On Lake Irrsee in the Mondseeland, Johann Hufnagl creates ice stocks on his lathe. When the lake freezes in winter, the retired carpenter experiences his peak season.
It smells like wood and fire from the oven. Beyond the panorama window of the Hufnagl carpentry shop, the snow is piling up in Oberhofen on Lake Irrsee in the Mondseeland. The water can’t be far away but the natural shoreline is barely visible. During the summer, bathers cavort here. However, “in winter, when the lake is frozen, there’s much more going on” Johann Hufnagl says. The carpenter stands at the lathe and works on an ice stock. He has been retired for the last ten years. The carpentry shop, which he founded in 1970, is now run by his son, Georg. During the year, cabinets, doors and beds are created on the workbenches, circular saws, veneer press and in the spray room –for kitchens, relaxation loungers, or table sets. And in the cold winter months, ice stocks begin to multiply. “When the lake freezes, things have to go fast,” Hufnagl explains. When clear ice glitters on Lake Irrsee in the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut, people want their ice stocks. For games with friends and neighbours. For winter fun. For a bit of camaraderie. For playing and gossiping over steaming cups full of hot tea and mulled wine. The ice stocks fly over the ice while children glide along the lake on ice skates. Who will come closest to the ‘Daube’, the ice stocks’ target? Who will win the next game? Who pitches the next round? Laughter, red-cheeked faces, happy times.
This stock shooting sport (Eisstockschießen), which is similar to curling, is wide-spread throughout the Salzkammergut. When the first ice appears on streams, ponds or lakes, people don their winter gear and grab their ice stocks. Most people play on natural ice lanes. Sometimes taverns or inns will set up a lane. All over the Salzkammergut, teams meet up on certain occasions for the traditional shooting. Guests can normally rent ice stocks and reserve lanes for their own enjoyment. On Lake Irrsee, there are two asphalt lanes for stock shooting. If the lake freezes, there are approximately 345 hectares available for ice stock fun.
Johann Hufnagl and his wife, Berta, only play on the frozen lake. In the past, they were often in the group – always when things were calmer in the carpentry shop or their bed and breakfast, which Berta Hufnagl ran for over 40 years. Or when time remained after caring for 5 children and later twelve grandchildren. “It’s not about winning, but about having fun,” Hufnagl says. In the region, he is well-known as being one of the first on the ice. “People call me and ask, ‘Hufi, how’s the ice’,” he explains and laughs. Once the ice core reaches 4 centimetres, you’ll find Hufnagl on the lake. Last winter only saw 14 days of suitable ice conditions. However, there have been other times when the ice layer was 28 centimetres thick. “Then you can drive a lorry over the lake.” Today, Hufnagl enjoys walking over the lake on the ice. Hip problems prevent him from participating in the ice stock shooting events. Still, he supplies the necessary stocks for the game. Small and large pieces of locally-grown hard wood –maple, pear, nut and plum – the carpenter collects them all in his workshop. Remnants which aren’t destined for the oven. From these pieces, he creates each individual ice stock. “Every stock looks different, but everyone knows they’re from Hufi!”
Hufnagl has always been interested in lathe work. A few years ago, he finally bought his own lathe. He learned the skill all on his own. “You can learn a lot by experimenting. There are always new ideas,” he states. He turns bowls; his grandson even makes pens. Hufnagl likes building with wood and normally works when he won’t interfere with his son’s business. Johann Hufnagl creates bird houses, small wagons or clock cabinets. Approximately 150 ice stocks have already been moulded and shaped by his powerful hands. Intricate challenges such as the perfect form of the stock handle make him especially happy. After all, he’s been in the workshop since age 13. There’s nothing that he can’t master. For the grip, he wanted to fashion an ‘ear’ or a type of hook which the little finger can clasp before the player sends the stock down the lane. “It rankled me so much that I would wake up in the night and say, ‘I’ve got to try this now!’ And I would immediately get to work.” he explains. Practice makes perfect. His first stock took him almost a year to create. With each additional stock, he gained experience in creating the details needed for the perfect ice stock.
Five wooden plates, a shapely grip, the appropriate hole, the right glue, a wedge for reinforcement, and a steel ring. The proper distance from the ring to the ground so that the stock can glide even in snow. And a lot of work at the workbench, lathe, band saw, wood veneer press and oven. These are the components of a Hufnagl ice stock. “The ring must be heated so that it expands. Then you can fit the wood inside,” he explains. He has a feel for the just the right moment. “When I touch the ring with a bit of spit on my finger and it sizzles, the ring is between 180 and 200°C. That’s just right.”
Today, the retiree, clad with work apron and safety googles, needs between four and five hours in the workshop for a single ice stock. The finished product is covered with two-component varnish and allowed to dry in the spray room for at least two days. “Any less time and I can’t guarantee that the varnish will hold,” he says. When questions arise, he consults with colleagues. There are several other ice stock makers in the area. Two cockatiels keep Hufnagl company while he works. When it gets loud, they begin to sing. He creates customs ice stocks. Pattern, material, personalisation with one’s name – anything is possible. Children, women and men all place orders with him. Depending on the customer, the stocks are between 15 and 28 centimetres in diameter and weigh two to six kilogrammes. Prices for finished ice stocks start at 130 euros.
Most of his customers are acquaintances from the region. They all want an ice stock. He seldom fills large orders. During a Christmas exhibition in Fuschl am See, he was in heavy demand. “A woman from Vienna wanted 17 stocks in a single order. I had to work day and night to finish,” he remembers. Of course he also repairs the occasional stock – sanding the base, applying new varnish. “Damage can often occur on the ice.” In this way, rare stocks, which are often of unimaginable quality, remain well-preserved. Hufnagl safeguards a traditional ice stock of pear wood in his workshop and well knows its distinctiveness. “It’s a good fifty years old and still glides a smooth as glass.” Outside the panorama window, fresh snow is falling. Perhaps this year, the ice stock craftsman will return to the game – stock in hand.