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What is an Ice Pick?

By Mike Howells
Updated May 16, 2024
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An ice pick is a household tool designed to break up large chunks of ice. In the past, when ice had to be harvested from frozen, natural bodies of water and delivered to people's homes in large blocks, ice picks were a common tool used to break apart smaller, more usable portions. Following the widespread proliferation of refrigerators, which allowed small ice cubes to be produced in the home, ice delivery and ice picks became largely obsolete. Basic in design, an ice pick is essentially a metal spike embedded in a handle, and has changed little since its invention.

Before home refrigeration, ice was typically delivered, on a regular basis, to houses and businesses where it was placed in iceboxes. These containers, much like modern refrigerators, were designed to keep it frozen, but could only do so for a limited period of time. Before and during delivery, ice was stored in bulk — in large, cooled buildings known as icehouses — and then cut into smaller blocks using a variety of tools. It was then shipped out by horse-and-buggy or early motorized vehicles. While the earliest ice pick designs featured an iron or steel protrusion inserted into a wooden handle, modern picks can feature chrome-plated stainless steel and rubberized hard plastic handles, to maximize safety and improve aesthetics. Most modern ice picks are usually around eight inches (20.3 centimeters) in length.

Though generally relegated to the status of niche tool, ice picks nevertheless have gained a degree of notoriety for their use as a murder weapon, both in popular fiction and in real life. The ice pick became a favorite of mobsters in the early part of the 20th century as a stabbing weapon and a means of intimidation. Their relatively small size and easily concealable nature, along with their legitimately non-violent intended use, made them ideal weapons for criminals.

Newspaper investigations into mob warfare revealed the ice pick was considered a tool of choice for murdering someone without leaving any obvious signs of violence, as the pick could be driven through a victim's ear, killing him but leaving only a very small puncture wound, that often went unnoticed, at least initially, by law enforcement of the time. An ice pick was also famously used to kill Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. The most well-known reference to an ice pick in popular culture comes from the film Casino, directed by Martin Scorcese. In it, a character played by Joe Pesci boasts to have used one in the torture of a victim.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Jul 13, 2012

Wasn't the ice pick used to kill Leon Trotsky found recently in Mexico? It was on the news that the daughter of a Mexican police officer has claimed to have the ice pick but the experts don't know for sure that it was the one used in killing Trotsky. They have to do a DNA test to be sure. It would be really interesting if it was found after so many years.

I think the thought of using an ice pick as a weapon is horrific. What a brutal way to kill someone! I'm sure in the old days, people wouldn't question someone who carried an ice pick with them like the article hinted. But thankfully, it will be questioned today as it is not a commonly used tool.

I don't think there is any profession today that requires the regular use of an ice pick, is there? I personally would be very scared of someone who carried one on them.

By bear78 — On Jul 12, 2012

@alisha-- You can find ice picks with varying thickness, but they're usually less than an inch in width. This is done intentionally and it doesn't mean that the ice pick isn't strong. If you get a sharp, stainless steel one, I don't think you'll have any problems.

The pick is thin and sharp so that it goes into the hardest pieces of ice. If you use enough strength, you'll be able to clean up the ice in your freezer in no time. Just make sure that the ice pick doesn't go through the ice and damage the fridge.

I usually use an ice pick to break up ice that I purchase from the grocery store. They usually come as a big chunk of inseparable ice pieces and if I have a get-together happening at my house and ice is needed fast, the ice pick works great.

I'm sure you could use it for other purposes too. I think my husband used it once to punch a new hole in his belt.

By discographer — On Jul 12, 2012

I have an old fridge in my garage that I mainly use to keep sodas cold. The freezer though is a problem because it builds up ice over time and has to be cleaned out periodically. I don't like unplugging the fridge and waiting for hours for the ice to melt, so I'm thinking of getting an ice pick to help me clean it. I tried using a regular knife but it didn't work. It ended up sliding on the surface and I was afraid of hurting myself.

I'm a little worried about the ice pick being able to handle the weight of the ice. The ice picks I've seen online appear to be extremely thin. Won't they break under pressure? Since I will do the cleaning while the fridge is still plugged in, I need it to go through solid ice and break it up nicely. Do you think it'll be able to handle it?

I know ice picks are affordable so price is not a problem. But considering that I don't deal with ice at all aside from the ice in my old fridge, what else would an ice pick be useful for?

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