While it may not be the flashiest tool in your ice fishing arsenal, the humble ice chisel is highly useful – and shouldn’t be overlooked. Also known as a spud bar, this versatile tool enables you to check ice thickness, reopen old holes, and even open fresh holes in thinner ice.
Back in the day, spud bars were commonly used by many anglers, but with the popularity of portable electric and gas-augers, they fell out of favor to some degree.
This was a bit of an overreaction in my book, as they remain a highly valuable tool – which could someday even save your life!
I’ll break down some of the best ice chisels available today, how to pick the right one for your needs and explain how to use them effectively.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Ice Chisels (Spud Bars)
- Best Overall: Eskimo Ice Chisel 2 Piece
- Runner Up: Nims Spud
- Best Compact Chisel: Jiffy Mini Mille Lacs 30-Inch Chisel
- Budget Pick: Eskimo Economy Chisel
- Hammer/Bucket Chisel: Eskimo Bucket Chisel
Why do you need an ice chisel or spud bar
A good ice chisel has multiple functions – it’s sort of the swiss army knife of ice fishing gear.
Many anglers use them to check ice thickness as they’re walking, poking and prodding the ice every so often to ensure its thick enough to walk on.
If you’re fishing on early or late-season ice, then having an ice chisel with you will give you peace of mind knowing you can check the ice thickness on the spot. It’s a good idea to learn how many strikes it takes to get through the ice when it’s safe/unsafe.
Once you get familiar using an ice chisel, you’ll be able to test more than just the ice thickness. A few good whacks will give you an idea of the tone and quality of the ice as well.
Other than testing ice thickness, a spud bar can be used to quickly reopen old holes without an auger, as well as punch fresh holes through relatively thin ice. If you’re using tip-ups, you can also clean up holes to ensure they don’t ice over.
Best Overall: Eskimo Ice Chisel 2 Piece
This 2-piece spud bar from the ice fishing experts at Eskimo is everything you could ask for in an ice chisel. It’s well-made, portable, and highly versatile – allowing you to chew through the ice with ease.
The chisel end features a stepped design – which chips through the ice faster and more aggressively than a flat chisel. An anti-vibration foam grip allows you to chisel comfortably for hours without discomfort. A webbing tether prevents the chisel from slipping through the ice and falling to the bottom of the lake!
With an overall length of 64 inches and a weight of 11 pounds, the chisel is the perfect size for easily punching holes through the ice. The 2-piece design with pin attachment allows you to quickly break down the chisel into two compact pieces during transport.
- Length: 64”
- Weight: 11 lbs
- Stepped chisel end makes chipping through the ice effortless
- Anti-vibration foam grip and webbing tether
- Breaks down into 2 smaller pieces for easy transport
Runner Up: Nims Spud
Durable, well-made, and functional, this spud bar from Nims is simple but highly effective. It features a T-shaped grip, which many anglers find useful for powering through the ice. The T-grip is hollow, allowing you to thread a lanyard through it and wrap around your wrist – preventing accidental loss.
Measuring 54” long, and weighing approximately 8 pounds, the Nims Spud lands near the middle of the pack in terms of size/weight. This makes it light enough to carry without becoming a pain, while heavy enough to get the job done when needed.
The 2” x ½” chisel end has tapered teeth, which makes cutting through the ice a breeze. A black powder coat protects the spud from damage and corrosion.
Nims proudly manufactures these chisels in Michigan – by fishermen, for fishermen.
- Length: 54”
- Weight: 8 lbs
- Hollow T-shaped grip provides excellent grip while chipping through the ice
- Tapered teeth on chisel end cut through the ice with ease
Best Compact Ice Chisel: Jiffy Mini Mille Lacs 30-Inch Chisel
Sometimes less really is more. This compact 30-inch chisel from Jiffy has all the functionality of a larger chisel, in a compact and lightweight package.
Like all of the Mille Lacs series chisels, this chisel features Jiffy’s excellent staggered blade tip. This makes it perfect for rapidly chiseling a hole, flaring out the bottom of an existing hole, shaving and shaping existing holes, and much more.
At 30” long and just 3 pounds, it’s super easy to stash with the rest of your gear. Even if you don’t end up using it, the compact size and weight won’t take up much space in your sled or gear bag.
A circle-shaped mount on the chisel top allows you to easily thread a lanyard or rope though it for security.
- Length: 30”
- Weight: 3 lbs
- Compact and lightweight design perfect for minimal gear setup
- Features Jiffy’s excellent staggered tip blade
- Circle mount on chisel top allows for lanyard attachment
Budget Pick: Eskimo Economy Chisel
If you’re looking for a capable full-sized chisel at a reasonable price point, then this straightforward chisel from Eskimo fits the bit nicely. Its fully welded steel construction ensures it can withstand any wear and tear you’re likely to throw at it, while a red powder coat protects it from the elements.
The 52.5-inch length is ideal for checking ice thickness – as well as chipping holes through the ice. The chisel end features a flat blade, which works well for shaping and shaving, but not as well for quickly punching through thick ice.
Weighing just 4.5 pounds, it’s on the lighter side – especially when compared to other full-sized ice chisels. This makes it great for checking ice thickness as your walking, but less than ideal for heavy-duty chiseling tasks.
Like many other chisel’s, a circle-shaped mount comes attached to the chisel top – allowing for easy lanyard attachment.
- Length: 5”
- Weight: 5 lbs
- Lightweight design is excellent for checking ice thickness
- Flat chisel blade works well for shaving and shaping existing holes
Hammer/Bucket Ice Chisel: Eskimo Bucket Chisel
This hammer-shaped chisel from Eskimo works well for a variety of tasks – plus its compact design means its small enough to throw inside your fishing bucket and forget about.
The hammer end features both a flat hammer for striking and a forked chipper for cutting through the ice. The chisel bottom features another chipper, giving you plenty of versatility when it comes to cutting through the ice.
Measuring just 19” from nose to tail, it’s by far the most compact chisel listed here. An anti-vibration foam handle grip proved added comfort while chipping, while a rubber chipping head protector keeps the chisel end covered and protected.
Additionally, a built-in tether rope keeps the chisel safely in your hand, and not at the bottom of your local ice fishing lake!
- Length: 19”
- Weight: 4 lbs
- Compact size is easy to stash in a fishing bucket
- Double-sided hammer and chisel end
- Convenient built-in tether rope
How to pick the best ice fishing chisel
Picking the right ice fishing chisel for your needs is fairly straightforward, but there are a few key design features to be aware of.
Spud bars generally come in two styles – heavier models in the 10 to 13-pound range, and lighter models in the 5-pound range.
Heavier chisels typically feature a stepped down grooved chisel end, and are intended for punching holes through the ice with minimal effort. A chisel over 10 pounds will punch right through 2 inches of ice when dropped from a 1-foot height. This makes them perfect for run and gun fishing, or quickly reopening old holes.
Due to their effectiveness in punching through the ice, these chisels typically feature a built-in lanyard or hole for attaching a length of rope – to prevent the chisel from breaking through the ice and falling to the bottom of the lake or pond.
Lighter chisels are typically used for checking ice thickness on the fly and are less useful for punching holes through the ice. Their lighter weight makes them easy to hold in one hand for prolonged periods without tiring yourself out.
These chisels will either feature a stepped down chisel end, or a flat chisel end – depending on the particular design.
The choice between a light chisel and a heavier chisel really comes down to how you intend to use it. If you’re primarily looking to check ice thickness, then a lighter chisel makes more sense. If you’re forgoing a hand auger or electric auger and looking for a chisel capable of making full-sized holes through the ice, then a heavier chisel is the way to go.
One-piece vs. Two-piece
This one really comes down to personal preference and fishing style.
Obviously, a two-piece spud bar is going to be more portable and easier to pack than a larger one-piece bar. While they may not be quite as structurally robust as a one-piece steel bar, most two-piece bars are well-engineered, and won’t come apart no matter how tough you are on them.
If you tend to pack lighter or use a smaller pack or ice sled, then a two-piece chisel will be easier to stash with the rest of your gear.
Ice Chisel Extra Features
There are several extra features to be aware of that can come in handy in a pinch.
Tether. A tether is a pretty important feature – and can save your chisel from ending up at the bottom of the lake. Most chisels come with a built-in tether (or a circle for attaching your own tether.)
Anti-Vibration. Anti-vibration padded grip will help protect your hands from shock and fatigue. Along with a good pair of ice fishing gloves, a good grip will allow you to chisel away for hours without pain.
High-viz. High-viz colors are always a good idea when it comes to ice fishing gear. Chisels are easy to misplace – especially in heavy snow – so going with an easy to see color like bright orange or red makes sense.