How to Build a Snowman: The Ultimate Guide

Snowman wearing scarf outdoors
Mike Kemp / Getty Images

Regardless of your age, this guide to how to build a perfect snowman will show you how to make a classic figure that will both look great and endure the wintery weather (until warm weather arrives, of course). This project is great fun, and one of the wonderful things about it is that, if you are less than fully satisfied with the results, it is easy enough simply to move over to another area of the lawn and "harvest" the snow there to make a new beginning.

Here's how to make the perfect snowman, from forming a snowball to DIYing a top hat and pipe.

Image: don't risk a bad back, use a ramp instead to roll the middle snowball on top of the base of your snowman.
Don't risk a bad back, use a ramp instead to roll the middle snowball on top of the base of your snowman. The Spruce / David Beaulieu

The Best Type of Snow for Building a Snowman

It's not true that "snow is snow." There are different types of snow, in terms of consistency, just as there are different types of soil. You can't roll sand between thumb and forefinger to form a dirt ball: you need soil of a different consistency. Well, neither can you build a snowman with just any kind of snow.

Do a test first. Scoop up a handful of snow. Try to make a snowball out of it. If you can easily make a good, tight snowball, then it may be time to build a snowman. There's a delicate balance: the snow has to be wet enough to be sticky, but it can't be slushy.

The other factor is amount of snow. If there's just a dusting, it will be difficult to roll enough snow together to build a snowman. Wait till there's at least a few inches of the white stuff.

Technique for Building a Snowman

It all starts by making a snowball, which you then put on the ground and start rolling. Sounds simple? But it's not that easy to make a good snowman ball.

The idea is to have more snow accumulate on the snowball as you push it around, till it gets big enough to start building a snowman with. But if you push in just one direction, you won't end up with a globe-shaped object: It will look more like a jelly roll!

So start rolling it one way, then reverse directions and roll it another way. As you go, pack down the snow with your gloved hands, which will make for a tighter ball. Shave off areas where it's becoming uneven. When this bottom ball gets big, you'd better start pushing it towards its final resting place, before it gets too heavy. Repeat for middle ball, only make it smaller.

No matter how you get the second ball up, you'll want to provide a seat for it first on the bottom ball. Scoop out snow on top of the bottom ball to make a rounded indentation, in which the next ball can rest.

Make the snowball for the head the smallest of the three, but not too small because the head has to support the objects you'll be inserting into it for facial features and accessories. Scoop out a seat on top of the middle ball on which the head will be able to rest securely, then mount it up there.

Tip

If a snow ball is too heavy to lift, there are still ways to get it where you need it to go. If you're building a snowman with someone, roll the ball onto a tarp; then the two of you can get on either side of the tarp and lift. If you're alone, build a plywood ramp. Stick anything you can find under the plywood, like some bricks, to support the weight of the giant snowball.

Adding the Face

A carrot is a classic nose for a snowman. Make a pilot hole for it with a sharp object rather than trying to force the carrot in. In fact, it's good policy to make such pilot holes prior to inserting any objects into your snowman (for eyes, arms, etc). Use as big a carrot as you can find, so that you can shove it in really deep, making it less likely that it will pop out on a warm day.

For the eyes and mouth, charcoal (two pieces and three or more pieces, respectively) is the classic material. Small, dark stones are an alternative and have the advantage of not discoloring the snow the way charcoal will do.

But whether you use charcoal or stones for the eyes and mouth, these features will pop out on warm days, because they can't be anchored into the head. Alternatively, use big metal washers, sprayed black. Secure them with bolts, pushed into the head at a downward angle.

Crooked branches are best for the arms: You can imagine the crook is an elbow.

Reinforce With More Snow

This will bring out the sculptor in you. Step back and evaluate the figure. Does it look a bit lopsided somewhere? Did one of the balls come out too flat? "Corrective surgery" is possible. Just add some of the white stuff to areas that could use more, to correct the figure's proportions. Pat it down well to pack it. Likewise, shave off areas that could use a little less.

Since the waist and neck are joints, reinforce them by packing extra snow around them.

How to Dress a Snowman

Image: inflatable snowman with broom.
The classic image of a snowman has him holding a broom (as in this inflatable decoration), but I think a snow shovel is more apt. The Spruce / David Beaulieu

There is, of course, no snowman shop, so you'll have to make your own items to dress your snowperson with. Indeed, most of the fun in building a snowman is lies in getting creative with accessories. Anybody can stack up three snowballs and call it a "snowman." But the way you accessorize your figure gives you a chance to put your own unique stamp on it.

Supply your figure with a snow shovel, rather than a broom. Jam the blade of the shovel down into the snow on the ground underneath one of the arms. This will stabilize it at the bottom. At the top, it's probably sufficient just to lean it against the branch, although you can tie it if it doesn't stay put for you.

1. Dress the Snowman's Head and Neck

The biggest part of dressing a snowman occurs in the head and neck areas, usually, and consists of a hat, pipe, and scarf. If a top hat and pipe aren't available to you, we have instructions for how to DIY one below.

If you don't want to dress your snowman with a scarf of your own (for fear that it will be damaged or stolen), you can make a snowman scarf by tying colorful rags together.

As a creature of the winter, the traditional snowman must be dressed with a scarf.

2. Add the Buttons

To dress a snowman traditionally, run a string of "buttons" vertically down his torso (the middle of the three balls that comprise a snowman). They don't have to be real buttons: just use small dark objects that represent buttons. In fact, pieces of charcoal or black stones will probably show up better than real buttons, because it's hard to find buttons big enough to be noticed from a distance.

Push the the charcoal or stones into the snowman's torso to stabilize them, otherwise they'll fall out too quickly. "Pre-drill" with a sharp object (for example, a stick) to make a pilot hole, so that it will be easier to push the "buttons" in.

Tip

Can't find any stones for the buttons? Raid your water garden for some river rock. Stones make better buttons than charcoal, because the latter stains your snow black. Alternatively, use big metal washers. Secure them with bolts, pushed into the snowman at a downward angle (spray both black).

3. Dress the Torso

Traditionally, one doesn't dress a snowman below the waist, but you could if you wanted!

Snowman arms usually consist of branches, which are allowed to show (no sense in covering up such a charming feature). Dress a snowman's hands with a pair of old gloves. Try to find a branch with "fingers" at the end, and put a glove over them. You don't actually have to insert the branch fingers into the glove's finger holes; the idea here is simply that the glove is less likely to blow off such a branch or flop around, because the fingers provide resistance. A glove might blow off a straight, unforked branch.

If you decide to dress a snowman in a vest, apply the vest before you insert his stick arms. Once the arms are on, you can fasten the vest to the arms so that it won't blow away. If the vest is old (and you don't care if it becomes damaged), make holes in the fabric, insert copper wiring through those holes, and wrap the wiring around the snowman's branch arms.

How to Make a Snowman Pipe

Image: home-made snowman pipe.
Don't have a pipe lying around to give your snowman? Make one yourself. The Spruce / David Beaulieu

If you do not have a pipe at home, you may wonder how you are going to furnish your figure with a pipe — truly a classic look that's not to be missed! — without buying one especially for the occasion.

Snowman pipes can be built out of materials you have lying around the house. It's easy to recycle those materials and make a pipe for a snowman from them. Here's how.

1. Assemble Your Supplies

The following supplies come in handy when making a pipe for a snowman: a dremel tool (or a drill), glue gun, paint, a small plastic pill bottle, and a pencil, straw, butter knife or other long skinny item

To remove the label from the pill bottle, soak the bottle in water before starting. This will loosen the label up and enable you to scrape it off easily.

2. Join Stem and Bowl to Make Your Snowman Pipe

The pill bottle is the "bowl" of the snowman pipe; you must join it securely to a "stem." You can use a straw, a pencil, or a butter knife with the blade end in the pill bottle.

Drill a hole through both sides of the bottle (toward the bottom of the bottle) to accommodate the stem. Mark holes with a magic marker prior to drilling, to serve as a guide. Inserting the stem through both sides will provide a firmer, more secure fit.

After you've inserted the stem of your snowman pipe, it's time to fire up the glue gun. Once it's warm, direct some hot glue down the inner sides of the bottle, further securing the stem.

3. Paint the Pipe for Your Snowman

Paint your pipe black, or another color of your choice. Your snowman pipe is ready to be "smoked."

Tip

The taller the bowl, the greater its tendency to flip down after its inserted into the snowman's head. So keep the height of the bowl to a minimum. If you decide later that you've made it too tall, reduce its height with scissors or a small cutting tool. If you use a flat object for your stem, such as a butter knife, it won't rotate as easily as a rounded object will.

How to Make a Top Hat for a Snowman

Image of snowman. This snowman has the classic top hat and pipe.
The completed snowman, replete with top hat. The Spruce / David Beaulieu

The snowman is a creature of the North, of cold weather and ice storms, infused with the spirit of Old Man Winter's huffing and puffing. As such, I think it is a good idea to dress him in a hat. 

What, you do not have a hat lying around to use on your snowman? Make your own with some recycled materials. While woolen hats can be used in snowman apparel, try the traditional black top hat, seen above.

Use a Flower Pot

Find an empty flower pot lying around your storage shed: 12 inches across at the rim, 8 inches across at the bottom should do the trick. If you have a plastic ones that flares out around the edge, it makes a more convincing top hat.

Spray paint the pot black or another color of your choice and place it atop the head of the snowperson.

Use a Tub and Add a Brim

Try a popcorn tub or something of a similar size. You should be able to find something suitable in your recycling bin! Now find something for the brim of the hat, which you'll attach to the tub. Go rummage around in the garage in search of an old plastic lid or other flat, round item. Once you've found that item, put the tub in the middle of it and trace a line around it. That marks the inner edge for your brim. For the outer edge, trace a second line using a dish whose diameter is a few inches greater than the tub's.

Cut out the shape you just outlined and glue it to the tub. Spray-paint the hat black.

Combine a Coffee Can and Frisbee

This is great for a smaller snowman. For the crown, use a small-sized coffee can; for the brim, an old Frisbee. Place the can in the middle of the Frisbee and trace a line, just as was suggested above. Using this mark as a guide, cut the middle out of the Frisbee. Now cut the curved edge off the Frisbee, so that you essentially end up with a flat, wheel-shaped figure. Again, a Dremel tool is very handy for making such cuts, but you can improvise using a hacksaw, Exacto knife, etc.

Glue-gun the brim to the crown, and spray-paint the top hat black.

Tip

A top hat has been known to blow off the head of a person who wears one on a windy day, so you have to anticipate that a top hat might blow off the frosty head of your stylish snowman, too. One thing you can do to secure a top hat to a snowman is to drill holes in the lower part of the hat, then gently push spikes (or stakes, dowels, twigs, etc.) through these holes down into the snowman's head, thereby anchoring the top hat.

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