough confidence to maneuver the machine close to the boards.

Zambonis are not built for speed as their top speed is about  9 miles per hour, which translates to a quarter-mile in 93.5 seconds. This may not be fast, but it is fast enough for the task it’s designed for. Hockey players rely on Zamboni’s to make sure the ice is fresh between intermissions.

Bottom Line

A skilled driver will need approximately 10-12 minutes to resurface a standard-sized ice rink. However, it depends on the pattern, condition of the ice, the operator’s skills, and the type of machine. It takes bigger machines with an experienced driver about 7 minutes.